Guest comment: Making up to the mothers

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Maternity coach Geraldine Gallacher says there are a few things banks need to do if they want to get child-bearing women onside.

If you are one of the clients rumoured to have briefed your headhunter with the now infamous words "no breeders please," then read no further. If, on the other hand, you are interested in ensuring your maternity leavers become maternity returners, then here are some tips to help ease this transition.

Don't forget to congratulate them

Your employee has finally mustered the courage to tell you that they are pregnant and your immediate reaction might well be "Oh..! How am I going to cover her work?" Best to avoid blurting this out and instead, offer your congratulations. Don't ask if it was planned! This is a very personal question, one that they might not feel comfortable answering to their family and friends, let alone a work colleague. If you want to sound very enlightened and turbo-charge her loyalty, ask her about ante-natal classes and make sure she realises that you are cool about her attending them. Don't ask her how long she is going to take off - if your relationship is good, you'll find that she might offer this information voluntarily. Many women are still asked this question and, whilst it doesn't send them into a litigious fury, it does make them feel a tad 'unsafe' as to your general attitude to working mothers.

Avoid the wall of silence

Many of the women we coach sense the wall of silence descending once they have announced their pregnancy; women often cite a feeling of becoming invisible despite getting physically bigger. To avoid this, make sure you put time aside to have a meeting about handover and make sure you involve her in decisions about who will take over her clients/workload, rather than make assumptions. In fact, best not to make any assumptions and consult her on issues such as whether she feels up to being involved on a big deal during the latter stages of her pregnancy. Also, don't assume she'll want no contact when she's off... best to ask.

Not all women are the same - treat them as individuals

Our research points to around 20% of women being home-centred, 20% being career-centred and the remaining majority being "floaters". These women are effectively undecided as to whether to return to work. In our experience, the majority of women would ideally choose to return to work but this decision is governed by a complex number of interweaving factors. Some of them involve the home front; e.g. what role does their husband see them in? How good a support structure will she have? Can she and her partner afford decent childcare? What is the commute like? A good number of the factors are, however, work-related and the most significant of all of them is the response of their immediate manager, followed closely by the response of their colleagues. In other words... you!

Be flexible - it will pay in the long run

Increasingly, women want to return to work on a flexible basis. They, more than anyone, are conscious of how inconvenient this can be and therefore are often appreciative when they are given the opportunity to work one day from home or do a four-day week. You will find your flexibility is rewarded in the short term by enhanced conscientiousness and in the long run by loyalty. Women who have had a positive transition through maternity leave are far more likely to stay with their employer and of course, act as champions of your family-friendly values which are, as we know, of increasing importance to the 'entitled' Generation Y who you are trying to attract on the milk round!

· Geraldine Gallacher is a maternity coach at the Executive Coaching Consultancy.

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