According to the Everyone Economy report from the Chartered Management Institute, around 560,000 female managers are ‘missing’ from the UK workforce. An additional 800,000 female managers would be needed in the workforce to equal the proportion of females in the UK population by 2026.

Tellingly, the report found that female managers with children were twice as likely as male managers with children to say that they had missed out on promotions, pay rises and stretch projects.

Similarly, the Office for National Statistics announced in December 2021 that the gender pay gap quadruples when women hit their 40s due to parenthood. These numbers show that we clearly aren’t living in a society where women are able to continue their career pathway when they become parents. In this article, Dr Emma Waltham, Maternity Returns Specialist and founder of Returning Works discusses the importance of allyship when fostering an inclusive culture towards maternity in the workplace.

This post continues Emma’s ongoing contribution to GE Insights, following her previous article:

What are Companies Doing to Tackle Workplace Maternity Bias?

Frustrated and Unmotivated: The Impact on Returning Mothers

This is certainly reflected in my conversations with returning mums, who feel frustrated as they are often overlooked for promotion and find it harder to progress in their careers after becoming parents.

At a recent workshop I hosted, working mums had this to say:

“You come back to work and… my whole life has just changed. I’m frazzled. You have to deal with a baby, and get him to nursery before you even start work. The managers and the people that I’m working with have been a bit naive just assuming that I can handle that. It would just be nice to have a bit of a softer return in.

“I just feel unmotivated to go back. You know, I was quite an ambitious person. I wanted to move on and help out as much as possible and now I just don’t feel like that at all.”

“There was a structure change a couple of years ago, which actually no one was consulted about. It was simply done to people. There were a lot of promotions for men. However, I was given a whole extra workload. No more remuneration. A lot of my colleagues were given the same who were female.”

Workplace Allyship – A Driver of Inclusion

Allyship in the workplace is one of the main drivers of inclusion in the workplace. Overhauling a company’s culture is too big a task for one individual to tackle, and a company is never going to deliver a massive, permanent cultural shift overnight.

Workplace allyship focuses on the smaller, everyday things that we can all do – whether as colleagues, partners, HR professionals or line managers – that make an impact.

I launched my new workshop on maternity allyship at Equate Scotland’s online conference STEM Through an Intersectional Lens this summer.

Allyship Action Plans

During my Supporting New Parents interactive workshop, we looked at challenges to participation – for example, confidence, flexible working opportunities and maternity bias – and created a plan for actions that managers, HR and colleagues took home to foster a truly inclusive culture where returning mums will thrive. Actions included:

  • support networks for returning parents
  • the importance of empathy and open communication
  • buddies, mentors and coaching for returning mums
  • transparent recruitment and promotion processes.

We received some fantastic feedback following the workshop, with Robyn Harris, Policy, Research & Training Co-ordinator at Equate Scotland, commenting:

“We are so grateful that Emma could join us to share her incredible insights on this important yet under-discussed issue. Emma is not only highly reliable and efficient with communication and preparation, but she also brings a warm and thoughtful presence to any environment. Emma’s workshop added considerable value to our conference and we would be delighted to work with her again in the future.”

Emma delivers maternity allyship workshops to a variety of organisations, helping people raise awareness in of the importance of allyship and its impact on returning mums, to help them retain and develop this talent pool. Find out more at

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In 2018, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 4 in 10 employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace puts an unnecessary cost burden on the workplace. Dr Emma Waltham, Maternity Returns Specialist, Founder of Returning Works, discusses the importance of allyship when fostering an inclusive culture towards maternity in the workplace.

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