• 97% of women were the primary carer when they took parental leave
• 20% of women were concerned their replacement would be better than them
• 32% of women were afraid of what their role would become when they returned
• 13% of women felt excluded from promotions and new roles within the company after returning from maternity leave
• 33% of women had difficulty with the team dynamic that changed in their absence
Question: What did you find most interesting about the data released by SEEK, around maternity leave?
Rebecca Supierz: While we're all from different industries, career paths and walks of life, we can still share similar concerns when taking time away from work to raise a family, which can include a lack of confidence in our skill set when returning to work. The data from SEEK revealed that 20% of women were concerned that their replacement would be better at their job than them and 32% were afraid of what their role would become when they returned to the workplace.
As a new parent it can feel very nerve-wracking and uncertain returning to work, however it's important to remember that you aren't alone in this experience and there are ways for you to feel supported and transition back into the workplace with confidence.
Question: What message do you hope data like this spreads to Australian workplaces?
Rebecca Supierz: As a mother who also has a career, I hope this brings to light that there is more that workplaces and leaders can be doing to ensure that parents feel supported, confident and secure when returning to work. Having a child is a critical time for a parent, as is returning to the workplace, and employers have a role to play. For example, SEEK data suggests that 33% of women had difficulty with the team dynamic that changed in their absence, which suggests that employers could ensure that they foster a more open and supportive environment.
Employers can also see benefits by implementing family-friendly work practices, with things like parental leave programs and a culture of flexibility and inclusion. Ensuring that leaders have the skills to support returning parents as well as keeping lines of communication open all make a difference.
Question: What advice do you have for mother's returning to work after maternity leave?
Rebecca Supierz: Have a plan in place to help make the transition as smooth and as stress-free as possible, by speaking early to your employer about your return. Be clear on your ideal working arrangements, but also flexible and realistic as to what will work in your role and organisation. Flexible working is a two way street, and having a collaborative approach from the outset will help set you up for success. Be clear on expectations, not only at work, but at home also, and have these conversations before you actually transition back to work.
Make sure that you are feeling as comfortable as you can with your child care arrangements. This is an enormous transition in itself and can take time for everyone to settle into new routines. Be open with your employer about this, and any extra support or time you'll need in the first few weeks. And most importantly – be kind to yourself! Returning to work after a period out of the workforce can be a big adjustment, so give yourself time to settle in – and enjoy your cup of tea in peace!
Question: How can women fight fears that their role and workplace will change during their maternity leave?
Rebecca Supierz: Firstly, I think it's important to acknowledge that some level of change is inevitable. But if this is a concern for you (and it can be for many parents) finding a way to stay in touch with your employer whilst on leave, to a level that you're comfortable with, may help. This might be through using your 'Keeping in Touch Days' (if eligible https://www.fairwork.gov.au/leave/maternity-and-parental-leave/when-on-parental-leave/keeping-in-t ouch-days ), keeping in touch with your leader or a trusted colleague for coffee.
Also let your employer know what kind of change you'd like to be informed of while you are on leave, and have this agreement in writing before you go on leave. For example, team member changes, leader changes or significant changes to your role or ways of working.
Question: Do you believe working mothers are generally more productive employees?
Rebecca Supierz: As a working parent, you certainly develop incredible time management and organisational skills, which can be advantageous in the workplace. My experience as a leader is that working parents, on the whole, are extremely productive team members. They are disciplined as can have needs outside of work that are time bound, such as childcare pickup.
Question: How does SEEK support women returning to work?
Rebecca Supierz: At SEEK, we aim to support working parents by offering a comprehensive parental leave support program. This includes 14 weeks paid leave for primary carers and two weeks paid partner leave, both of which can be taken flexibly. This means that some partners take their primary carers leave as three days paid leave per week over an extended period of time to support the transition back to work. We also enable partners to become primary carers within the first 18 months of a child's life. We also offer a comprehensive parental leave coaching program, which looks to provide additional support to parents and their leaders before, during and upon return to the workplace.
At SEEK, our senior staff really champion flexible working and therefore encourage team leaders to think about how to make flexible work arrangements possible for their staff. We encourage flexible working and have tools and support for employees and leaders, encouraging leaders to start with 'how' rather than 'why not' when thinking about flexible working arrangements.
We're extremely proud of our culture, that has meant 25 partners have become primary carers in the last 12 months, which we fundamentally believe has a positive impact not only on their family but on the community that they live in around them.
On a personal note, I have returned twice from parental leave whilst working from SEEK. In both cases, I have felt incredible supported not only by my leader and direct team, but also the organisation as a whole. Communication has been clear from the outset, time with my family respected, and flexibility has been supported by my leader and team.
Question: What's a typical day as a working mother like for you?
Rebecca Supierz: Usually it starts with an early wake up by a four year old, if it's not too dark and cold either I would have tried to get out early for some exercise. My husband and I share the morning routine, which involves breakfast for our two boys, a cup of tea and convincing toddlers to get dressed / brush teeth / put shoes on (I'm sure many people can relate here!).
We have had a nanny care for our boys, and our oldest has just started kindergarten this year. So on kinder days there is a drop off usually by me as it's on my way to work, and then into the office. I have a busy role, and am usually in meetings most of the day. This can be hard as doesn't allow much time for checking in on the boys, but we have set it up so that we get WhatsApp photo updates throughout the day. My husband usually does the kinder pickup on those days, and there is the usual negotiation for who is going to be home in time for bath time. I finish early two days a week at 4pm and work from home on Fridays, which helps with the commute and maximising time in the evenings with my family. In the evenings we try to be device-free as the time is precious with the boys in the evening, they're in bed by about 7 (but never asleep until nearly 8), so there is also the inevitable back and forth to the bedroom convincing them that 'this is the last time!'. I get work done a few nights a week which means I'm free during the days for my team and internal clients when I'm in the office.
What I have noticed as my friendship and family circles start to contain more and more working parents, is that what works for one family doesn't necessarily work for the next, and so we do what we feel is right for us and the boys and juggle from there!
Interview by Brooke Hunter