New Mumsnet survey of working mothers supports Surrey research findings

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has come out in support of working mums, arguing that businesses need to “dramatically change” their working practices to prevent mothers feeling “shoved aside” when they return to work. Clegg’s comments were inspired by a new survey by website Mumsnet, showing that 60% of mums feel less employable when they return to work, and 75% say that it is harder to progress in their career.

Charted Psychologist Dr Almuth McDowall, who conducts research on work-life balance alongside her work as a practising Occupational Psychologist, supports Clegg’s stand and explains that research here at Surrey has painted a similar picture:

“The Mumsnet findings don’t come as a great surprise. Our late colleague Lynne Millward here at the University of Surrey, who lived and breathed the juggling act as a single mum with three children, conducted fascinating research in the mid 2000s. This showed that women feel ‘invisible’ as workers when returning from maternity leave, and no longer feel taken seriously in the workplace. Whilst the UK government has tried to address the policy angle, such as the keeping in touch days during maternity leave which are a positive initiative, not all that much seems to have changed in terms of general perceptions about what working mothers offer to the workplace.

There is no evidence that women perform any worse when the return. Quite the contrary, motherhood necessarily involves embracing serious flexibility and multi-tasking, which are skills which employers want. At the same time, UK employers appear reluctant to fully embrace a culture change. To address this, we need role models and more women in senior positions who showcase what can be done. The UK still lags behind other countries. It’s also important that any opportunity to work flexibly is paired with good support all around from the organisation, and line managers have a key role to play here to translate organisational policy into workable solutions. The needs of female returners into the workplace are likely to vary between individuals as they depend on circumstance, on the job role as such and other factors.Understanding exactly what the needs are and how best to support them is key to successful return, and likely to reap all around benefits. “

Reference: Millward, L. (2006). The transition to motherhood in an organizational context: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 79, 315–333.

Related courses: MSc Occupational and Organisational Psychology