Returning Works® Founder Dr Emma Waltham explains why it’s time for a more systemic approach to supporting expectant and returning parents.

Change is glacial: if we carry on as we are in the UK, it will take 100 years for women to achieve gender pay parity. According to research done by PwC, the gender pay gap has only declined by a measly 0.5% in the last 5 years.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that most of the gains of the last 30 years are due to women becoming more highly educated. Great – women are now as well-educated as men. So, why are they earning less than men?

What will it take?

There are many factors feeding into the gender pay gap, but recent research by the Office for National Statistics, which was based on the most recent UK data, showed the gender pay gap widens significantly when women reach their 40s. The ONS said this is due to the impact of motherhood.

Organisations that want to keep strong female talent pipelines must look at their working environments to see what barriers are in place that prevents their working mums from continuing on their career pathways. There is still a glass ceiling when women become parents and unless it is removed, gender pay gaps will not close in this century.

At Returning Works®, we understand that to have the impact we need to make, to play our part in achieving gender parity now rather than by 2151, we must take a holistic approach and expand our reach.

We partner with organisations to identify what the barriers are to female representation at senior levels. We know that this isn’t just about working with returning mums. We take a much wider view, evaluating through a systemic lens, so we give our partners a toolkit that will create an inclusive environment for all parents.

We show our partners how to create inclusive workplaces where parents want to stay and find it easy to thrive. The benefits are real: the organisations we partner with improve long-term retention and strengthen their female talent pipelines, so that gender diversity grows at senior levels. This is how gender pay gaps close.

Making Progress in Supporting Returning Parents

It’s important to us that we keep learning, as we want to bring the best possible solutions to the often complex problem of what holds women back at work. Our work in this space, coaching expectant parents and managers, hosting awareness events, training employees in allyship workshops and undertaking family-friendly audits, has shown us that to really shift the dial we must take this systemic approach.

To create an environment where women thrive as working parents, where organisations become an employer of choice, a place where people want to work because it is family-friendly. To be this, companies need to have the right policies and benefits, upskill their people so the experience is consistently best practice, and provide support to their returning parents.

Managing professional responsibilities alongside caring responsibilities is always going to be a challenge. Parents who get help with balancing this are better able to continue on their career pathway. Parental Transition Coaching is fantastic and has proven success in enabling expectant and returning parents to manage their careers during a major life change. We help them balance their work and caring responsibilities and build confidence and capability. But it isn’t enough.

We understand that the barriers women face in fulfilling their professional potential isn’t something they can fix on their own. We have built on our experience of what we see works, to provide inclusive, progressive solutions that show returning works.

What is Needed to Help Women Achieve their Professional Potential?

To have the impact we need to see, to have any hope of closing the gender pay gap in this half of the century, organisations need to progress on several fronts:

  • What’s the employee experience like for working parents?
  • What policies and provisions are in place to support your expectant and returning parents?
  • Is a best-practice framework in place so that parental returners feel positive and engaged wherever they work in the organisation?
  • Are returners able to continue on their career pathway, so women take on more responsible roles and gender diversity increases at senior levels?

When organisations take a systemic view and take action on what they find, then they really start to create family-friendly workplaces where all parents thrive and women are able to achieve their potential.

This is what we’ll need to see across the board to finally say good riddance to the gender pay gap.

Visit us at to find out what steps you can take now to create an inclusive workplace for your parental returners.

Other posts Returning Works have contributed to GE Insights include:

Why Allyship is Key to Fostering an Inclusive Culture with Maternity in the Workplace

What are Companies Doing to Tackle Workplace Maternity Bias?

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Helping new mothers to return to work and planning for maternity leave are just two of the challenges employers face when supporting pregnant and postnatal employees. Returning Works® Founder Dr Emma Waltham explains why it’s time for a more systemic approach to supporting expectant and returning parents.

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