Working mums are a ‘formidable resource’ in the workplace, here’s why
Find out what former Professional Manager cover star and group chairman and group CEO of Abbot Mead Vickers BDDO Cilla Snowball has to say about the importance of supporting mothers in the workplace (and how it can help your business flourish)Guest blogger Cilla Snowball
Today, I wear two hats. One as leader of a communications business and the other as Chairman of the Women's Business Council.
You could actually call it three hats as I am also a working mum, with three grown up children.
Wearing hat one as leader of a business, I have been lucky to work in and now run a business that supports pregnant women and working mothers, and fathers too.
And you have to remember that change comes from the top.
Across our group, three out of the four CEOs running the group companies are female, two are parents and one is pregnant and recently promoted.
Pregnancy and maternity is no barrier to promotion. In fact in my case, my career took off when I became a mother because I found a new level of confidence, contentment and perspective, supported by my organisation. And I have three happy, grown up kids to show for it, hat three.
A formidable and precious resource
Returning mums are a formidable resource; organised, decisive, grounded. And they are also a very precious resource, which is where hat two comes in, chairing the Women's Business Council.
The WBC was set up by government in 2012 as an independent group, business led and government backed, to ensure all women can achieve their full potential at work.
We advise on how women's contribution to economic growth can be optimised; starting out, getting on, staying on in business and in enterprise and exploring the role for men as agents of change – we can't empower women without involving men.
We have championed hard for the rights of mothers in the workplace, providing insights that fed important legislation around childcare provision, shared parental leave and the right to request flexible/agile working.
We have highlighted best practice returner programmes through case studies, active engagement, events, toolkits and role models.
We have worked closely with the Davies and Hampton Alexander Review teams.
And all this because achieving gender equality isn't just the right thing to do, it's vital for the economy and the success of our individual businesses. And mothers are essential to that prosperity, so we have to keep removing barriers and making the business case.
Champions of change
One of today's champions and one of our clients is BT and they have pioneered some really interesting work in the area of pregnancy/maternity handbooks and support infrastructures such that BT enjoys an 86% return rate from maternity leave, compared with the national average of 77%.
Royal Mail have a new Parents and Carers Steering Group, Barclays have peer-to-peer coaching and TFL a Parental Community and Tommy's Pregnancy at Work partnership.
In our own company we have hired and promoted pregnant and returning mums to top jobs and we will continue to do so to hang on to the best talent.
The recent Working Forward report highlights the need for businesses and parents to align even more closely on family-friendly policies and behaviours.
As business leaders, we can't allow ourselves to get complacent because today's data clearly shows there is tons more to do. Some 84% employers say they are firm supporters of female staff during and after pregnancy, but 77% of working mothers say they have received negative or possible discriminatory experiences at work.
We have to fix this disconnect fast and remove discrimination because it is unlawful and unacceptable. We have to find modern solutions; outdated attitudes and unhelpful structures must not hold us back.
This new report is an important rallying call for businesses to sign up and pledge to make their businesses the best they can be for pregnant women and new mothers. It is surely one of the easier pledges in life we can all sign up to.
After all, we all have a mum who would be proud of us for doing so, a country and an economy that needs us to and a conscience that insists we do.
This is an edited speech made by Cilla Snowball at the launch of the Working Forward campaign from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Working Forward is a new national campaign, led by British businesses, that will make our workplaces the best they can be for pregnant women and new mothers