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Mothers Climbing the Corporate Ladder and Maternal Bias

Mothers Climbing the Corporate Ladder and Maternal Bias


Whilst efforts are being made to improve gender equality in the Boardroom, there is still a long way to go. Of the 350 FTSE-listed companies, 48 currently have a woman as Chair; an increase of 9 since 2020. Whilst it is evident that positive changes are occurring, this remains an appallingly low figure. The issue is further heightened when adding working mothers into the equation. Those who want to join the ranks of executive leaders should not have to be concerned that they may not be offered these roles on the basis that they either are a mother or are soon to be. It is incredibly important that organisations support those who want to climb the corporate ladder, rather than being dismissive or acting on prejudice. By not doing so, they risk not only harming the wellbeing of employees but also not retaining talent that should be nurtured and allowed to develop further.


Pregnancy & Maternity is one of the nine protected characteristics to fall under the Equality Act (2010), meaning it is illegal to discriminate against employees who are expecting a child. Unfortunately, said employees may find themselves on the receiving end of discrimination as a result of maternal bias; the notion that women won’t remain as committed or competent in their work once they’ve had a child. This unfounded concern only leads to lower numbers of capable, working mothers in leadership roles who, with support from their organisation, will be able to flourish. There are a variety of systems in place and ways in which managers can accommodate returning employees, such as returnship programmes; short-term, paid intern placements. They provide assistance to those who have taken an extended amount of time away from employment who wish to be reintegrated into the routines and activities that form daily work life. They can also help to boost confidence that might have waned whilst outside of the workplace. The founder of Stem Returners, Natalie Desty commented, “It allows line managers to see for themselves that returning employees are just as capable after a break, and also opens minds to flexible and home-working options, which benefits everybody”. Shared parental leave is another potential avenue of support for working mothers but this has not been without its share of criticism. Additionally, flexible working hours and hybrid working could provide further benefits, although there is concern that working from home poses the risk of being overlooked in terms of promotion. Businesses helping to secure childcare is one of the best forms of support they can put forward for working parents alongside discussing any further needs where necessary.


Many mothers actually possess numerous skills and qualities which have arisen from parenting that have either been acquired or honed as a result. A sound sense of responsibility, proficient communication and empathy are among the myriad of strengths that working mothers can bring to leadership roles. Another is adopting an attitude that moves away from the notion of ‘one size fits all’. Doing so helps to nurture an inclusive and safe working environment where everyone’s individual needs are supported.


Our Women in Executive Leadership programme has been designed to support women into high leadership positions. ILM Level 6 Accredited, this course provides participants the tools they need to excel in leadership including bespoke 1-2-1 coaching, interactive webinar sessions and a board placement opportunity. Applications are currently open for our Spring and Autumn intakes; click here to sign up or find out more.