At a time when Emmanuel Macron is calling for a “demographic rearmament” with birth rates half way up, one in two women in charge is struggling and with little support after returning from maternity leave. In any case, that's what a study conducted this Thursday by the Association for Executive Employment (Apec), which combines qualitative and quantitative research on more than 12,000 executives in the private sector.
While women today make up 40% of the executive population, or 10 points more than in 2005, gender inequalities still exist within this status. So, for equivalent profiles and positions, the salary gap is still 7% between male and female managers.
“Returning from maternity leave represents a key moment that has been widely identified as one of the sources of these inequalities in the general population, while remaining relatively under-documented among executives,” the study points out.
An observation shared by Clotilde Coron, a university professor at Saclay in Paris: “Executives are the population where inequality, especially in wages, is greatest,” due to weaker wage regulations. Thus, the return from maternity leave for managers is more difficult for some, especially since an absence of three or four months can “penalize directorships more”. “As working hours are less regulated, expectations regarding the availability and presentation of female managers are also higher,” adds the professor.
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A place that is hard to find
According to the study, female executives often lament the lack of accommodation within their company such as “failure to take into account their new status as mothers” or “little or no special support or adequate measures to compensate for their absence”. Because some even during leave continue to work at different levels: follow up on e-mails, clients, come to meetings, etc. The situation is even more complicated when they are not or poorly replaced during their absence, especially for female executive managers. In more detail, only 35% of managers state that women who go on maternity leave change systematically or often.
And when they are replaced, they face an entirely different risk: being kicked out. Thus, 44% of managers find it difficult to find their place in their previous workplace. They also face other obstacles: 71% were faced with a heavy workload despite being tired, 60% admit they struggled to be as efficient as possible, and 56% had difficulty continuing to be seen as a professional. Moreover, the mental workload worsens for 71% of them. Risks that increase depending on the length of leave.
As a result, 71% of female executives believe that returning from maternity leave could be better managed by companies that under-anticipate their return. The study highlights the absence of a follow-up call (which is mandatory), forgetting to send new access codes, not being notified of changes that occurred during leave, or even missing training on new media or computer software.
Thus, for Professor Clotilde Coron, one of the solutions would be to extend paternity leave.
“If men could take longer leave, it would make the situation less dramatic for women,” she claims. Before specifying: “Companies should then make more efforts to better support returns if they have more employees on leave”.
In this dynamic, Emmanuel Macron announced the possible creation of better-paid maternity leave that would replace parental leave (as opposed to maternal or paternal leave). “A good idea, but still insufficient,” said the professor.
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An obstacle to their career
In addition to poor support after returning from vacation, female directors also face greater difficulties in their careers when they become mothers. 74% of them believe that maternity leave slows down career advancement by several years. And for 78% of executive mothers, a woman who has children will be hindered in her professional development.
Because if some take the opportunity to give priority to their personal life or even change their profession, for the majority of executives, “a career break is generally suffered”, the study points out. For her part, Clotilde Coron emphasizes that “in many companies today there is still a form of incompatibility between family and professional life”.