Leading businesswoman reveals ‘knocked’ confidence after returning to work following childbirth

One of Britain‘s leading businesswomen has revealed how her confidence was “knocked” when she returned to work after the birth of her first child.

Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, the President of the British Chamber of Commerce and former executive of a FTSE100 company, told The Telegraph’s new Juggling Act podcast, which you can listen to on the audio player above, that being out of the office for several months made her wonder if she was “still as relevant”.

The Conservative peer, who has carried out a race review for the Government since stepping down from facilities giant Mitie, also called for companies to increase flexibility for women returning to their jobs after having a baby, and for government to make childcare costs tax deductible.

Her comments were made in a new podcast, The Juggling Act, and are likely to fuel the debate about how families can be supported at work after having children.

She had two children when she held senior roles at outsourcing firm Serco and said she found it hard to announce her pregnancy. “I was the first female at my level to have to say those words ‘I’m pregnant’," she said. 

“When you’ve never been pregnant, just saying the words, ‘I’m pregnant’, are quite hard, particularly to a rather male-orientated leadership team”.

The peer said returning to work after the birth of her daughter was “really difficult”. 

“You have a lot more time to think by yourself and to dwell…you won’t have had the same sleep patterns. All of these things we know can knock confidence in some way, shape or form. It certainly did for me," she said in the interview for the podcast.

The peer said she and other women often wondered if they were “as relevant” at work after having a child and that it was important “to help them realise that that is a very standard way for everyone to feel”.

“There is no thing – in my book – as some super mother that can have it all together. I’ve always said you can, you can absolutely have an amazing career and have kids. You may not be able to do it all at the same time, but you can do it”.

The peer, who took three months off after the birth of her first child, said that it was “difficult” returning to work, and that it’s important for companies to offer greater flexibility for women returning to the workplace. 

If you can be flexible within some roles, you should, she said, "as long as you deliver the output you need to deliver, that’s fine”.

"The benefits to companies are clear. It engenders a real sense of loyalty in individuals. 

“If you support them through when they’ve had families, I think they’re incredibly loyal to what you’ve helped them achieve. If you’ve helped them flourish in the workplace, when they’ve got a family, I think that’s incredibly important." 

The former chief executive, who stepped down as the head of Mitie in 2016, said that she felt it was “unfair” that the cost of childcare was “too prohibitive” for some women to return to work. 

“I’m very focused on how we can get everyone to fulfil their potential," she said.  "If the barrier is childcare we’ve got to help find a way through that barrier. If the barrier is flexibility we’ve got to find a way through.

“I want to see women at a senior level, in executive roles more and more.  There are whole industries where women just do not want to work at a senior level because they don’t get the flexibility they need. And they should get that flexibility.

“The more we can encourage them to fulfil their potential, the better." 

The peer said that she would “love” it if families could “claim back the cost of childcare” on tax return as a tax break”.

“If we could get tax breaks on [childcare], I think that would encourage more [women] to stay [at work]”, she said.

She said that measures such as tax breaks were “really important, especially for more senior women … Childcare is expensive, it  really impacts what families can afford to do". 

“We’re still in the situation where if the guy earns more than the girl in a relationship and they’ve got a child, you tend to find the women giving up more, first purely for financial reasons. We don’t want that to happen. We want everyone to be encouraged to come back if they wish to”.

Listen to Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith discuss the challenges of being a working mother on The Telegraph’s new podcast, The Juggling Act, on the audio player at the top of this article, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Join the Telegraph Women Facebook Group to discuss The Juggling Act and more.