One of the most important issues for any organisation’s human resources department is how best to manage maternity leave. In recent years, some companies have been turning to specialist maternity coaches to help ease the shift from high-flyer to mother and back again.
“We have a large number of very talented women and we’re keen to do as much as we can to retain that talent,” says Caroline Rawes, London head of HR at law firm Linklaters. “Balancing family and work can be tricky and maternity coaching helps people make that transition.”
Chris Parke, whose company Talking Talent has coached more than 1,000 women through maternity, says that if a mother can get through the post-maternity year, long-term retention soars as working parents tend to be less likely to move just because someone makes them a better financial offer. “It can be a huge benefit to the organisation,” he says.
Geraldine Gallacher of Executive Coaching Consultancy says that maternity coaching usually takes the form of a series of sessions. Prior to taking maternity leave, a coaching session prepares for the lifestyle change by helping soon-to-be mums hand over their work. A further session is held towards the end of the maternity leave to prepare them for their return; and a third session is held shortly after they have come back. Some organisations may also offer a fourth session about a year after a mother’s return to talk about longer-term goals.
Ms Gallacher says topics addressed in maternity coaching range from flexible working and the practicalities of childcare to feelings of guilt and the attitudes of colleagues.
“I did maternity coaching with my first child,” says Nicole Kar, a partner at Linklaters. “What I found particularly useful was talking about how you need to be very strict with how you use your time and deal with competing priorities. We also talked about how you stay involved and engaged while on maternity leave, and I got some great perspectives on how other people had dealt with issues. Because the coaches have dealt with dozens of people in different sectors, that pooling of experience is very useful.”
Interestingly – and proving that diversity cuts both ways – Ms Kar’s coach was a man.
But maternity coaching is not just for first-timers. Charlotte Jones, head of accounting policy at Deutsche Bank, was coached for her third child. She says that having several children brings a greater degree of complexity, but that the challenges of reconnecting with the organisation are the same: “Hearing that other senior people have had the same challenges at other organisations is very useful.
“Going in and having a couple of hours of in-depth discussion …was an incredibly positive experience.”
Ms Jones will soon be having a “year after” meeting. She says: “This will be more about talking through career choices – am I comfortable with where I have got to in the organisation or do I want to look at further career progression while balancing the family side of my life?”
It is not just mothers who are offered maternity coaching. Often their line managers, whether men or women, are also offered a session so that they can understand the issues their staff are dealing with. Ms Jones says this is a very important part of the process: “How your manager behaves to you when you get back makes a huge difference.”
Maternity coaching is not cheap – a course of one-to-one sessions costs thousands of pounds – so it tends to be used in high-salary sectors such as law and banking. However, says Pamela Hutchinson, UK head of diversity at Deutsche Bank: “We do offer it to all women regardless of position – junior women are the pipeline up to the senior ranks.”
Most maternity coaching providers offer two types of service. The first, which is typically used for senior women, is one-to-one, while the second consists of group sessions.
Of course, the issues surrounding parenting do not just apply to mothers. Ms Gallacher says that she has been asked about paternity coaching and is investigating the possibility, while Mr Parke’s organisation offers sessions for new fathers. “It’s not a single-gender issue any more,” he says.
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