Manage your maternity leave like a project!

Why I set up Maternity Matters by Sarah Gerth

Having worked in HR for 15 years in Financial Services, I have seen it all. From companies who treat their employees unbelievably well, to companies who certainly don’t! Over the past 10 years laws have changed. The Equal Opportunies Act (2010) has supposedly made it even tougher to discriminate against sex and the recent introduction of ‘shared parental leave’, means men and women can more easily share the responsibility of child care, however have things really progressed and is the working world a better place for women and specifically working mothers??

In my opinion, not necessarily……

I have experienced male and female bosses being ‘annoyed’ and even angry when advised by an employee of their pregnancy. Comments such as ‘How am I going to manage my business area now without her?’ to ‘What bad timing and how inconvenient’ or even ‘I will just have to hire someone else permanently, as we can’t survive for a year without her with just temporary cover’ , have all been pretty common. Often senior managers of teams will, (sometimes understandably), panic and wonder how they will cover someone’s work for up to one year and then accommodate the ‘maternity returner’ when they come back again.

I have noticed the panic levels are even greater in Sales roles, where the female employee has built a strong relationship with their client group and the manager is worried about these clients going elsewhere when she is on maternity leave.

A woman on maternity leave, has the legal right to return to the same job she had before she left and selecting a woman for redundancy because of her pregnancy, maternity leave or a related reason is automatically unfair dismissal, as well as being unlawful discrimination.

However, I have seen many shocking situations when women return from maternity leave. This includes women being cleverly ‘sidelined’ in their roles and all sorts of creative scenarios being engineered, by organisations, which can mean they have no choice but to accept a change of role (often a ‘lesser’ role) when they return. Human Resources employees may be there to help enforce the law on these matters, but they can also be guilty of not standing up to senior managers who insist on finding these inventive ways to circumvent the law. I know- I was in HR!

I have heard managers say ‘she won’t be able to do the role as capably, now that she is a mother’ or ‘how is she planning to leave at 5 every day so she can pick her child up, when we often have to work until at least 7?’ Flexible working applications are still often point blank rejected on the grounds that a role needs to be done ‘full time’ and does not lend itself to flexible hours. This is one which particularly angers me as when women have children their multi tasking skills are often incredible and they can fit 5 times more than a childless person into their day, especially when given 8 hours without their child! Women can be made to feel so uncomfortable when they return to their old role, that they have no choice but to resign and look for something more ‘mummy’ friendly. Recent statistics suggest up to 54,000 women per year in the UK, are forced out of their roles due to pregnancy.

So yes, some organisations are at fault and more should be done by the government to ensure women are better protected with more severe consequences for organisations who break the law. However there is another side to the story and I do believe women can be doing more to empower themselves too, which is why I started Maternity Matters!

I work with women and help them learn how to make their whole experience of maternity leave and the return to work, a positive one. I believe that if a woman is constructive and demonstrates commitment and optimism in her approach towards her employer, from the start, the maternity process can be much smoother on both sides.

Through reasonably priced group classes and individual coaching, I aim to give women the strength, skills and confidence to empower themselves and ensure motherhood actually makes them even more successful in their careers. I celebrate the skills women acquire when they have a child and help them transfer some of those skills back into the workplace. I also ensure women know all of their rights, before, during and after maternity leave and how to use these rights effectively, to ensure they feel in control through every step of their maternity leave, including their return. We even help with ensuring flexible working applications are completed in depth and therefore more likely to be accepted, rather than rejected!

I run independent Maternity Returner classes (currently London based, but looking to expand nationally). These classes are unique and there is currently nothing else similar available. Any Maternity coaching is often done via an organisation and is not on offer to all female employees. We make support and coaching linked to maternity leave, accessible to all, as our classes are affordable and flexible with weekend and Skype options too.

We also coach and support women when they return to work after maternity leave and are in a vulnerable position and mistreated by their organisation, or made to feel they need to resign, due to struggling to balance being a mother and working.

I strongly believe that the best time to attend classes or coaching, to ensure you have a smooth maternity leave experience, is before you go on maternity leave. This is why I work alongside antenatal classes such as Lulu Baby and City Antenatal, as a Maternity Coach. ( (

If you are pregnant and working, why not come to one of our classes and learn how to manage your maternity leave like a project’. Or if you have gone back to work and are facing challenges, why not come and be coached by me!

Sarah Gerth will be a speaker at Bumpfest (Mumsnet) 2015 on 26th September (

Sarah’s ‘Top Tips’ for Maternity Returners

Start preparing for your return before you go;

Many women are so (understandably) distracted at the thought of their new baby and also exhausted by the time they go off on Maternity leave, that they do not plan for their return to work. It’s easy to think ‘I will worry about that when I get back’ but in my experience, women who have found returning easier, have been the ones who have planned in advance.

Preparation could include being involved in hiring the person who will ‘cover’ your role and even doing a handover with them to ensure that you have peace of mind that your role will be competently covered in your absence. This will lower your stress levels during your leave and ensure you feel less insecure when you return.

Use the Keeping in Touch Days which you are entitled to;

I have found women do not always use the Keeping In Touch Days which they are legally entitled to take and be paid for, during Maternity Leave. Women often think it is the responsibility of the Manager/Company to contact them about using them and the Manager/Company will often not want to bother the woman when she is on leave or will think she should tell them when she wants to use them.

If there is a special work event, a new employee joins or there is a a new product launch, these could be good examples of days when you could go into work. By doing so, and also potentially even asking for your manager to use a couple of the days to just update you over the phone/via Skype on what has been happening in your absence, you will not feel so nervous and out of your depth when you return to work. Additionally the working environment (instead of the usual nursery or playroom!) will not feel quite so foreign to you!

Think about Childcare well in advance;

Women often leave thinking about childcare arrangements until the last minute and then rush to find something, before they return. Leaving your precious baby for the first time will be difficult enough, without having to worry if they will like the new nursery, nanny or childminder! Ensure you start thinking about childcare at least 4 months before you return. Have trial sessions with any nannies or nursery groups. Leave your child for a day, or at least a morning and see how they (and you) cope! This will make your first day back at work much easier and perhaps a little less tear filled!

Most importantly empower yourself;

All of the above tips are about empowering yourself! This is the key to a smooth transition back into the workplace. Don’t leave things to chance, but take control!

Remember from April 2015 the law changes and Fathers are entitled to 26 weeks paid Paternity Leave, if the Mother returns to work. It will be interesting to see how many Fathers take this up and how this may affect the future dynamics of family life! ‘Paternity Coaching’ could be the next big thing!