A new qualitative research study among high achieving working mothers has found that despite a surge in the number of HR policies and processes to support women back into the workplace after maternity leave, it is leaders who hold the key.

The London based research  – Keeping Women In – a study by recruitment outsourcing specialist Guidant Group, involved in-depth one-to-one interviews with 250 high achieving working mothers. Its goal is to give business leaders the insight required to attract, engage and retain top female talent, with the real-life workplace issues and solutions identified by working mothers themselves.

The research, which uses the concept of work/life blend over work/life balance to measure current fulfilment levels among working mothers, found that there is a gap of 20% between a high achieving working mother’s ACTUAL work/life blend fulfilment and the DESIRED work/life blend she requires to reach her full career potential. Businesses need to address this gap in order to prevent women leaving the workplace. 80% of the solutions proposed for closing this gap relate to effective leadership, yet just 20% to the wider business.

Anna Rasmussen, originator of the research and founder of Open Blend Method commented: “Women want to progress in their careers as much as businesses need to find a solution to the problem that is retaining key female talent. Simply put, the key to this solution is businesses acknowledging that productivity at work is impacted by life, and life is impacted by work. The two blend together and are intrinsically linked. Women want to be women – they don’t want to put off life – they want to live it! Crucially in order to do so they need the support of their employer – but more importantly the support of one specific person – their leader. We have found that women with an unsustainable work/life blend will leave the workplace due to poor well-being but their leader has the power to stop them.”

“Our research has reinforced the idea that high achieving working mothers all share the same desire; to find the solution to achieving their own unique blend so they can fulfil their career potential. The good news for businesses is that it actually boils down to good old-fashioned communication and effective leadership.”

Other key findings include:

  • Demographics and personal circumstance play no part in levels of work/life blend fulfilment
  • “My children” is the most fulfilled blend element at 77% showing that women put their children’s well-being before everything else
  • Women are also putting their partners and careers before themselves
  • Women are working on average 30% over their contracted hours
  • Blend fulfilment is directly linked to well-being
  • Those with a low blend fulfilment score will eventually leave the workforce due to poor well-being and productivity but their leaders have the power to stop them
  • A highly fulfilled blend, leads to increased productivity at work and to women progressing in their careers
  • Our high achieving working mothers are seeking a blend of 79%, not 100%; they aren’t demanding perfection

Mel Forbes, managing director, Guidant Group concludes: “As one of the UK’s leading recruitment outsourcing specialists, we know that businesses are crying out for practical solutions for acquiring, engaging and retaining their best people – especially women. The challenge isn’t going away. We’ve seen major brands introduce all sorts of policies in an attempt to tackle the problem; egg freezing is just the latest example. Productivity and profitability are known to excel in organisations with at least three female board members and teams with 50/50 men and women are more innovative than those that are male dominant. Yet while the things that aren’t working receive a lot of air play, there is little talk of the practical solutions that can help to keep high achieving women in the workforce. And who better to approach for the answers than those at the receiving end.

“Too many other researchers on the subject have focused on telling women what they personally need to do to change their circumstances at work. However, women can’t do this on their own, and frankly they shouldn’t have to. Employers and leaders need to take an active part in coming up with solutions that work for their high achieving working mothers, rather than simply sitting back and asking women to make it happen on their own.”

The good news for leaders is that this represents a huge opportunity to recognise and facilitate what needs to happen in order to help their high achieving working mothers achieve a sustainable blend, fulfil their career potential and ultimately ‘Keep Women In.’

The Keeping Women In study revealed a variety of practical solutions which will help employers to keep their high achieving mothers engaged and committed.

Solutions for leaders include:

  • Support an effective workload distribution
  • Set out clear career plans
  • Give regular feedback
  • Encourage progression and promotion opportunities
  • Openly discuss work/life blend
  • Listen to, value and trust high achieving working mothers to do their jobs effectively

Solutions for the wider business include:

  • A focus on contribution over office presenteeism
  • Flexibility around working hours, especially for school holidays, sports days, pick up and drop off, for example
  • Effective technology to support remote working
  • Coaching and mentoring programmes that encourage open communication, push for new opportunities to be given to these women and create tailored career development for each individual
  • Exposure to senior stakeholders and female role models