The ‘mummy track’
In financial and professional services, it is well-documented that many high-performing women become mothers at the peak of their career and either leave the workforce or move into a less demanding role. This plateauing of a woman’s career trajectory has been termed the ‘mummy track’ and presents a challenge for organisations on two principal levels:
- Firstly, the economic impact of losing women – who have received time and investment in their professional development – is significant, as is as the cost of hiring replacements and retraining them;
- Secondly, in an environment where diversity of thought is increasingly recognised as a key contributor to performance, achieving gender diversity and a strong female leadership pipeline is front and centre of many organisations’ recruitment and talent initiatives.
For the women themselves, there is often a great loss felt in leaving the careers they have worked so hard to build. It is overly simplistic to state that women who become mothers leave the workforce because they choose to spend the time with their family. In the conversations I have had with many high-achieving working mothers over the years – and in my own experience – it is rarely the case that they simply want to be at home full-time, or are even striving for an elusive ‘work life balance’. Instead, they reach a point where their career becomes unsustainable or unsatisfactory for a variety of interconnected reasons.
This view is supported by research; the reasons that women ‘opt out’ of their previous roles are more complex – and paradoxically also simpler – than one might assume. Working mothers in demanding careers actually leave their roles for many of the same reasons that men in these industries do: job dissatisfaction, disengagement from their employer, and lack of career progression. When women return from maternity leave, these factors often manifest themselves when there is a lack of alignment between the demands of working motherhood, and the workplace structures and cultures in these industries.
A clearer path
To respond to the numbers of mothers leaving the industry, maternity coaching is one of several benefits that many organisations offer their female employees. At its core, this coaching is designed to ease a woman’s transition back into the workforce after maternity leave, often with a view to increasing retention rates. As such, it is structured to help a woman plan conversations and actions before maternity leave, before returning to work, and after returning to work (typically c.3 months afterwards). There is also a session with the woman’s line manager designed to ensure the manager can provide the right level of support and contact through the maternity transition period.
Maternity coaching offered in a supportive organisational culture brings many benefits to both the women it serves and the organisation itself. It has been shown to positively affect retention rates through:
- Objective support: Women are able to openly discuss their plans, thoughts and feelings about their career and maternity leave with an independent third party.
- Positive professional engagement: Women are supported in making informed choices and plans about their career and professional development.
- Conversation planning: Time is spent preparing for conversations around leave and return with line managers, clients and other professional and personal counterparts.
- Integrating values with working mother identity: Through keeping personal values closely tied to decisions around career, women are more likely to remain motivated and engaged upon return.
- Thematic insights: A further benefit for organisations is that, through an ongoing relationship with a maternity coach, they are able to gain thematic insights into the experiences of working mothers in their company culture. This can enable better internal maternity management conversations, allowing a richer understanding of how these experiences intersect with retention.
The challenges that women face through the maternity transition phases are complex – intersecting personal and professional spheres – and also highly individualised. In the case of financial and professional services, these industries are still evolving to respond to the realities of the diversity of the modern workforce, including working mothers. At Templar, our maternity coaching offering is designed to respond to the needs of women working within these highly context-specific environments, benefiting both the women and their employers.
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.
 Mainiero and Sullivan (2005)
 McIntosh (2003)