How to support women in tech returning from maternity leave

By Kirsty Kearns

More than a third of women consider handing in their notice after returning from maternity leave. In the tech industry, where women are already underrepresented, it’s crucial that companies do everything they can to prevent this.

Here Kirsty Kearns, a project manager at Inviqa, discusses her own experiences of returning to the workplace and shares some tips on how tech organisations can support women returning to the workplace.

Why many of us fear returning to the workplace

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a worrying time for new mothers. We worry about leaving our child with childminders and nursery staff they don’t know. About leaving them with family members and not exposing them enough to nursery or educational groups. And about simply being away from them and missing an important milestone, such as a first word or step. 

We also worry about our ability to perform our work duties and hit the ground running with the right focus and energy, and about whether new processes, technologies, and ways of working will have left us behind.

But these fears are perhaps even greater in the super-fast-paced tech industry. 

What changed while I was away

I’d worked in the digital/ IT space for 12 years before I left for maternity leave with my first child. 

On returning to work eight months later I found that, just as I feared, the industry and indeed my company had moved on without me.  

I found that:

  • Most of our projects were now being managed using the Lean Kanbanmethodology rather than Scrum. Kanban was being introduced before I left for maternity leave, but now it was commonplace.
  • Processes had changed for tasks I needed to do. As an example, Inviqa’s internal training and skills assessment system had moved onto a new system, which I needed to use.
  • New departments and specialist areas had emerged, reshaping the way our teams work. I needed to understand our development team’s new structure and roles to ensure I liaised with them correctly.
  • The company was working with new platforms such as the BigCommerce CMS (no huge surprises here as we’re always looking to expand our platform knowledge and expertise where there is client demand).
  • We were using different technologies (increasingly React, which is a framework our frontend team are really excited to be using).
  • Inviqa had acquired UX design agency, Webcredible to expand our experience design capabilities.

Seeing how much change had happened during my time away, I began to think of ways I could get myself up back up to speed quickly.

What I did to ease the transition back to work

Here’s what I did to improve my journey back into the workplace:

  • I used Inviqa’s internal training tool to identify and complete online coursesand classroom training relevant to my job role.
  • I spoke with colleagues who were championing changes across the company’s processes and departmental structures and got them to give me an overview or demonstration of the changes.
  • I’m seeking projects that use new technologies to gain a better understanding of how these technologies can impact timescales, costs, and quality of work. I’m actively looking to get involved in projects involving new platforms.
  • I made use of Keep in Touch (KIT) days to meet any news starters and catch-up on what I’d missed, and to help identify areas where I’d benefit from training.

How tech companies can support returning mothers

Of course it’s not just down to us, the new parents, to ensure we hit the ground running. Here’s what I believe tech companies can do to help support women making the difficult transition from maternity leave back into the workplace:

  • Identify and connect women with mentors. Being paired with mentors and colleagues who have faced similar challenges can be hugely encouraging to employees returning from maternity leave. Mentor schemes can be coordinated by HR and there are also professional women’s networks that can point you in the right direction.
  • Provide flexible working options. I’m fortunate to work for an employer that offers a flexible working environment and support with childcare, but we need to see more progressive and flexible working solutions in the tech industry such as senior job sharing and shared parental leave. Working longer hours over fewer days has been a huge help to me in my own role.
  • Make sure social events are inclusive. This need for flexibility extends to the social side of working. Try to schedule events, away days, and socials for times that cater to employees who are parents, or offer childcare solutions so that they feel included.
  • Offer staged return options. Providing the option of a staged return from maternity leave allows employees to ease themselves back, identify areas for training or retraining, and start figuring out the most effective working patterns for them. Paid Keep in Touch (KIT) days are a great way to ensure your employees hit the ground running and bump up maternity pay.
  • Invest in learning and development. Again, I’m lucky here because Inviqa has a great learning culture and puts a lot of emphasis on supporting career progression. But tech companies need to invest time and resources into helping parents both retrain where they need to get back up to speed, and to develop skills and knowledge as the industry moves forwards.
  • Agree on the right level of communication. There’s a delicate balance to be struck between keeping new parents in the loop and over-communicating with them while they’re away on leave. Companies can achieve the right level of communication by sitting down with staff ahead of leave to set expectations. This is exactly what I did at Inviqa to discuss the sort of information I wanted to receive while I was away, my preferred means of communication, and how much and how often I wanted to receive that communication.

Some final thoughts

Going back to work after maternity leave is scary. And in the tech industry, technologies and processes will undoubtedly have changed while you’ve been away. 

It’s important to accept that fact and take every opportunity you can to ease your transition back into working life, from taking advantage of Keep in Touch (KIT) days, to meeting your colleagues for social events.

But tech companies themselves have a critical role to play in easing this transition. Working parents are a huge asset to any company, and supporting women as they return to the workplace is every bit as important as covering the workload while they’re gone.

After all, maternity leave often represents a tiny fraction in a long and fruitful career. So investing time, energy, and care into helping women tackle this transition can have massive long-term gains.