The decision to start a family is a big one for any woman who is heavily invested in her career. Will it affect my chances of promotion? Will people take me as seriously when I’m a working mom? How do I stop them from ‘seeing’ me differently? How do I get them to understand that I want to stay on the career track?
I saw a recent Linked In post by a woman, now MD of her company, who 10 years ago, when starting her career as a lawyer, discovered she was pregnant. Many people told her that getting pregnant was tantamount to career suicide and that she would never be retained after her Articles.
On the contrary, her reality was that having a baby was not a career limiting move. Nor is it one for the women I coach through this transitional period.
My 3 Take-Charge Tips
Firstly, it is not enough to “put your head down and work hard”. In my opinion this is never enough to advance your career successfully, regardless of whether you are pregnant!
1. Communicate with intention
I believe we can manage the perceptions others have of us. Every opportunity you get to participate in a meeting (virtual or in person) is an opportunity to position your value. From the time you find out you are pregnant, become aware of how you show up, how you speak up. Especially when working remotely, now is not the time to become invisible, but to raise your visibility and raise your voice.
What ‘legacy’ do you want to leave when you head off on maternity leave? What strengths do you have that you would want your leaders, your peers and your direct reports remember and to say about when you aren’t around. Think about what you can do now to heighten their awareness of these attributes in your dealings with them.
Share your news with your boss (face-to-face) proudly, without apology, giving him/her a clear indication that you are already considering the impact of your absence. It may have been easier during the pandemic to hide the bump (below the screen!), but in most cases, it is more helpful to you and to your employer, to share the news as early as it is ‘safe’ to do so i.e. after the first 12-16 weeks. Most women I coach have commented that having been anxious and stressed before the conversation, they ”felt relieved” after afterwards. 409
2. Plan early and often
Whether a natural planner or not, your planning muscle needs to start exercising now; it will become well-practised as you transition to parenthood. The worst thing you can do for your anxiety levels is to leave the planning of your departure till the last month. Develop your handover plan early in collaboration with your line manager and your team, if necessary. It is exceptionally helpful (and respectful) to the people you work with, to know you are thinking about the impact of your absence on the business and being proactive in putting solutions in place. It allows you to go off on leave feeling unburdened and ready to focus on this new chapter of your life.
3. Build your support network, now
The burning question about ‘balance’ rises to top of mind for women when they find out they are pregnant. How will it be possible to manage balancing a full day of work with my responsibilities as a mother? The biggest factor influencing a new mom’s successful return to work is the quality of her home support system. It will massively impact your general peace of mind and your ability to focus once work restarts. It takes time to build trust; the earlier you consider your child-care options, the better. If you choose to employ a nanny, bring her on board well before your maternity leave ends.
Your husband or partner is your “secret career weapon”. The arrival of a child is the first major transition you face as a dual career couple. You shift from having independent career paths to integrated ones. Start to have intentional conversations now about your priorities for family and career, share your fears and concerns, and discuss your mutual expectations of your roles as mom and dad. Involve your partner in the day to day with your baby from the get-go. A competent dad who knows what needs to be done without you asking, is the greatest gift when you restart work.
A new mom I coached recently, describing what she’d learnt on becoming a mom, said: “We women are incredible.” What more need I say? There is no doubt in my mind that becoming a mom is a time of significant growth personally, which, with the right kind of support, can and does translate into thriving professionally when she returns to work. I trust this will be your experience.
P.S. Finally, a note about flexibility and remote working.
Covid has done us all a huge favour in getting organisations to realise that work-from-home (wfh) can be done effectively by anyone, career moms feel less in the spotlight and many are finding it a lot easier now to broach the topic.
With things changing constantly, my advice is to delay discussions about flexibility and working remotely, till possibly the last month of your maternity leave. At that point, think about your ideal work pattern (your proposed start time, finish time, time in the office versus w-f-h, openness to picking up some work after hours etc). Be proactive in planning the agenda of a call with your line manager to be updated on the office’s remote working policies and to share your proposed work pattern, confidently and without apology.
Article by Melany Green, CEO of Great Expectations, the first company in South Africa dedicated to coaching professional women through the Parental Transition.