AS soon as Jill Keegan told her boss she was pregnant, everything changed at work.

“It was horrendous,” she recalls. “Suddenly, I was a big hassle to her. It was insidious – I’d be left out of the decision-making process, not told about meetings, isolated from the rest of the team and responsibilities that were part of my job were taken off me.”

She adds: “What should have been a lovely time, in the run-up to having my baby and after returning to work, became incredibly stressful and horrible. Eventually I left.

“I was shocked and disappointed it had happened to me and then, after speaking to other women about their experiences, I realised I was not alone.”

Statistics show that every year in the UK as many as 54,000 mums feel they have to leave their jobs; whilst 77 percent say they have had a negative or discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on return from maternity leave.

One in five working mothers (up to 100,000 women) say they have experienced negative comments or harassment in relation to flexible working or pregnancy.

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Jill – whose daughter Nina is almost three years old - now works for Outside the Box, which provides independent development support to groups and people across Scotland who want to make a difference in their communities.

Based in Maryhill’s The Whisky Bond, the organisation has been granted funding by the Scottish Government’s Workplace Equality Fund for its Mums Returning to Work project.

“Almost all of us have experience, both personal and anecdotal, of returning to work after having a child - the redundancies, overlooking, lack of flexibility and ultimately, the mass exodus of mothers from the workplace and the resultant staffing gaps, lack of diversity and even legal action,” says Jill.

“Many businesses are simply not getting this right. Initially, we are working with childcare businesses, which tend to employ a high ratio of women and therefore really need to get their business culture right in this respect, before rolling the project out more widely.”

She adds: “As well as a guide for mums, which outlines things like legal rights and some practical tips and advice, we are offering coaching to help businesses shape their culture and best practice.

“There will be online and face-to-face support, which we hope will begin to shift the current status quo of women feeling that they have no choice but to leave their workplace after having a baby.”

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Jill, who lives in Falkirk, says the decision to concentrate on mums, rather than parents, is a starting point.

“Our research shows it is mums who are not supported, so we wanted to address those inequalities before perhaps broadening it out at a later stage,” she explains.

“We need a shift in attitude. There is a lack of open conversation about how employers can tackle this issue – through the training, we want businesses to realise there are some really simple steps they can take to help mums get back to work.”

Jill adds: “This is about keeping really good employees, after all – at the moment, a whole raft of skilled workers are not coming back because of how they have been treated during maternity leave.

“Maternity leave does not diminish you. In a landscape where businesses are losing female talent en masse - which impacts economically on both the individual business and the women employed - it’s paramount that the hemorrhaging of female talent is stopped by introducing practice that supports their return to the workplace.”