New study finds that 98% of women want to come back to work after maternity leave – but only 13% say it’s viable

The Careers After Babies research found that 98% of women want to return to work after having a child but just 13% can make it work full time citing the cost of childcare and lack of flexibility from businesses as the reason.

The research was carried out in late 2022 after interviewing 848 mothers on what happened to their careers after having children. The research also found that:

  • Just 24% of women go back full time after having children – 57% of them leave within two years, many due to redundancy or ill mental health
  • When companies put women back into different roles after maternity leave, 79% of women leave within two years
  • The number of women in management roles drops by 32% after having children, and the number of women in admin roles increases by 44%
  • Just 7% of couples shared parental leave and less than 25% even discussed the possibility of sharing leave
  • More than half of women are earning less than they did before they had children
  • It takes more than ten years for women to get back to the same level and salary after having children
  • 11% of women are forced to be stay-at-home mums when only 2% would out of choice
  • 86% of women would choose to work 3 days a week or more, 52% would choose 4 or more days
  • 40 of the 848 respondents were made redundant while on maternity leave
  • 14% of women choose to become freelancers as it’s the only real option that affords them the flexibility they need but lose out on job security, pay and other employment benefits

One mother interviewed said: “I couldn’t work part-time and didn’t want to be away from my children for 5 long days a week. Now, the main driver for the fact I am still part-time and freelance and won’t consider an employed role is financial. The cost of childcare is just far too high to make it worthwhile to work full-time or even 3.5/4 days a week.”

Another said: “”The cost of childcare vs income is astronomical. As someone who strongly believes in sending my child to nursery and all the benefits that it brings, but also wants the best for my family, it has been an incredibly difficult adjustment to make, financially and emotionally. I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mum as I do not believe that would be the best for my daughter (or myself), but I am also struggling to rebuild a career and care for a child!”

Jess Heagren, author of the report and founder of That Works For Me said “We all know that women’s careers are negatively impacted by having children – you just have to look at the 14.9% gender pay gap and the pathetically low 1% of female CEO’s in FTSE250 companies. But what’s so frustrating is that mums want to work! They want to contribute at home and to the economy!

“There are barriers whichever way they turn – full time childcare costs are unaffordable to the majority of women but businesses aren’t offering reduced hours either. Women make up 50% of the population, and 86% of women will be mothers by the age of 40. Businesses cannot ignore 47% of the population!

“This research gives us the empirical evidence we need to demand more from businesses when it comes to returning mums. Businesses need to do better. They need to support flexible working and focus on developing and retaining female talent. Ultimately, this diversity will benefit everyone – not just women who have children.”