Growth through Talent

Supporting Mothers Returning to Work: Employer Strategies

 23rd May 2024

An important, but often overlooked workplace topic is supporting mothers returning to work, and how organisations can make this transition smoother for parents. With companies increasingly recognising the importance of diversity and inclusion, supporting mothers returning to work after maternity is a topic worthy of attention.

To gain a deeper understanding of this issue, we spoke with Naomi Roberts, Principal Consultant at Pivotal London, about her experience transitioning back to work after maternity leave. Naomi’s insights, combined with findings from recent studies, highlight both the challenges and the support systems that can make a significant difference for returning mothers.

Understanding the Challenges

Returning to work after maternity leave can be daunting for many mothers. Naomi shared that her transition was smoother than expected, noting, “There’s always a worry that everything will have changed – market, clients, everything. But even after nine months off, clients and candidates still remembered me.” However, she also faced challenges, particularly in re-establishing her presence in the market. “Initially, knowing where to start was tough. You have to do the awareness piece all over again and find new avenues to go down.”

These sorts of challenges are inherent for most mothers returning to work, and for some mothers the transition will be far from smooth sailing. Case in point, a report by The Fawcett Society and Totaljobs highlights the broader issues at play facing RTW mothers. Surveying over 3,000 UK-based working parents with children aged four or under, their research uncovered that “84% of mothers face difficulties returning to work after maternity leave, with 30% receiving no support from their employer during this time”. Additionally, 15% of returning mothers frequently feel excluded from social and networking events, and 41% of mothers report feeling detached from their colleagues. This isolation can hinder their reintegration, limit potential opportunities and career progression, and contribute to additional stress for new parents.

Creating a Supportive Work Environment

With such a high proportion of new mothers experiencing difficulties in the workplace, a supportive and inclusive workplace is key for the successful reintegration of returning mothers. The good news is that there are relatively easy steps that employers can take to achieve this:

Flexible Work Arrangements

Offering flexible hours or remote work options can make a significant difference. Naomi appreciated the flexibility that Pivotal offered her, saying, “Chris (Pivotal’s Co-Founder) has checked in on me all the time, given flexible working options and not pushed me to increase my in-office days until I’m ready.” For mothers juggling the balancing act of caring for their child and focusing on work, increased flexibility with workday start and end times and work from home days is one of the most appreciated accommodations that employers can make.

Employers looking to support RTW mothers should be very open to flexible work requests, particularly as there can be a stigma around mothers asking for fewer in-office days to their peers, and a belief that they aren’t working as hard. However, Naomi mentions that the reality is that they’re often working at odd times, including early in the morning and late in the evening to accommodate their baby.

Onboarding and Reorientation Programmes

Implementing onboarding and reorientation programmes helps returnees catch up on any changes within the company. This can reduce the feeling of being out of the loop and facilitate a smoother transition. Katie Johnston suggests that companies should design a "runway back into work" that starts before the return-to-work date, to better prepare mothers for their re-entry into the workforce. Additionally, scheduling Keep in Touch (KIT) days allows parents on leave to attend meetings and training sessions to stay connected, helping them to feel less isolated upon their return to work.   

Mentorship and Peer Support

Naomi emphasised the importance of having peer support, stating, “If there is somebody in the business who is a mum, it would be helpful if that person could be a support system.” For RTW mothers, being mentored by someone who has been in the exact same position can provide invaluable advice. By establishing support groups where experienced returnees can support new mothers returning to work, employers can provide a useful support network for working mothers.

For organisations that want to go a step further, creating a family-friendly culture is encouraged. As even with the right guidelines in place, pre-existing and harmful attitudes can create an unsupportive culture and hinder a mother’s successful return. Educating all staff and management about the challenges faced by parents can counteract this. This can be done by bringing in an external expert speaker, or by inviting an employee to speak about their own experience.

Open communication between managers and returning mothers can also help smooth the transition, and regular check-ins can address concerns by providing ongoing support. Naomi noted the importance of this, saying, “Chris is always asking how I’m feeling, and how the commute is going. I’ve felt very supported.”

Training and Development

To give confidence to mothers returning to work, employers can offer learning and development opportunities to upskill. According to an HR Brew article, nearly one in five mothers have considered leaving their jobs due to struggles with balancing increased workloads and family commitments, and providing ongoing professional development can help mitigate these challenges. Similarly, helping returning mothers envision and work towards long-term career goals within the company is important. Clear pathways for advancement can motivate and help retain talented employees, while reducing the number of new mothers that drop out of the workforce.


Supporting mothers returning to work is not only the right thing to do – it also contributes to a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Employers that take steps to ease the experience for RTW mothers can reap the benefits of a happier workforce. Finally, for mums that are considering returning to work, Naomi gives this advice: “Go for it, at some stage you will have to anyway. Find good childcare, that will be key.”

If you’re looking for advice on improving your current policies and recruitment practices to better support returning mothers, feel free to contact us.

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