IN TOUCH : Women in Transition

One way to address New Zealand’s ongoing skills shortage is engage the pool of untapped potential in mothers who have either not returned to the workforce, or returned to the workforce but in role which doesn’t make full use of their capability.
That’s according to Jayne Muller, executive coach and director of business consulting company Altris, which is studying ways to help mothers transition back to the workplace.
Women make up 46.9 percent of the New Zealand workforce; they make up 52 percent of qualified people leaving tertiary education and are now having children much later in life, meaning their careers are more established by the time they take leave to have children.
Mothers with dependent children are returning to paid work earlier than in the past with more than six in 10 mothers with dependent children in the workforce. In the 10 years to 2001, the proportion of mothers with dependent children who were in paid work increased from 58 to 68 in every 100 and this remains on the increase.
“As mother of two young daughters, I can certainly relate to the unknown challenges of motherhood and the possibility of losing one’s identity when ‘leaving the workforce’ to have children,” Muller says. “Having worked hard and trained at my chosen vocation, the prospect of taking an extended break was more than little daunting. That combined with my desire to be the best I could be at work and as mother, started ringing all kinds of alarm bells.”
The company is conducting survey to find out what the barriers are to more women choosing to return and how to make the process work for mothers and companies. The survey is ongoing but interim results (from over 1600 women) show the big worries for returning mothers are childcare arrangements (81 percent), maintaining work/life balance (79 percent), and managing workload expectations (59 percent).
Of those who had returned to the workplace, 56 percent were offered flexible working arrangements while worryingly large group (20 percent) were given no support.
Asked what would have helped them before they went on maternity leave, the women replied structured transition plan (45 percent), parental leave information (25 percent), the early appointment of their replacement (24 percent) and good handover period (24 percent).
While on parental leave, almost half (44 percent) said they would have liked regular communication and 19 percent wanted access to an independent confidante or coach.
From the businesses’ point of view, the survey has identified four headings under which organisations can assess how well they are responding to the needs of women in transition. These are:
• Encouraging dialogue between the organisation and transitioning women around expectations (of both parties).
• Maintaining contact with women in transition so that they are kept up to date with changes in the organisation while they are away from the workforce.
• Discussion around flexible working options.
• Many respondents felt that putting together structured transition plan would have been most helpful to them.
• Early appointment of replacement is important.
• Sufficient time to do good handover to/from the replacement was mentioned by high percentage of respondents.
• Visible support and understanding from management and team members was identified as being extremely important in helping with transitioning back.
• Access to an independent confidante or coach to discuss issues, concerns and establish goals for the initial period back at work.
• Having access to ‘buddy’ – recently returned mother who could act as mentor.
• Parental leave/childcare information.
• Information about flexible work options and policies.
• Keeping up to date with changes in the organisation during parental leave.
“From simply talking to mothers and mothers to be and organisations losing key members of their teams to parental leave, I realised that there were many different ways in which the situation was being addressed – or not addressed as the case may be,” Muller says of the initial findings.
She says some companies are starting to offer incentives including flexible working and childcare facilities for women to return back to the workforce; however others simply cast their key women employees to the side.
“We believe that this is growing topic for New Zealand business – it has to be in such talent short market as ours. When the competition to obtain and retain talent is so high, then surely it makes sound business and economic sense to attract women back to work – ensuring that their talents come back to you,” Muller says, adding that over the the next few years this could be the issue that makes the biggest difference to many New Zealand organisations; “those who attract and retain their talent will succeed, while others fail”.

For more information, and to complete the survey, visit

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