New research on working parents

STEM industries have skills shortages; nine in ten STEM employers are finding it hard to recruit people with the right skills and it’s costing them £1.5bn each year. Given that, it makes sense to make the best use of the talent we already have in STEM. We know that the attrition rate of women in STEM is higher than that for men, and a key reason for this is the impact of parenthood.

That means it’s important to understand what would work for new mothers and help to keep more mothers in STEM. New research, published by The Parent Mentor and Kangaroo Coaching, and endorsed by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work, has been published which provides useful insight. Policies and Practices Through the Prism of Working Parenthood provides a further evidence base for existing good practice while providing a number of further options for employers to consider.

Crucially, over two thirds of new parents who then left their employers say it could have been prevented – and flexible working is cited by more than half as something which would have helped them to stay. Almost half of those who returned to work cite flexible working as a key enabler.

Flexible working is important to making sustainable change, which is why it’s one of the WISE Ten Steps, and can benefit everyone, not just new parents. The right to request flexible working is now enshrined in UK law, but there’s no requirement for employers to provide it. However, employees who work flexibly are more productive and happier (and therefore less likely to leave).

The other key enabler of new parents getting back to work is a supportive environment – almost a third of respondents to the Parent Mentor/Kangaroo research say that the support of managers, mentors and their teams at work was instrumental. Nine in ten respondents hadn’t received any coaching or mentoring, but more than four in five say they would have taken it if offered. The results of the research also make clear that coaching and mentoring would help women to feel truly back at work more quickly.

Mentoring new mothers is especially important given the well-known differential impacts of parenthood on the sexes – the Motherhood Penalty for women becomes a Fatherhood Bonus for men. There’s a mutual benefit to mentorship; Harvard research found that sponsorship and mentoring offer mutual benefits, helping those giving just as much as those in receipt.

Just as important as the things that help women to return to work are the hindrances. The research shows that the top two roadblocks are a lack of planning and a lack of communication – combined, these account for over two fifths of responses. Other causes given include lack of flexibility, lack of support from managers (about whom 70% of respondents commented negatively), isolation, IT issues, lack of breastfeeding provision and refusal of KIT days.

This research shows the key areas to focus on to support returning parents. Get the flexible working policy right and ensure there is a supportive environment where every signal shows parents they matter to the organisation.

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