Sponsored feature: helping back-to-work mothers harness their full potential

With a UK workforce comprising more than 60% women, with many at very senior levels within the business, Santander has significant experience in supporting working mothers in developing their careers.

The bank recently commissioned external research among more than 1500 working mums, which revealed the average working mother in the UK has taken almost two and a half years in maternity leave or career breaks in order to look after her family. Santander believes it is vital that mothers are able to quickly pick up their career development on returning to work and continue to harness their full potential.

In the study, nearly one in 10 women without children had decided not to have them in order to concentrate on their career, and one quarter had put off starting a family in order to progress in their career first. These findings underline the importance of organisations being able to support women at whatever age they decide to start a family.

Janine Larner is the manager of one of Santander's flagship branches, with a team of 17 people. Janine recently returned to work after having her first child and having developed her career over 12 years with Santander, she was keen to come back to the same job, on a full time basis. Knowing this, Santander had placed a manager to cover Janine's role on temporary secondment.

Janine says: "I had wanted to get established in my career before starting a family, making sure that I had a profile within the company which would help my future development. I got a lot of support during my pregnancy, and the company was very understanding if and when I needed time off. I was offered the chance to come back part-time if I wanted to do it that way, but it was always my intention to come back full-time and resume my career."

Not every mum wants to come back to the same working pattern after starting a family. Tracy Toon has worked in a variety of roles in her 15 years with Santander. Currently a senior manager in the bank's Contact Centres, Tracy is a single mum of twin girls. When Tracy returned from maternity leave, the company was beginning a pilot programme of home working. With the flexibility of working from home four days a week, and travelling to different offices on the fifth day, Tracy was able to return on a full-time basis.

Although home working has had some high profile detractors in recent weeks, Tracy believes employers can get additional benefit from staff who work at home as this can aid retention and loyalty to the company. Whilst a fantastic benefit to new working mums she thinks it provides its own pressure. She says: "My personal view is that I think many home workers feel that they need to perform to a higher level than office based staff, in order to ensure that their input is more visible and colleagues value their contribution."

Santander's research found that a third of women believe that companies could support mums returning to work by guaranteeing them the opportunity to work from home if the role allows it. Not all jobs are suitable for home working, but it would appear that employers who can accommodate it could benefit through retaining valuable staff they may otherwise lose.

Tracy's work mix has now changed with her current role, and she spends most of the week travelling to different offices, with one day based at home. She says: "As my daughters have grown up, it has been easier for me to switch my pattern of working. The flexibility Santander has provided has helped me progress in my career, while juggling my work and home roles. I heard the term 'work life weave' recently, which I think perfectly describes many people's arrangements - these two worlds are no longer separate, but interlinked, and it requires flexibility from both employer and employee to ensure both parties benefit."