Comeback coaching is a phrase we coined to describe coaching that supports a person re-entering the world of work after a period of extended leave. We work mainly with women returning to work after maternity leave and this coaching is referred in academic literature as ‘maternity coaching’. Our work is wider than maternity and includes men returning from Shared Parental Leave and both genders returning from sickness absence.
Claudia Filsinger did a small study of the experiences of six women who engaged in maternity coaching in three UK law firms[i]. She also interviewed the three buyers of coaching services in those firms and the two coaches who worked with the returning mothers.
The findings of her study are of interest to professional services organisations who want to:
- retain women
- reduce their gender pay gap
- increase the number of women in Partner/senior roles
Insights for Heads of Talent & Line Managers
Here are some key findings from Claudia’s study (and separate research by Danna Greenberg et al into professional identity when career-oriented women become mothers) we think will be useful to:
- Women taking maternity leave and other breaks
- Heads of Talent
- Heads of Learning & Development
- Coaching buyers
- Professional services Partners
- Line managers of women returning from extended leave
10 Key Findings
- Three main factors drive career re-engagement: WORK (quality, nature, volume of work and the kind of clients women return to), RELATIONSHIPS AT WORK (Partners, peers and clients) and ROLE MODELS.
- Coaching before a woman goes on maternity leave is helpful because women begin to construct new visions of their future selves during pregnancy and often before. Women who establish a strong vision of their future self as a working mother are more likely to stay engaged and committed to their professions and be more satisfied at work and at home.[ii]
- Proactivity and availability appear to be the key influence over what kind of quality and quantity of work women return to at the end of their leave. Senior professionals are likely to find this much easier than juniors as their client network means they can proactively generate work whereas junior (lawyers) are reliant on Partners to source work for them.
- Returning to known clients makes career re-engagement easier because having to start over with new clients is akin to being a new employee and slows down the transition. Comeback coaching can help women have conversations about client preferences before they go on leave and negotiate the return handover of their clients as they prepare to return.
- Coaching contributes to the returning women’s understanding of Partners’ decisions about work allocation. Women may have misperceptions about why a Partner/their line manager has given her they work she or he has. Coaching helps by encouraging perspective-taking and looking at the wider context.
- Partners’ attitude to flexible working and a woman’s changed availability can facilitate a positive or negative career re-engagement. A negative attitude can lead to Partners reducing access to ‘high quality’ work or other opportunities because they believe their team member won’t be able to deliver. However, a 2011 study by The Law Society[iii] reported frequent over-delivery and a discrepancy between perceived and actual client needs.
- Partners who show empathy help their returning team member re-engage with her career. Showing support when children are ill; making an effort to integrate her back into the team; planning an appropriate workload and talking about the value she brings are key positive behaviours.
- Investing in comeback coaching signals a returning team member’s value and is a source of encouragement. Executive ‘comeback coaches’ are uniquely placed to share experiences of how other mothers managed their transition back to work and onward career development – and this boosts confidence and better equips women for the challenges ahead.
- Comeback coaching aids career re-engagement when her family isn’t finished. Coachees who are planning to have another child often talk about being unsure as to whether or not to drive their career forward given they know they’ll be on leave again fairly soon (often within 12 -18 months). Claudia’s study and our experience shows that coaching can help coachees think long-term and drive up motivation and performance in the time immediately following her leave and before she steps away again.
- Coaching results in more realistic flexible working requests which helps the different parties involved to achieve a better outcome that is long-term and commercially viable.
1:1 Comeback Coaching at Kilburn & Strode
Watch the 1 minute film about our work with law firm Kilburn & Strode. We coach colleagues returning from maternity, Shared Parental Leave and career breaks. HRD Jonathan Clarke explains why.
[i] Filsinger, C. (2012). How can Maternity Coaching influence Women’s Re-engagement with their Career Development: a Case Study of a Maternity Coaching Programme in UK-Based Private Law Firms, International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 10 (6), pp 46-56.
[ii] Greenberg, D.N., Clair, J.A. and Ladge, J. (2016). Identity and the Transition to Motherhood: Navigating Existing, Temporary and Anticipatory Identities in Spitzmueller, C. and Matthews, R.A. (eds). Research Perspectives on Work and the Transition to Motherhood. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, pp 105-128.
[iii] The Law Society (2011). Obstacles and barriers to the career development of women solicitors. London: The Law Society.