In a recent interview, Robert Jenrick, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, has said that companies must do more to keep in touch with women when they are on maternity leave.
Mr Jenrick revealed that his own wife was “not supported” at work when she had their children and that she found it “challenging” taking the time off. His own personal experiences have made him realise “there is a long way to go” for gender equality in the workplace.
The MP for Newark, who previously worked as a lawyer, said he has seen “a number of women who returned after maternity leave and really struggled to rebuild their careers”, that “male colleagues were only too happy to take on their clients while they were out of the office” and that “business wasn’t given to them when they returned.” He described how men make a “mistake” assuming women want to be completely cut off from work while on maternity leave, stating that “there are plenty of examples where women want to stay in touch with certain projects or aspects of their career that are important to them.”
Mr Jenrick’s point regularly arises in maternity discrimination cases with allegations that the employer failed to communicate important (and not so important) developments to employees on maternity leave.
Although a wider change in work and office culture is needed, there are a number of tools already available to help keep new mothers engaged with their workplace while on maternity leave. For example, women are allowed to work up to 10 Keeping In Touch (KIT) days during maternity or adoption leave without bringing their leave or pay to an end. Furthermore, there is the option to work up to 20 Shared-Parental Leave-In-Touch (SPLIT) days.
KIT/SPLIT days can be used for training, conferences, meetings or simply to help settle back into work gradually at the end of a period of maternity or parental leave.
Employers should also remember that they can contact mothers during maternity leave – as long as that is done reasonably. While there is a balance to be struck, many mothers would still like to be kept up to date with important developments at work. Employers should also seek to agree with their employees, before they start maternity leave, what level of communication they want to receive while away from the workplace.