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20th June 2013 - Views

The value of maternity coaching

It’s official. Women remain an untapped source of talent. The skilled workers that companies rely on to drive their businesses forward are becoming increasingly elusive and it’s likely that thousands of companies across the UK will face significant skills shortages in the coming years. In fact, Manpower’s 2012 Talent Shortages Survey found that even though many companies are still cautious in terms of hiring, a third of employers across the globe have already identified a lack of available skilled talent as a significant drag on business performance. At the same time, recent research from the Fawcett Society has found that unemployment amongst UK women has risen to a 25-year high. So why is it that even though businesses are crying out for a skilled workforce, women remain a largely untapped source of talent?

One of the fundamental issues is that existing practices can unintentionally exclude female talent. People practices and work models that employers have in place are often outdated, preventing women from demonstrating their true potential, and even worse, excluding them from the business altogether. One area that employers really need to improve on is attracting women back into the business after their maternity leave. A study by a law firm Slater & Gordon earlier this year found that 30% of female workers felt that they didn’t ‘fit in’ anymore when they returned to work. Even worse, 20% felt that their co-workers didn’t understand what it was like juggling new motherhood with work.

Including practical solutions such as maternity is a very effective way of retaining female talent. Women who receive coaching whilst they make the transition from maternity leave to returning to work are not only more likely to return to work, but will come back with confidence and a real focus on making a contribution to the business. The coaching also enables them to have an understanding of their position within the business which is integral as it may differ slightly to the role they had before they went on maternity leave. Some forward thinking businesses have already started to implement maternity coaching at a senior level, but it’s safe to presume that it’s not being done for all workers. Returning to the workplace can often be quite daunting after going on maternity leave so it’s important to prepare all women for the practicalities of their return as well as giving clear expectations on the their day to day role and overall contribution to the business.

What should a maternity coaching programme offer? And how might it differ from a traditional executive coaching programme?

Clearly, a formalised process for matching the individual to a coach experienced in maternity coaching is essential. When selecting a coach, or small team of coaches to work in this area, consider their track record, experience of delivering maternity coaching and the ‘fit’ between individual coach and coachee. Once you have shortlisted a coach, ensure that the coachee has the opportunity to meet them for a ‘chemistry’ meeting. Consider timing. It may be appropriate (and very reassuring) to set up the expectation of coaching support with the coachee before maternity leave takes place. Alternatively, it may form part of the keep in touch process to reintroduce a member of the team back into the workplace after a period of maternity leave. The process could begin once the individual coachee is back at work.

Similar to other coaching interventions, it is important that a maternity coaching solution includes pre-work, to encourage the individual to reflect on what they want to get out of coaching and space to plan and reflect on each session. Part of this pre work may form a coaching plan, summarising objectives and key milestones, which are agreed by both the line manager, coachee and coach. If maternity coaching is provided during maternity leave, we would recommend six sessions of face-to-face coaching with a highly qualified and experienced maternity coach. Right Management typically delivers sessions that are two hours long and delivered either at the coachee’s home, Right Management’s offices, or at a client office. Spacing between sessions can be determined by the coach and coachee over the maternity period. The coachee has the option of taking the six sessions over a 12 month period, with telephone and email support between sessions along with homework and exercises. If appropriate, the first and last session often includes a three-way meeting with the coachee, the coach and the sponsor/line manager.