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International Women's Day 2023: Returning to Work

This year's International Women's Day theme is 'Embrace Equity'. At Walr, we wanted to do that by doing what we do best, creating data. In this blog, we look at birthing parents' experience of returning to work after taking parental leave.

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International Women’s Day – Returning from Parental Leave

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Embrace Equity’. It is a reminder for all that collective activism is necessary for true change. 

At Walr, we’re embracing equity by doing what we do best, creating data. Over the course of several blogs, we will be unpacking different themes surrounding gender equity, to get a better idea of people’s views and opinions today. 

In this blog, we look at the feelings and views of birthing parents returning to work from parental leave. How easy is it for them? What are the challenges? How could the tech industry improve processes to make career breaks more equitable?

The ‘Career Break Penalty’

According to research conducted by PwC in 2016, 3 in 5 women who return to work after a career break end up taking a position they are overqualified for. This is referred to as the ‘career break penalty’ and can reduce a woman’s earnings by up to a third.  

Addressing this penalty, and getting women back into roles they have the skillset for, could result in an economic output of £1.7 billion annually. It also has the added benefit of introducing more women into senior positions, which would help in diversifying leadership teams. 

We surveyed 1,511 birthing parents working in the tech sector across the UK, US, and India, who had been on parental leave at least once, to understand their experience returning to work. 

Overall, the results were optimistic. 70% of participants believe their experience returning to work was largely positive, with nearly half (47%) claiming their work arrangement remained the same. 

In addition, 75% of respondents felt supported by their manager on their return, with 68% believing they are performing well since their parental leave.

A Need for Greater Support

While generally these results are promising, there is still more support that is needed for birthing parents returning to work, with a quarter of respondents saying that although they were ‘somewhat supported’, they could benefit from more resources. 

One particular area that needs more focus is the guilt associated with balancing parenthood and professional responsibilities. 62% of respondents claimed they feel at least some guilt juggling their career and parenting. Yet only a quarter said they have a plan in place with their manager to help alleviate some of this pressure. 

The physical and mental toll of balancing these responsibilities should not be underestimated. More than half of all respondents (55%) said they feel “overwhelmed by the demands of both parenthood and work”; two-fifths (43%) said they feel “physically and emotionally exhausted”; and a quarter of all respondents said they’ve had “difficulty adapting to new responsibilities and a change in work.”

Unfortunately, these findings are further exacerbated in the UK, with birthing parents reporting greater feelings of guilt, pressure and overwhelm. 

What Would Make Returning to Work Easier?

It is difficult to predict if we will ever eradicate those feelings of guilt, however, there are some things employers can do to help minimize the pressure. The top 5 methods listed by our respondents include:

  • More support from the company/colleagues
  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Better work-life balance policies
  • Appropriate facilities for rest/breast pumping 
  • Appropriate training and resources 

If we are to truly help birthing parents return to work, we have to be mindful of the new challenges they are facing. By discussing the plans and resources needed to help this transition, companies will benefit from people returning to roles they are qualified to do – which from an economic output perspective, will result in a win-win for everyone! 

Research Methodology

The Objective

To survey birthing parents who work in the tech industry, in the UK, US, and India, who have been on parental leave at least once, to understand their experience returning to work. 

The Method 

  • 1,511 respondents working in the tech industry, across the UK, US, and India.
  • All respondents were birthing parents and had been on parental leave at least once, before returning to work on a full- or part-time basis.
  • Fieldwork ran from the 10th February to the 22nd February 2023.

The Results

  • Nearly half of all people surveyed (47%) said their work arrangement remained the same after returning from parental leave. 
  • 36% said they switched to working part-time after returning from parental leave.
  • 70% of respondents felt their experience returning to work was largely positive. However, British people were somewhat less positive with 55% saying the experience was positive and more than a quarter (28%) saying the change was neutral. 
  • Discontent with their return to work was also significantly higher among British people with almost one-in-five (17%) saying their experience was negative, compared with 9% in the US, and 6% in India.
  • Overall, most respondents felt supported by their manager on their return to work, but nearly a quarter said they could have benefited from more resources. 
  • 62% of respondents feel at least some guilt as they try to balance parenthood and professional responsibilities, and this was consistent across the countries surveyed. 
  • Only a quarter of respondents said they’ve found some sort of plan to manage this guilt, with support from colleagues or their direct manager. This is more of a problem in the UK, than in the US or India, with British people significantly less likely to have a plan in place. Worryingly, British people were considerably more likely (9% vs. 5% in the US and 3% in India) to say they do “not feel comfortable” raising their challenges with their manager and/or colleagues.
  • 55% of all respondents said they feel overwhelmed by the demands of both parenthood and work. 
  • 43% said they feel physically and emotionally exhausted. British people were significantly more likely to say they felt this way (55%).
  • 26% said they’ve had difficulty adapting to new responsibilities and changes at work. 
  • Overall, it was a fairly even split between birthing parents who said they attend social gatherings “as much as they did before having a kid(s)” (45%) and those who said they attend social gatherings “less than they did before having a kid(s)” (49%). Again, there was a much sharper contrast among British people and their counterparts in the US and India. 60% of respondents in the UK said they socialized less with colleagues, vs. 51% in the US and 36% in India.
  • More than two-fifths of respondents (45%) agreed their “absence at social gatherings is impacting their relationships with colleagues.”

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