Alexandra Mills is a lawyer in the Employment team at Blacks Solicitors LLP and has recently become a new mum as well. She understands first-hand how hard juggling work and home life can be so has taken the time to put together some top tips and advice for other women in her situation.
“It seems there is no escaping the sad fact that women face difficulties at nearly every stage in their career. From the recruitment process, to sexual harassment in the workplace and the gender pay gap, the spotlight is being shone on the reality some, if not too many, women face in their careers.
“What is the obvious reason for this discrimination? The simple fact that some women, at some stage in their career, will have children.
“As a new mum myself, I think it is really important to engage in this dialogue. Hopefully, by continuing to discuss these discriminatory practices and by challenging the outdated stereotype that women/mothers can’t have a career and contribute to the workplace, we will begin to see some changes.
“On a practical level, going back to work after a period of maternity leave can be daunting. Becoming a parent is a life-changing experience and your focus shifts entirely. However, this doesn’t mean that your career is over or that you can’t juggle both.
Here are some top tips for a smooth return to work:
Engage with your employer during your maternity leave – no, don’t call every week and ask to pick up emails/close big deals. But do drop them a line and ask how the team are getting on. Show that you’re interested; tell them about the new baby. Any decent employer will be interested to hear how you’re both getting on.
Ask about Keeping In Touch (KIT) days – if you want to go into work and be paid for doing so, then organise some KIT days. These are a great way to refresh your memory and to prepare for your return to work.
Start to discuss what hours may work for you – I’d recommend talking about this early on. This will give you time to think about finances and what you can afford in terms of full or part time working and child care costs. In most cases you should submit a flexible working request to your employer and they must process it within three months. There is a balancing act between what you can work and what your employer needs from you in respect of hours per week, but they can’t unreasonably refuse your request.
Consider the work/life balance – a flexible working request doesn’t necessarily just mean a reduction in hours, it can also mean adapting your working hours. Will arriving earlier so you can leave earlier help with beating the traffic? Can you arrange a day working from home so that you can pick up from nursery/school? Take some time to think about what your hours will mean for your home life in practice.
Speak up! If you’re struggling once you have returned, say something. If the hours aren’t quite working, mention it. If you’re being overlooked for a promotion or a pay rise – then clearly point out why you feel this is discriminatory practice.
“With a good deal of communication between you and your employer there is every chance that you can get back to the same career as before. If, after trying to engage with your employer about a return to work that suits you both, you find that you have been ignored, overlooked or made to feel like you’re no longer part of the team, then speak to someone!
“This can be informally within your team, or more formally via a colleague in HR. If you don’t feel that you can discuss matters internally then ACAS offer a free, confidential helpline. If you feel you want to take matters further, seek legal advice.
“It is important to say something though and with so many women finding the courage to start speaking up about these issues, maybe those in power will finally start to listen.”
If you want more information or would like to speak to Alexandra for more advice and help, please email her at [email protected] or call 0113 322 2802. Alternatively, visit www.LawBlacks.com.