[How To Diversify Your Team] – Tip#7 Managing Maternity Leave
*Important clarification: throughout this article, I’m talking about the mother and the father in the context of a heterosexual couple. By mother, I mean the cisgender woman who has carried the child and plays the role of a parent, and by father, the cisgender man who also plays the role of a parent. By no means am I ignoring homosexual couples, couples with transgender parent(s), single parents etc. But since this article is about discrimination in the context of a cis heterosexual couple, I won’t mention it every time, so as not to make the text too heavy. I hope you won’t hold this against me.
Today, we’re taking a look at this essential question: in the workplace, what’s the difference between a man and a woman?
Generally speaking, one of the only answers to this question is the possibility for women to have children.
Women who have chosen to become mothers will benefit from maternity leave. Following childbirth, they need time off to recover from this physical ordeal. However, at the end of that period, the choice of which parent will take the time to care for the child is purely cultural. Women are not born with a gene that tells them how to take care of a child. They don’t innately know how to feed, educate or care for a baby; they learn “on the job”.
So how can we explain the fact that having a child is often a barrier to employment (at her age, she’ll be having a baby “behind our backs”) and to a woman’s career? How many women have seen their career progression stall after the birth of their first child? Conversely, men tend to progress faster in the same circumstances, because a child is then perceived as a guarantee of stability.
Addressing the subject of pregnancy and maternity leave is essential to successfully recruiting and retaining women in your team, and to making progress on the subject of diversity.
We’ll start with the pregnancy announcement. It’s unacceptable that in 2023, the majority of women are afraid to tell their manager such wonderful news. Following this announcement, there is only one acceptable response: congratulations! That’s all there is to it. The subject of the organization of the service during the absence can wait a few seconds.
Now that you’ve passed this first stage with flying colours, it’s time to keep up the good work, with a few rules to follow:
1 – Being on maternity leave does not justify not being on the list for yearly salary increases or not being considered for a promotion
2 – It’s important to keep in regular contact with the mother-to-be and plan a few moments to meet: a meeting at least once before her time off to understand her mindset and what she intends to do after her maternity leave. In some companies, they’ll keep her position vacant until she’s back, which gives her a sense of security, but can be difficult to organize. In other cases, they may decide to replace her, with the promise to offer her a new position on her return, as an evolution from her previous role. These two options allow the mother to leave with peace of mind, and obviously need to be discussed with her before. It’s also a good idea to ask for news from both the mother and the child during the pregnancy and after the birth. And, of course, a baby gift is in order.
3 – Finally, after several months’ absence, it’s important to prepare for the employee’s return. This may involve a period of part-time work or work from home, to ensure that the transition is smooth and that childcare is under control (mom’s in charge!).
Once the mother has returned from leave, don’t hesitate to consult her before making any decisions that concern her. It’s also a good idea to avoid thinking in her place. For example, don’t jump to the conclusion that because she has a young child, she won’t want to travel, move abroad or take on more responsibilities. A transparent discussion is very useful at this point. In my case, we moved as a family when my second was just 3 months old and my first 2 years old. I had clearly expressed to my manager my desire to leave as soon as I returned from maternity leave, and he believed me without trying to oppose this mildly unreasonable project. Ladies, don’t be afraid to be clear about your expectations as soon as you return to work.
If you still have any doubts about the success of this process, there’s one last card you can play. Adopt long Paternity leave, to remove all discrimination completely.
The steps described above are simple to apply and ensure that women’s careers are not affected by their pregnancies. Successfully implementing them will greatly reduce one of the greatest forms of discrimination to which women are subject in the workplace.
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