Flexible working has been thrust into the limelight in the wake of new UK laws that allow anyone to request it. For mothers working in financial services roles, though, overtures from employers and HR are not backed up by line managers and the same problems of career gridlock, presenteeism and a lack of real support remain.
Firms in the City are keen to offer flexible working to returning mothers, with 70% of women surveyed by Citymothers saying they had some provisions in place. However, over two thirds of those with these arrangements in place felt that they had adversely affected their desired career path.
Short of taking advantage of the daycare arrangements on offer in a lot of investment banks (something few people do), or juggling a network of nannies required to combine childcare with demanding hours, the practicalities of combining a high-powered career with raising a family are still largely elusive, according to the survey of over 700 women working in the City.
The need for facetime in the office appears to be the key factor: “My firm needs to practice what it preaches. It’s one thing to have policies and things in place to ‘support’ working mums but if the workload, expectation and culture are all about presenteeism then the rest is pointless,” said one anonymous female banker.
It’s not just about putting policies in place to ensure a smooth transition back into the workplace after maternity leave, or ensuring that women are able to juggle the demands of childcare arrangements without derailing their career. Many women are simply managed out of the organisation while on maternity leave, or disregarded the moment pregnancy occurs.
Some women described their line managers are “hostile” after their return to work, while others claim to have been made redundant shortly after informing their employer of their pregnancy.
Another said that the company was supportive after one child, but disregarded her after finding out about a second pregnancy: “As I had a second child relatively quickly after returning from my first period of maternity leave, I think the natural assumption was that I would resign, therefore I was neglected whilst I was off in terms of a total lack of communication, which was preceded by lack of a discretionary annual bonus.”
“It’s like everyone forgets you and people do swoop in to claim the good bits of your work,” said another female City worker.
Overall, over 50% of respondents to the survey said that their employer’s support of maternity transition was either neutral or negative and just 5% said their experience of managing a City career and children was “very positive”.
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