Organisational support throughout the maternity journey : the perceptions of female academics in selected UK universities

Joel, AA ORCID: 2019, Organisational support throughout the maternity journey : the perceptions of female academics in selected UK universities , PhD thesis, University of Salford.

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This thesis takes the case of female academics to explore an insight into the organisational support afforded to them during their maternity journey whilst working in UK universities. Despite the fact that women represent nearly half of all Higher Education (HE) academic staff, they continue to be significantly underrepresented within more senior academic positions, in particular professorial roles. With this in mind, the workplace barriers that this group faces in pursuing a traditionally successful academic career have been analysed in depth revealing that the decision to have children can act as the primary barrier for career progression. Where balancing motherhood and an academic career are addressed, the focus is mainly on the organisational barriers women face, such as managing work-life balance, and difficulties with part-time and flexible work. In order to curtail such organisational barriers for working mothers, the government and the HE institution has introduced valuable policies and agendas, in particular; shared parental leave, right to request flexibility and the Athena SWAN agenda. However, an insight into the type of organisational support this group experiences to ease the maternity process can have a significant impact on an academic career, and it has yet to be analysed in depth.

The present study therefore seeks to address this gap and aims to gain an insight and understanding into organisational support offered throughout women’s maternity journey. The overarching aim of this research is ‘To investigate the perceived organisational support afforded to female academics throughout their maternity journey in selected UK universities’. As a means of addressing this, the study sets out to accomplish 3 objectives; to establish existing elements that shape female academics experiences of motherhood, to examine female academics accounts of support before, during and after maternity, and to evaluate collated accounts of support throughout maternity, in order to consider an alternative course of action.

The underpinning methodology used to gather data consists of a narrative interview approach that targeted a sample size of 26 female academics who had experienced the maternity journey within selected UK universities. Narratives from female academics involved four levels of analysis; the pregnancy and maternity leave stage, the transitioning stage from maternity leave back to work, experiences soon after return to work, and the gradual career progression experience. Upon this data being analysed using the thematic narrative analysis approach, the findings were then presented to a small group of 5 HR professionals and 3 Line Managers (LMs), also from a UK university. Semi-structured interviews were then utilised with these participants to gain their views on the findings.

These findings are then examined in line with the underpinning theoretical framework which includes theories derived from the literature review, namely the Gendered Institution and the Ideal worker. In particular, it utilises the Perceived Organisational Support (POS) theory as an analytical tool in understanding employee perceptions concerning the extent to which an organisation values their contribution and cares about their well-being.

A major finding of the research is that female academics have consistently faced as a result of organisational deficiencies in the provision of support throughout all four stages of the maternity journey. During pregnancy, there were perceptions of direct and indirect discrimination, insufficient arrangements made prior to maternity leave, different expectations of communication, and negative perceptions towards adoption. Whilst on maternity leave, their experience was heavily dependent on the immediate department, for instance, the LMs, colleagues and HR department, and there were related instances of planning an ideal academic baby due to the lack of a phased return. When returning to work both tangible (physical facilities e.g. childcare, breastfeeding) and intangible support (psychological support e.g. with miscarriage, post-natal depression) were essential aspects post return, but there was a general lack of awareness and acknowledgement of intangible support. The research also reveals that reaching motherhood inevitably affected career progression, primarily due to a culture of inflexibility and presentism, in addition to several other organisational factors that affected working mothers such as part-time working, a lack of role models, pressure to publish, and an unmanageable workload. The research therefore finds that each phase of the maternity journey brought issues and concern for the women, the culmination of the stress, inflexibility and all around poor experiences, meant that women experienced stagnated careers due to the organisations inability to accommodate mother academics, and some women were even put-off from having another baby.

The second stage of interviews with HR and LMs revealed that organisational agents were driven by wider economic and organisational imperatives relating to performance management and to which everything else was subordinated. They lacked training and were ill- equipped to understand the issues and act in a genuinely sympathetic fashion in their provision of support for maternity leave. During this process, both parties appeared to want to pass on the main responsibility to the other, and in their defense they also pointed to inadequacies in broader university and HE policies that establish the framework within which they operate. Taken as a whole, the evidence at the four different stages shows that organisational support throughout an academic’s maternity journey remains lacking and underdeveloped. The issue under consideration thus requires further attention, both in theory and practice in order to ensure more suitable support is extended to working mothers in academia.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Contributors: Lord, JD (Supervisor)
Schools: Schools > Salford Business School
Funders: University of Salford
Depositing User: AA Joel
Date Deposited: 09 Apr 2019 10:05
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 21:21

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