Plea to support new mothers when they go back to work

Women working for communal organisations have called on the Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership to do more to support new mothers who hope to return to their jobs with flexible working hours.

According to several women in their late 20s and early 30s, from different Jewish charities and organisations, the commission has “missed” this issue and focused on leadership at the expense of “access levels”.

Those who voiced concern said the expectation was that, when someone returned to work after maternity leave, “it will be full time”. Little allowance is made for flexible hours, a part-time working week or a job share.

After more than a decade working in the community, one new mother was given the suggestion of using her annual leave to enable her to work a four-day week.

“I don’t have 52 days of holiday and when I said that that wasn’t reasonable, they said I was being inflexible,” said the woman, who spoke anonymously as her situation remains unresolved.

She was also told that, if she worked part-time, she would have to arrange to be available when colleagues were away. “I explained it didn’t really work like that in terms of child-care.”

Naomi Goldstein recently left a large communal organisation, where she had worked for six years, after her request to return from maternity leave on a job-share was turned down. “They said it was not suitable on business grounds,” she said, adding that she felt let down.

“Even if you do manage to negotiate part-time, often the job is not changed to be part-time,” said Sam Clifford, who returned to work last year after her bid for flexible hours coincided with changes in a colleague’s schedule. She believed that her experience was the exception. “A friend at another organisation was told that she would never get promotional opportunities as long as she was part-time”.

All stressed their passion and dedication for working for the community, and strongly supported the commission’s aim of encouraging more women into leadership positions, but said that too much of it was “lip-service”.

“Where do those women [leaders] come from?” said Ms Goldstein. “If we’re turned away in a professional capacity at this age, then we are not going to be encouraged to go back and our confidence is shaken.”
The women urged communal leaders to focus on the long-term gains of supporting a flexible workforce. “Women who come back from maternity leave have been invested in by the community,” said Ms Goldstein, who is now looking for a role outside the community. “If they don’t go back they will be taking those skills away.”

    Last updated: 10:33am, June 21 2012