by By Ojali Yusuff, Primary Care Network and Integrated Urgent Care Pharmacist
I work as a portfolio pharmacist with roles in Primary and Urgent Care settings.
It is fair to say I have experienced the good and the not-so-great of maternity support in the workplace.
My first maternity leave experience left me frustrated by the lack of clarity and support for employees from my PCN Federation. Instead of explaining the maternity leave policy clearly and what I could expect, human resources did not handle the processes appropriately. Due to this, the department did not fill out the relevant forms on time. I was negatively impacted by the process, which I found very distressing. Whereas my Integrated Urgent care employers were clear and informative about what I needed to do and their responsibilities, they gave me reassurance and clarity in the organisational policies. They provided me with a payment schedule before going on maternity leave. I was aware of and had read the maternity leave policies for both organisations, but the implementation by both organisations was very different.
I believe that when Human Resources (HR) and organisational procedures are not written and implemented equitably with the welfare of its employees at its heart, it can be highly distressing. I also believe this can negatively impact employer/employee relationships, ultimately affecting employee welfare and workforce retention.
As an employee, I realised that it is essential to be fully informed about your entitlements and to read your organisation's policies thoroughly (in this case, maternity/parental leave policy). In my opinion, the best time to do this is before you sign a contract for a new role/with a new employer; in my experience, organisations can be vague during the application stage about some employee entitlements, so my advice is to check. Check at the application stage and again at the offer stage to help inform your decision-making.
When you are looking to take maternity/parental leave and have read your organisation's maternity/parental leave policy, I recommend meeting with your HR team and your line manager. By meeting with them, you can establish clear communication lines and set expectations so that managers and employees know where they stand and what to do. These open conversations will also facilitate discussion about the required provision of support to the employee during this period, including risk assessments whilst pregnant, planning for your absence, using Keeping in Touch days, and returning to the workplace.
I found Keeping in Touch (KIT) days very helpful, and together with my manager in my Integrated Urgent care, I utilised this to support my return to work.
I would also advise that it is essential to know who to go to just in case things do not go as planned with your maternity/parental leave, and you require further support. Find out if you have a staff or union representative for help and confidential advice. There are also many organisations, such as Maternity Action, Pregnant then Screwed and ACAS. They provide invaluable information on your maternity rights, with some templates that can be used to help you communicate with your employer.
In our profession, over 60% of pharmacists and over 80% of pharmacy technicians are female. Yet, I have found such a variation in maternity pay on offer. With more opportunities for portfolio careers across the pharmacy profession, the lack of equity in this entitlement is further highlighted. For example, colleagues and friends I have spoken to are unaware when they move sectors that paying into an NHS pension as a PCN pharmacist (for example) does not mean that they automatically get NHS staff benefits such as NHS maternity pay.
The vast disparity in the maternity pay provided by different organisations across the profession means that women who go on maternity leave can be either hugely disadvantaged by a significant drop in income or end up limiting their career options/considerations according to what an organisation offers.
In my opinion, it is astonishing that today your income can be significantly reduced when you have worked hard to progress in your career because you are having a baby. I believe that inadequate maternity entitlements can further deepen inequalities; for example, for a single parent who bears the financial responsibility for their household, a drop in income from full pay to Statutory Maternity Pay significantly impacts them and those they look after. No one should end up more vulnerable financially because of their caring responsibilities.
I would urge senior pharmacy leaders and employing organisations to seek broad and representative views when approving funding for roles (so that appropriate employee entitlement is taken into consideration at the initial stage) and when writing policies and procedures to understand its impact on the workforce. Failure to learn lessons from lived experiences can lead to further barriers and inequities embedded into career progression and workforce experience.
Whilst my first maternity leave experience as a PCN pharmacist was one I would not want to see any colleague go through, it has hopefully led to positive change. I was able to meet with a member of the senior management team of my organisation and discuss my experience with them through the support of my line manager. To their credit, they listened and took on board feedback on the lessons the organisation could learn from my experience. They have taken steps to review and update the maternity leave entitlement and how to implement the policy for its employees.
However, now the real work begins to ensure that the policy is implemented equitably across the organisation through appropriate training for managers and clear guidance for both employer and employees so that my experience is not one my colleagues experience going forward.
We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group.