Contributed by Chris Parke, MD of Talking Talent, an expert on workplace maternity issues.
We often hear about women struggling to maintain the momentum of their careers through parenthood. The transition through maternity and the return to work can be fraught with anxieties and a feeling of not being in control. A successful maternity or adoption transition means working alongside your stakeholders as well as having an individual strategy to keep your career momentum going.
Laying the groundwork
There are plenty of ways to begin the maternity transition in a positive way, which will help make things easier down the line. Below are some tips to keep in mind in the initial stages:
When announcing your pregnancy think about what impact it will have on you, and what your ideal outcome is. Decide who the key people are to communicate with and what it is they need to know – be sure to do this with plenty of time. Think about what the impact will be on them and how you can best manage this – be honest, positive and professional.
Make sure you keep communicating effectively and frequently with your stakeholders, this will help them feel comfortable and confident throughout the transition.
- Handing over work & covering your role
This is vital to a successful transition. Make sure you think about the logistics of this; for example, what are the different parts of your role and who can best cover them? Work with your manager to ensure the transition of work starts as early as possible. The better the handover, the more confident your team and manager will feel, and the smoother it will be on your return. By ensuring you are heavily involved, you can also plan ahead for your return and how your work might be handed back to you.
Use your time wisely
Plan how you will communicate with work while you are off; coming back for team/client meetings or training days can make your return easier. Communicate with your team and manager around who you expect to communicate with, how and about what. Once you have had your baby, your ideas around the frequency of communication may change, so don’t forget to check in with your team and manager to let them know.
Often women can feel a lot of anxiety about their future careers as working moms. Be clear that your leave is temporary and plan how you will get your work back once you return. Discussing your career with your manager or having a review before you leave will also help manage expectations and keep your progression front of mind – don’t forget to ask how you will be informed about potential pay reviews and promotions while you are away.
Balancing work & home life
The juggling act between work and life can be challenging. Prior to your return, think through childcare options and discuss with friends and colleagues what has worked for them. Be realistic about your expectations and those of your colleagues.
Think about phasing back into your role. This can help you re-acclimatize to being at work and help you adjust to balancing your work and childcare duties. If you are thinking of applying for flexible working, take the time to think about how you will do this. Make sure you are aware of your company’s policy and any deadlines there may be for application forms. Think about whether flexible working is possible in your role, and put together a business case for it. Don’t forget to communicate with your manager and team to make sure everyone is clear about how the transition back will work, especially if there are changes in work patterns.
By starting the way you mean to go on and setting clear boundaries, you can help manage your work-life balance. However, remember that flexibility is a two-way street: if you demonstrate that you are flexible wherever possible, you will be in a stronger position to ask for the same in return.
Look at the long term
Having a child is a huge change for everyone and there will be practical and emotional effects as a result; by recognizing this you can begin to put some measures in place to minimize the impact. Examine your different roles:
- What values and which identities are important to you?
- What aspirations do you have? How will you achieve them?
- Where are the conflicts of interest?
- What’s the ideal balance and how will you manage this? What compromises are you willing/not willing to make?
It is important to manage key stakeholder relationships and sponsors throughout this career stage; keeping people on board is essential to managing your image as a professional working mother and creating a balance you are happy with. Understand your audience and their unconscious biases, empathize with them, but manage your boundaries with confidence by being clear and honest. Make sure what you are proposing is commercially sound and realistic – manage your own expectations.
It will be important to create a network of support outside of work – don’t be afraid to ask for help. Also, think about the balance between you and your partner, or your support network; how do your plans fit together and how will you support each other? What will your roles and responsibilities be?
The business case
Finally – don’t be apologetic. Don’t forget that you are an asset to your organization; there are benefits not only for you, but also for the company to keep you progressing.
- Arrange childcare as early as possible, and try to start it a week before your return. This way you and your baby can get used to the routine.
- Plan for emergencies; who will look after your child if they are sick?
- Find out what your company’s family-friendly policies are.
- Be positive in setting expectations and boundaries around your needs in order to balance the various parts of your life.
Talking Talent is a company specializing in maternity coaching and work with magic circle firms, banks and accountancy firms. They help organisations to retain talented women and a diverse workforce by managing such crucial phases of their career and life better.