By Shilpa Kaluti, CFO and co-founder of Scrumconnect Consulting

As a mother of two in the tech industry, I understand the challenges of returning to work following maternity leave.

Biases and stereotypes exist, and women are often penalised for taking maternity leave with stripped-back roles and limited progression opportunities on their return. This leaves many women facing significant worries about future job security as they approach maternity.

Misperceptions around maternity leave are present in every industry and must be addressed if businesses are to thrive. This is especially important considering many sectors are experiencing notable skills gaps, and failing to make space for women re-entering the workforce is blocking growth. Take tech as an example – 93% of UK businesses agree there is a tech skills gap, but only 26% of the tech workforce are women, and just 1% of UK VC funding is awarded to all-female-founded companies. To spur growth, the tech industry must become more inclusive to attract women.

The maternity leave experience gap

Tech is a fast-moving sector. By taking time off following the birth of a child, there’s a perception that you’ll be out-of-the-loop on the latest innovations, resulting in an unsurmountable experience gap. Keeping up with every tech development during maternity leave may be a challenge, but there is a disproportionate fear from employers and mothers alike that this gap is impossible to bridge.

As a result, more than a quarter (27%) of employers feel pregnancy puts an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace. This figure isn’t specific to the tech sector, but in a male-dominated industry like tech, these misperceptions are abounded – meaning that growth opportunities and skill development can be limited for women upon return. A tenth (11%) of women exit their roles after maternity leave, either because they’ve been fired, made redundant or have been forced out. And unfortunately, many pre-emptively hand in their notice before taking time off.

But the business case for women in tech is clear. According to McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform competitors.

Bridging the experience gap

So, what’s the solution? From my experience as a business leader at Scrumconnect Consulting, short-term support for women taking maternity leave, and long-term practices that drive inclusivity are both vital to decreasing bias.

In the short term, we reinforce job security before women take maternity leave. We also communicate this during their time away. Following leave, we offer phased and flexible hour returns to find a balance that works for them. We assign mentors, suggest pre-return home-based training, and offer weekly check-ins to keep new mothers updated on the latest industry developments. These practices ensure women returning from maternity leave are up to speed within a month.

Our longer-term policies also embed inclusivity. We hire talented people regardless of gender – 45% of our staff are female. We’ve also hired women following lengthier maternity breaks who haven’t worked for some time but remain the best candidates for the job. We have zero gender pay gap across levels and our senior leadership team is 75% female. These policies are a signal of intent – we don’t penalise women.

By changing attitudes towards maternity leave and ensuring best practices are baked into every level of the company, the tech industry can get the most from women returning from leave and make itself more attractive to prospective employees. The sector can’t afford to alienate women and must recognise that the maternity leave experience gap isn’t unassailable.

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