Don’t blame the kids: Busting the myths about women returning to work

ByHanover Team
Posting date: 05 September 2023

The various myths about women returning to work after having children can create barriers and challenges in the workplace. And let’s be real from the outset - they are myths.


These myths are not only false, but can also perpetuate obstacles and biases that prevent women from reaching their full potential. This is the so-called ‘MOTHERHOOD PENALTY’. Employers must raise awareness around these myths, and promote a supportive and INCLUSIVE WORKPLACE CULTURE for all employees, regardless of their gender or family status.

Myth busting & bias prevention

These are six of the most common myths surrounding women when they return to the workplace having had children:

1. Women are not committed to their careers

Myth: women who take time off to care for their children are not committed to their careers and will not be able to perform at the same level as before.


This belief can discourage women from starting families as well as lead to discrimination in the workplace. In particular, this myth can perpetuate gender stereotypes and reinforce gender-based discrimination. Negative perceptions about women’s commitment are exacerbated by the length of maternity leave - a RECENT RESEARCH published in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows an increase in these perceptions with longer parental leave (12 months and above).  


This can make it difficult for women to return to their careers after taking time off for family reasons and progress in their careers in an equitable way. As a result, organisations are at risk of losing significant talent and perpetuating the gender pay gap. 


Providing ‘keep-in-touch’(KIT) programs that enable parents to stay connected with the organisation and colleagues during parental leave and encouraging their active use can help decrease negative perceptions around job commitment. Line managers must also ensure they provide opportunities to discuss career progression and approach these with an open-mind and remain aware of their own biases.


Reality: Women who take time off to care for their children are likely to return to work with higher levels of commitment. ACCORDING TO A CAREERS AFTER BABIES SURVEY, 98% respondents want to return to work after maternity leave.

2. Women cannot balance work and family

Myth: women cannot effectively manage both their work and family responsibilities, and will prioritise their family over their work.


The belief that women can’t manage work and family can lead employers from refraining to offer flexible work arrangements that would allow women to better balance these responsibilities, and can create a work culture that is hostile to women who have families. 


This can also cause stress and guilt for women who feel they must choose between their family and their career, leading to burnout and decreased job satisfaction. This belief also perpetuates the idea that caregiving is solely the responsibility of women, instead of being a shared responsibility between men and women.


Studies show that women who have children are more likely to GIVE UP WORK, work part-time or return to lower paying jobs. They are also often PENALISED in terms of career progression and pay, even if they return to work full-time.


However, women who have supportive employers, access to flexible work arrangements and a positive workplace culture are more likely to be successful in balancing their work and family responsibilities.


Reality: Women are just as capable as men of balancing their work and family responsibilities, but they often face significant challenges in doing so due to systemic barriers and cultural biases.

3. Women are not ambitious

Myth: women won’t be interested in advancement and promotions, nor will they be competitive in the workplace.


Women can be just as ambitious and driven as men, and often display high levels of motivation, COMMITMENT and time management skills after starting a family. Women who take time off to care for their children often return to the workforce with fresh perspectives, new skills and a newfound determination to succeed. 


They can also be just as interested in advancing in their careers and seeking promotions as those without children. Additionally, having children often makes women more competitive in the workplace as they strive to provide for their families and create a better life for them.


Reality: Women who take time off for family reasons often return to work with newfound determination to succeed.

4. Women are not knowledgeable

Myth: women won’t be up-to-date on the latest industry trends and developments, and will be unable to contribute to the workplace effectively.


Women are just as capable of staying current with industry trends and developments as men, and can bring new-found perspectives and skills to the workplace. There is no credible evidence at all that suggests women are less knowledgeable than men.


Reality: Women who have children bring unique and valuable skills and perspectives to the workplace. 

5. Women are not reliable

Myth: women will have more absences and be less dependable than other employees.


The lack of flexible work arrangements and cultural biases can lead to women facing challenges in balancing their work and family responsibilities, which can impact their attendance and perceived reliability. It’s true that women take more sick days than men (this seems to be a Western phenomenon, and ISN’T SPECIFICALLY LINKED TO MOTHERHOOD).


However, women can be penalised for taking time off for family reasons, while men who take time off for the same reasons are often praised for being ‘involved fathers’; another example of deeply rooted biases that persist in the workplace. 


Reality: According to the World Economic Forum, WOMEN CONTRIBUTE 10% more completed actions than men across the workspace.

6. Women are less productive

Myth: women are less productive at work after having children. 


Studies have shown that women are equally or more productive as their male counterparts, and can display higher levels of motivation, commitment and time management skills after starting a family. 


However, the lack of flexible work arrangements and cultural biases can lead to women facing challenges in balancing their work and family responsibilities, which can impact their perceived productivity.


Reality: Women work longer and harder than men, according to a STUDY commissioned by 3M.

A final thought

PWC STUDY found that the “economic and business gains from women working at their full potential could be significant”. The stats back this up: addressing the downgrade experienced by women coming back to work after having children could boost their annual earnings by £637 million.


HR teams, RECRUITERS and organisations need to address how they support the transition back into the workplace, create an inclusive environment, and evaluate an employee’s potential whilst reducing bias as far as possible. 


If you’d like to explore how your organisation can create an inclusive environment, support your employees and assess their potential objectively, CONTACT us and let’s set up time for a chat.

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