Maternity leave is still perceived as a key barrier to women's success in the workplace - so much so that women still talk of a Motherhood Penalty. In fact, what is interesting, from the research I have carried out on key barriers to success, is that Mothers found an extended period of time out of the office for maternity more problematic in terms of their career development than people who took extended leave because of long term sickness. Furthermore, with the recent legal changes offering men the chance to take long term parental leave, will men find an extended absence challenging in the same way as so many women do today?
As maternity coaches, the Hobbs Consultancy coaches spend time with women before, during and after their maternity leave. Below are some top tips designed to support women through this critical time.
1. Design what you want your maternity leave to look like with your line manager.
Line managers are often afraid of asking a woman how she would like to be kept in the loop during her maternity leave for fear of legal retributions. Yet any relationship needs to be designed via a two way process. I encourage women to have that conversation with their line manager before they leave for maternity leave. Work through what you want to be contacted about and what you don't want to be contacted about. Consider when you would like to be contacted and using what medium, and when you would like to be left alone. Then go have a conversation with your line manager getting clear on your expectations and requests.
2. Spend a bit of time thinking about your working life purpose and values - before you head off on maternity leave
Having a baby is a transformational experience for many women. What I mean by that is that the very essence of who they are can evolve or transform over the birth and early years. It is often challenging to make sense of this transformation when you are sleep deprived and managing childcare for the first time as you re-enter the workplace. Getting clear on what is important to you, what gets you out of bed in the morning and what your core professional values are can be extremely helpful before you head off on maternity leave - not least because it gives you something concrete to benchmark your feelings and emotions against as you return to the office.
3. Have an early conversation with your partner about co-parenting
I'm making the assumption that there are two of you that decided to have a baby. What I often find is that there has been no conversation about how the 'workload' of being a parent is going to be shared. Often the assumption is that the Mother is going to be the primary caregiver - and this continues once she is back in the workplace, leading to pressure and resentment. Having an early conversation about how you anticipate working together to bring up your child can be enlightening, particularly if entered in to during the pre-baby excitement phase. Talk about how parental leave is going to be shared, what your hopes and concerns are, and then how responsibilities might need to be adapted as you both settle back in to the workplace.
4. Organise childcare that you feel comfortable with
Money spent on childcare can really hit the family finances hard. Whatever you do, don't reflect for too long on how much you are actually bringing home once childcare has been paid for. Seriously, it will probably be worse than your first ever salary. You might not be breaking even. Instead, think about what that childcare allows you to do. Reflect back on your working life purpose and values - and how paying for childcare enables you to step in to this. And take the long view - paying for childcare is a temporary blip in your long term career trajectory. This too shall pass! I personally would advocate spending what you can afford and what you feel you need to in order to feel more comfortable and relaxed in the workplace.
5. Get clear on your strengths and what is important
Time will be under pressure in a way that you have never experienced before. Typically, as women, we are not good at saying no or letting people down. Now is the time to break some of those habits. You will not be able to make a significant difference in the workplace if you continue trying to keep everybody happy. Delegation, prioritisation and letting go are all gifts to the working mother. Get clear each week and each day as to what the important milestones are (rather than the urgent ones), play to your strengths and get better at saying no.
6. You deserve to be there - and they're lucky to have you!
Too often, I see women who have been granted flexible working return from maternity leave without any long term career development opportunities and feeling a bit grateful that they have been allowed back in the workplace at all. Flexible working has a negative brand image and yet it is the way I imagine us all working in the future. The industry needs to change hugely in this respect, and yet we, as women working flexibly, have a role to play too in championing flexible working, showing its benefits to the business and creating a test and learn approach to the new technologies and ways of working out there. You are bringing a lot of value and talent back in to the business and can continue an upwards career trajectory whilst working flexibly.
The Hobbs Consultancy offer Maternity Coaching to the advertising, media, creative and tech industries. For a conversation about how 1:1 coaching can aid retention and motivation in your business, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net