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6 June 2022


How coaching can benefit women returning to the workplace.

The last time I was directly involved in a pregnancy was when I was born. So, I am holding my hand up to having no life experience of pregnancy or returning from maternity, other than indirectly as a friend, colleague or manager of someone who was going through the process. 

Luckily, coaching is not an advice giving service, but a safe confidential space, in which the client can explore a topic on the premise that the client holds the answer, and the coach can help facilitate them in finding it.

On this basis, I am going to look at how coaching could be of benefit to a woman returning from maternity.

Most of the relevant UK legislation regarding maternity is in the Employment Rights Act 1996, the Employment Relations Act 1999, the Employment Act 2002 and the Work and Families Act 2006. These are then reflected in an organisation's benefits, policies and procedures.

So how can maternity return coaching complement these maternity benefits?

There is no-one size fits all solution in coaching. Whilst there are some common coaching topics, one client's exploration of a topic will differ significantly to another. Similarly, one woman's experience of returning from maternity will differ from another, and this is where the client-centred focus of coaching can be helpful in supporting a woman's personal journey.

What they all have in common is a major transition in life to becoming responsible for another (small) person.

I recall my mother telling me as a young boy, whilst holidaying on the west coast of Scotland, (where we spent many happy hours, rock pooling and rowing out in small boats to catch mackerel) that she and my father had agreed they wouldn’t both go out in a small rowing boat on the Atlantic together, for fear of leaving three young boys parentless. A striking thought, but one that also shows the responsibility and decisions that parents take on as they make this transition.

I experienced a similar transition to this much later in life, when my parents health deteriorated and I became responsible (shared with my brothers) for the financial and health and well-being needs of my parents, another key life transition. 

As I reflect on these life transitions, it shines a light on why it can be so helpful to explore what these transitions mean and what you are going to do about them in a coaching environment. 

As such, where maternity is concerned, some returning from maternity coaching topics might include:

  • Managing work/family balance, managing boundaries and prioritisation
  • Where is my career heading and career visioning?
  • Exploring confidence in handling my maternity transition and return to work
  • Exploring flexible working options and arrangements 
  • Exploring any changes in identity as a new parent
  • Re-establishing relationships with stakeholders and clients
  • Practicing key conversations in a safe confidential space.

The coaching process could be structured in terms of identifying the coaching objectives up front, or more fluid, allowing the client to bring whatever topic is most pertinent to a coaching session at that time, or it can be a blend of the two.

These coaching topics are not only of benefit to the client. They also benefit the employer. In 2011, Ernst and Young launched its own maternity coaching offer after it identified it was losing a number of women after maternity which was impacting gender balance at the top of the firm, increasing costs relating to recruitment and training to replace these losses and a number of grievances from women who had returned post maternity and were unhappy with the quality of work they were given on return. 

The Ernst & Young offer actually included pre, during and post sessions in their programme, rather than just returning from maternity sessions. A short case study on the E&Y programme can be found here.

The article I share this month also explores what a woman can do to prepare for return from maternity, before she goes on maternity leave. 

Looking at the potential coaching topics above, and the E&Y example, there is good reason for women returning from maternity (as well as pre and during) and their employers to consider coaching as a proactive approach to such a key life transition.

There are a number of coaches who specialise in maternity-related coaching, and it is probably one area of coaching where lived experience is of real value. I found a number of coaches offering this service from a simple internet search, for example.

If helpful also have a look at my blog on Choosing The Right Executive Coach and feel free to drop me a message if you have any questions on this subject.

Finally, and as always, if you have any questions concerning coaching, please also get in touch.

From the author:

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