After a wave of calls to increase hybrid and flexible working options post-pandemic, it’s hard to believe that maternity leave is still a taboo topic. There have been many strides forward in the working world regarding maternity leave policy and benefits, however it appears this is one area where many employers are “staying mum” which can have a real detrimental impact on inclusion in the workplace, especially for women.

Why is there a lack of transparency in maternity leave policy?

Findings from the Parental Fog Index 2022, which looks at how top employers are openly supporting working parents, indicate that many are failing in a basic measure of inclusion by not being clear about family-friendly policies.

Two-thirds of employers don’t publish basic details of parental pay and leave, and the number of employers actively promoting their family-friendly credentials fell by 19% from the previous year.

Yet this is despite, according to a recent survey by Ashby Jenkins Recruitment, transparent parental leave policies being a key deciding factor for many job hunters. In fact, over 50% of respondents said it was “very important”.

Well, the policy details must be somewhere, you say? Can’t job candidates and existing employees simply ask for them?

What’s the issue with not being transparent?

The truth is a lot of people don’t feel comfortable asking about leave at an interview or offer stage, or even once employed, as it can feel very personal and revealing, and there are real concerns that such a question may hamper their chances of employment or progression.

According to research by Glassdoor, women are truly fearful of asking about maternity benefits.

Almost four out of five (78%) said the topic is high on the list of things they definitely would not ask in an interview, with more than half (51%) worried that potential employers may jump to the conclusion that they are pregnant or hope to be soon, and almost a third (31%) thought it might hinder their career progression at the organisation.

Once through the door, just under a third (32%) said they found information about maternity leave in their induction packs, while 13% claimed employees had to ask about the policies as they were not published anywhere.

Just under half (42%) said they would only ask if they were announcing a pregnancy with the main reasons being that employers may think they were trying to get pregnant, it may be considered unprofessional or, most alarmingly, that in hard times they would put themselves at risk of redundancy.

What this all boils down to is the misplaced shame that is still associated with being a woman who wants a career and a family.

The ongoing effect of this stigma, fuelled by the lack of transparency afforded to parental leave policies, is the continuing discrimination towards parents in the workplace.

And sadly, the figures are stark. Recent research by the campaign group Pregnant Than Screwed shows that more than half of all mothers have faced some form of discrimination while pregnant, on maternity leave or on their return to work.

Almost three-quarters (74%) had received comments that their performance had dipped due to pregnancy or maternity leave, almost two-thirds (64%) said their boss or colleagues had made hurtful comments about the way they looked, and 7% were made redundant or forced to leave due to a flexible working request being denied or health and safety issues.

What this means is that a pool of talented women is being lost from the workforce, damaging inclusion in workplaces across the UK.

So, what can we do about it?

It’s obvious that a wider cultural shift is needed to really make working parents feel accepted and included. We’re also working in a time of rising costs and a lack of affordable childcare that is seeing many women take the decision to stay at home.

However, the current climate is not an excuse for employers not to commit to improving their gender inclusion. They must start to review their working arrangements through the eyes of mums and mums-to-be, and avoid the assumption that through the implementation of hybrid and flexible arrangements they have removed the penalties for working parents.

How to make your maternity leave policy more transparent

Remove the stigma by listing maternity leave alongside your other employee benefits, such as annual leave entitlement and pension schemes. And put your maternity leave policy out their publicly, either on your website, your company intranet or in your recruitment and induction packs.

Take it a step further and include all your policies that relate to starting a family, such as paternal leave, shared parental leave and adoption leave. It’s also important to consider how employees should be looked after when trying for a baby doesn’t go to plan, so policies around leave for IVF or fertility treatments, as well as leave following a miscarriage, should also be listed.

If we already know that parental leave policies are becoming deciding factors for job seekers, then this will also decrease the likelihood of companies missing out on the best talent. It’s also likely that many people who want to know about these policies don’t intend on starting a family straightaway, but they may wish to do so in the coming years. Knowing what they will be entitled to in the future and how they will be cared for by their company is a real incentive for them to stay.

There may be some organisations, such as those in the charity sector, who feel their parental leave packages are not as generous as others and, as a result, shy away from speaking about them publicly.

If your organisation can only offer statutory leave, it’s just as important to be upfront. When information is hidden or hard to find, it immediately gives off the impression that it is a “bad deal”, however more often than not, there may be other benefits that your organisation can offer which makes a role enticing for a candidate.

Whatever your policies look like, increasing visibility is a vital first step in normalising conversations about starting a family while in work and making working parents – and those striving to be parents – feel like they belong.

At Tell Jane we offer pregnancy at work training, as well as training programmes for leaders on building inclusion and embedding inclusive habits. If your company would benefit from advice on how to demonstrate its commitment to working parents, email us at hello@telljane.co.uk.

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