In Part 1 of this blog, I outlined the clear benefits to both working mothers and their employers of maternity coaching engagements. However, I believe that the coaching model can be evolved to cater for the nuanced needs of women returning from leave in financial and professional services. These women often report a high level of career engagement, professional ambition and workplace satisfaction before and during leave. In my experience, there are three fundamental areas where current maternity coaching offerings can fall short:
- Short-term support: It has been shown that maternity coaching support after returning to work is too short-term and should be offered to women at intervals over a longer time period. The retention danger zone lasts for several years. Can there be a longer-term coaching mechanism in place for working mothers?
- Too high-level: Given the coaching sessions are infrequent and few, it can be challenging to move beyond straightforward planning and goals. Is there a better format to communicate the basics?
- ‘Box tick’ exercise: Often, there is a perceived lack of alignment between the support offered to mothers through coaching, and the support offered by the organisational culture ‘in practice’. For example, there is often low budget allocated to these coaching engagements. Can further support be offered at an organisational level to manage this transition?
Leveraging the approach and ethos of executive coaching, our Executive Maternity Coaching model provides a more appropriate and impactful form of support, designed for high-performing women in demanding workplace environments. The focus is on career re-engagement for the long-term, working with women over an extended period of time as working mothers, not just ‘fresh’ maternity returners. It builds on the traditional model in four ways:
- Change the conversation: In coaching female top talent, I have found that more of the traditional ‘maternity conversation’ can be communicated out of the room through sharing frameworks and advice for managing key stakeholders in advance. The potential of the coaching session itself is then elevated to allow women and their needs and priorities to drive the agenda, much as in an executive coaching engagement. The conversation gravitates towards career aspirations, goal-setting and accountability structures that will help maintain career engagement beyond maternity leave and are more aligned with the priorities of many career-driven women.
- Increased touchpoints: Introducing monthly or quarterly coaching for the first year, followed by optional coaching on a ‘needs basis’ for an extended period, would offer a valuable support mechanism that women could tap into as their career as working mothers unfolds. Most maternity coaching engagements currently end 3-6 months after a woman has returned to work, even though data shows that women are more likely to leave a year or more after returning. At later stages of working motherhood, there are many additional hurdles which can negatively impact a woman’s career. One example of this is when children leave the long childcare hours provided by nursery settings for the shorter school day. As well as providing an independent sounding board, these more regular sessions can also bring many of the benefits of a traditional executive coaching engagement, allowing women to build a rapport with a coach over a period of time, focusing on their shifting and evolving career and professional development goals, within the context of working motherhood.
- Additional line manager support: It is well-established that managers play a fundamental role in whether or not a maternity returner remains. Despite this, line managers often only receive a single coaching session, which is before maternity leave begins. Further coaching support should be offered to managers when their team member returns from leave, where there is a clear view on the terms of the woman’s working arrangement and priorities.
- Flex the organisation: Unequivocally, research shows that maternity coaching can only be effective when introduced into an organisational culture that is supportive of working mothers – in practice, as well as in policy. There is no magic wand for immediate cultural change, but introducing workshops at an organisational level to introduce information, share experiences and propose standards can begin this process. The historically male industries of finance, law and other professional services have made significant strides in recent decades to introduce accommodating policies and benefits for working mothers. However, availing of some of these benefits – such as taking the full maternity leave period, or taking time out for coaching – is often stigmatised in practice and culturally unacceptable.
The traditional maternity coaching model helps working mothers adapt and fit back into the prevailing workplace culture. However, if retention rates are to be affected in the financial and professional services industries in the long run, at Templar we believe that a more tailored coaching solution can be offered that also supports the organisation in meeting working mothers half-way.
Kirsty is an ICF-accredited Executive Coach, specialising in women’s leadership and maternity coaching. She is currently pursuing a doctorate, researching how maternity coaching can support the retention rates of high-performing women in financial services. Her research informs her Executive Maternity Coaching model.
Kirsty joined Templar Advisors as a consultant in 2016 and works with a broad range of clients across financial and professional services on their communication needs, from presenting with impact to negotiation skills. She is the lead on Templar’s Women’s Development Series in Europe, where she works with female executives on a 1:1 or group training basis. Before joining Templar, Kirsty worked at Citi, UBS and Deutsche Bank, in both London and Paris, in credit sales and leveraged debt capital markets.
 Bussell (2008)