Research conducted by DCU Business School has found that organisations that view maternity leave as a brief interlude in a woman’s career are the most successful in retaining high potential female employees post-maternity leave. Managerial attitudes to maternity leave play a key role in the retention of women post-maternity leave, with companies who view maternity leave as a major disruption struggling to retain high potential returning mothers.

Led by Dr Yseult Freeney, Dr Lisa van der Werff and Professor David Collings of the DCU Leadership and Talent Institute, and sponsored by HR Search, it is the first study of its kind in Ireland to explore the perspectives of mothers, managers and organisations.

It finds that where line managers and/or the organisation viewed maternity leave as a brief interlude in the individual’s long-term career, returning mothers reported a positive transition back to the workplace. Where maternity leave was viewed as a major disruption, negative experiences were more common.

Despite the fact the women interviewed* had been identified as high potential employees, three issues were highlighted: career derailment, unconscious biases amongst colleagues and a deterioration of professional relationships. In each case, these issues were compounded by a lack of open and transparent communication between the returner and their line manager.

Many positive stories were also reflected; with positive reintegration to the workplace attributed to women feeling valued, the enrichment of professional relationships and the renewed focus that working women bring to managing their work.

Dr Yseult Freeney explains, “Our research shows that maternity leave forms a critical juncture for many women in their careers. The transition back to work is laden with challenges that can lead to career derailment when the return is not managed effectively. Fuelling this are views of maternity leave as a major disruption rather than a brief interlude, which can be conscious or unconscious. Managers who take a longer term view often signal greater support to returners who, as a result, feel more valued and are far more likely to positively reintegrate into the organisation. Ultimately, positive returns are associated with a renewed focus on careers and a strengthened relationship with the organisation.”

Best practice identified include: organisations taking a longer term view of a woman’s career; implementing line manager training to support the transition back to work; developing a role model system enabling women to share experiences; permitting phased return and employing flexible and agile practices for all, not just women.

Poor practices include: making assumptions (returning women, line managers and work colleagues) about intentions or motivations. This is compounded by poor communication; unconscious bias, or the perception that returning women will be less engaged in their work; curtailing opportunities for involvement in meaningful projects or promotions; and neglecting logistics such as IT and desks before return.

*Over 300 women, the HR Director and line managers in 28 major organisations were interviewed. The sectors represented include Banking, Finance and Insurance; Professional Services, Telecommunications and Technology, Pharmaceuticals; Aviation and Logistics and Public Sector/Semi-State Organisations.

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DCU Business School

As one of Europe’s most dynamic young business schools, DCU Business School has redefined the boundaries of the traditional business school, collaborating on multiple levels with business, with industry and with government. DCU Business School is AACSB accredited placing it among the top 5% of Business Schools worldwide.  We were recognised in 2017 as the top Business School in Europe for gender balance among our academic staff, by the influential Financial Times ranking.

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DCU Leadership and Talent Institute

DCU Leadership and Talent Institute is the first leadership & talent centre of excellence and learning in Ireland. We bring together a critical mass of leading international researchers in the broad fields of HRM, organisational behaviour, psychology and strategy. The members conduct cutting edge research across the broad areas of work, organisational and psychology with a focus on leadership and talent issues.

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HR Search

HR Search is a specialist recruitment firm focused on the recruitment of HR professionals, both generalist and specialist, across all levels, industries and geographies. As HR Professionals we provide the sort of service that we would like to receive. Whether you are looking for a role in HR, looking for some HR advice or looking to hire a HR professional for your team, then our brand will be an extension of your brand in all that we do and say. We pride ourselves in our personable and genuine style, our focus on building long term and long-lasting relationships as well as our ability to have fun and build friendships along the way.

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