New Three-Year Study Will Reveal How SMEs Support Working Parents

Photo Credits - Ante Hamersmit via Unsplash

Middlesex University, the University of Manchester and the University of Leeds are collaborating to research parenthood and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This research project is also done with two charities; the Fatherhood Institute and Working Families. The project will be done over 3 years, aiming to gain insight into the organisational management and staffing conditions when employees of SMEs become parents. 

The researchers feel that currently there is a gap in knowledge in the transition to parenthood in UK SMEs. They have also designed the project to directly impact maternity and paternity management in SMEs in practice and policy, as well as in academic understanding. 

They are now calling for study participants, which include SME employers and employees. 

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Background of the Study

Existing research on pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace found that small businesses tend to have low levels of awareness of pregnancy and maternity rights at work, showing that they are the least likely to provide flexible work arrangements. 

In the UK, SMEs make up 99.9% of the business population, employ three-fifths of the workforce and contribute to approximately half of the private sector’s turnover. 

Although existing research has highlighted the alarming prevalence of pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination in variously sized workplaces in the UK, the previous studies did not provide specific recommendations for enhancing maternity support in SMEs or exploring the experiences of new fathers. 

However, the management of new parenthood in SMEs differs significantly from that in large corporations due to distinct characteristics such as limited resources and a preference for informal staff management approaches. For instance, SMEs often lack a dedicated Human Resources department and formal written policies concerning maternity and paternity leave. Additionally, SME owners and managers frequently exhibit more resistance to maternity and paternity protection regulations compared to their counterparts in larger firms, primarily due to concerns about time and financial implications.

Thus, this research project was conceptualised to address these issues and contribute to the gap in knowledge that has affected the working conditions of employees in SMEs. 


For this study, they will adopt a mixed-method design by combining both quantitative and qualitative research. The data collection process will include two elements. 

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The first element is by approaching it in a participatory and longitudinal way. This entails the collection of qualitative data on parental experiences, such as pregnancy, parental leave, maternity, paternity, adoption, breastfeeding and childcare.  The data will be collected through semi-structured interviews, which will be done in three stages over one year, and focus groups that will involve prospective parents, co-workers and parents who have requested flexible work arrangements. 

The second element will involve large-scale cross-sectional surveys of SME employers and employees to further enhance the qualitative data collected from the first element. This will also help them discover broader attitudes towards parenthood and the workplace. 

At the end of the study, they aim to produce a final report, datasets, an awareness-raising toolkit for SMEs, a video to promote positive interactions in the workplace, factsheets and a series of video documentaries. 


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