Becoming a parent is one of the most impactful processes in a person’s working life course. Expecting and new parents are entitled to a range of workplace supports to help them during this time of transition. Yet, most research on the experiences of pregnancy or parenthood and employment focuses on large firms and thereby excludes the experiences of the majority of employers and employees who become parents both in the UK and globally.
A new study will address this knowledge gap by examining how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs, 1-249 staff) manage their businesses and staffing when their employees (both mothers and fathers) become parents. The project team includes researchers from the Universities of Middlesex, Manchester and Leeds, as well as the charities Working Families and the Fatherhood Institute.
The study aims to:
The research findings will be used to design a series of outputs and toolkits in accessible bite-sized format designed to specifically support both SME employers and employees in the management of pregnancy and new parenthood at work.
This project is funded under the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Transforming Working Lives Programme of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
We invite you to participate in our research study. We are currently seeking SME employers and employees who meet the following criteria:
More detailed information can be found when you download our information for employer participants.
More detailed information can be found when you download our information for employee participants.
Please share this information with others who might be interested in participating in this research.
The 3-year study will explore how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) manage their businesses and staffing when their employees become parents.
Previous UK research on pregnancy and maternity related discrimination at work found that small employers had the lowest awareness about the rights of pregnant and newly maternal employees, and that they were least likely to provide options for flexible working. In the UK, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for 99.9% of the business population, three fifths of the employment and around half of turnover in the private sector. Whilst this research has highlighted the concerning extent of pregnancy and maternity related discrimination in differently sized UK workplaces, the study neither included specific recommendations on how to improve maternity support in SMEs, nor the experiences of new fathers. However, the management of new parenthood in SMEs is often very different from large firms as SMEs are characterised by a number of key features, including resource scarcity and a preference of more informal approaches to staff management. For example, SMEs often do not have a dedicated Human Resources department and no written maternity/paternity policies. SME owners/managers are also often more resistant to maternity/paternity protection regulations than large firms, fearing the time and costs involved.
Our study addresses an important gap in detailed knowledge on the transition to parenthood in UK SMEs and is designed to have a direct impact on practice and policy as well as an academic understanding of the management of maternity/paternity in SMEs. It is timely as it feeds into current/recent UK policy debates on parental leave, flexible working, and on how to support fathers in the workplace. However, while focusing on the UK, our project addresses a global problem: SMEs are globally under-researched although they employ the majority of (parental) workers worldwide.
A close link to policy and practice is right at the heart of the research. The project includes key stakeholders in the co-design of context-sensitive, low-cost and scalable solutions for effective management of new parenthood in SME workplaces through: 1) our practice-based co-investigators, the charities Working Families and The Fatherhood Institute; and 2) our Advisory Board – confirmed members include the International Labour Organization (ILO), Equality and Human Rights Commission, Maternity Action, Acas, Fawcett Society, Federation of Small Businesses, Medical Women’s Federation, SME (owner-) managers, SME employees – including expectant/new mothers and fathers, and policy makers.
We adopt a mixed methods design, combining quantitative and qualitative elements. Specifically, data collection will include the following elements:
1. Employing a longitudinal and participatory approach, qualitative data will be collected on experiences in relation to pregnancy, maternity/paternity/adoption/shared parental leave, flexible working, breastfeeding and childcare support, and accompanied by an awareness-raising intervention co-designed by (owner-)-managers and employees. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with (owner-)managers and employees in three phases over a one-year period. In addition, focus groups will be conducted with a) prospective/expecting parents; b) co-workers to explore perceptions and experiences related to new parenthood and work; c) parents who requested flexible working.
2. Two large-scale cross-sectional surveys of employees and employers working in SMEs to complement the qualitative data and more broadly explore attitudes, intentions, experiences and social norms around pregnancy, breastfeeding and childcare support, parental leave and flexible working for parents and the availability to and take-up by mothers and fathers to further inform academic and policy debates.
Key outputs will include a final report, data-sets emerging from the different methods, an awareness-raising toolkit with a focus on SME specific low-cost solutions, a video designed to support positive employer-employee interactions, and a series of factsheets and related short video documentaries. The involvement of potential beneficiaries and users (i.e. employers, employees, support organisations and policy makers) of these outputs in all key stages of the project ensures the research meets their needs and is targeted.
For more information on this study, please contact project leader Dr Bianca Stumbitz
The project team includes researchers from the Universities of Middlesex, Manchester and Leeds, as well as the charities Working Families and the Fatherhood Institute. It brings together expertise in the field of work and parenthood covering multiple disciplines, including organisation studies, employment relations, social policy, sociology and economics, along with the experience of transdisciplinary research as well as working in partnership with policymakers and/or practitioners.
Publications, user engagement and impact activities will include a stakeholder engagement event and a one-day academic conference, presentations at academic conferences and publications in peer-reviewed journals.
Following these links, you can also read the Middlesex University project announcement and find out more about all 7 research projects to improve UK working lives, funded under the UKRI ‘Transforming Working Lives’ programme.