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Back-to-work mums 'held back' as career progress is hindered

Employers are being warned they are wasting talent after research highlighted career progress is being hindered for more than two-thirds of women who return to work after having a child.

Women who return to work after having children feel they are being held back in their careers. Research by banking group Santander has found 67% of working mothers believed having children has hindered their progress at work.

It also revealed many working mothers thought the age at which they had their first child had affected their professional success. And 38% of women who became mothers after the age of 31 said that, in hindsight, they would have had their children earlier in their working life.

The study of more than 2,000 women - 1,801 mothers and 1,581 working mothers – revealed childcare responsibilities were hindering women's careers.

There is a risk of employers losing their best female talent as 26% of working mothers said they had switched jobs to ones that were less rewarding as a career but which better suited their family life. More than a quarter (26%) had switched entire careers while a further 6% had given up on work altogether as they couldn't juggle a career and family life.

Elizabeth Gardiner, policy officer at work-life balance organisation Working Families, told HR magazine these figures were "disappointing".

"Employers should take note of the terrible waste of talent (and investment) this represents and they should actively support employees through this transition to working parent," she said.

Simon Lloyd, HR director at Santander, said employers face "a significant risk" of losing their best talent, unless they change."It demonstrates the importance of having a genuine focus on diversity within a business," he said.

"Every individual has unique circumstances. While it's a challenge to meet every employee's needs, the structures and processes in place must be flexible enough to meet differing requirements."

The research also found more than half (56%) of working mothers felt companies should guarantee the opportunity to work in the same role as before but on a more flexible basis. One in three wanted the guarantee of an opportunity to work from home and 30% waned tailored career development plans for new mums.

Lloyd said: "We need to ensure we are not losing talented women from the workplace simply because businesses are not able to provide them with a suitable balance between family and work. We need to be informing women their career development can accommodate their desire for a family, at whatever stage they are at in their career - and putting in place the programmes which make that possible."

When women under 35 were asked about their future career progression the expectations varied, depending on whether they had started a family before or after age 30. Some 64% of working mums under 35 who had their first child aged 31-35 felt their career had peaked, compared with 41% of those who had their first child aged 26-30, and 37% for all those under 35.

Gardiner said employers must change or they will soon find out how "short sighted" their views are. "When the economy picks up women will vote with their feet and move to employers who treat them well," she explained.

Maternity discrimination was worsening, she added. "For the third year running, we've reported a very high level of pregnancy and maternity discrimination on our helpline - about 10% of our calls are around this issue.

"Employers are becoming more blatant in their discrimination. We have examples of women being sacked when they tell their employer they are pregnant, or sidelined on return from maternity leave.

"Women don't want to challenge their employer for fear of losing their jobs in a difficult climate."

HR magazine will be running a series of features sponsored by Santander on our daily bulletin next week examining this issue in greater depth.