Raising kids is a humbling and transformational experience for many parents. And if we are to believe the research, child-rearing is also arguably one of the most career-limiting experiences.
A longitudinal study of 46,000 women conducted by UK researchers found that motherhood had a detrimental impact on a woman’s career progression, particularly when her children are very small, and even in femalecentric occupations such as nursing. Taking more than two years out of the workforce resulted in “depressed” and “restricted” careers.
Inclusion experts argue that the onus is on companies and organizations to create and enforce policies that make it easier for women to combine motherhood and ambition. Many point to Sweden, which has one of the narrowest gender gaps in the world. Half a century of family-friendly policies have resulted in 90 per cent of all Swedish dads taking parental leave. In Germany, the decision to enforce “daddy month” policies, which reward families that divide parental leave evenly, saw the share of German dads who took parental leave jump from three to 20 per cent.
These types of policies are a welcome shift. But waiting for widespread, systemic change is a tall order for many of the ambitious young women looking for ways to combine motherhood and a big job.
Here are five strategies that can help you hit the ground running after maternity leave.
Develop a strong network before you leave. The best networking strategy is to develop a strong one long before you need to leverage it. If you see a family in your future, or if you know you’ll be taking a maternity leave imminently, resist the urge to spend the majority of your time “tying up loose ends” and prepping your temporary replacement. Rather, focus on enhancing your relationships with colleagues, clients and stakeholders.
Unearth a copy of your company’s current strategic plan. While you are on leave, you’ll be isolated from the day-to-day operations of the organization…which is the idea. But this doesn’t mean you need to lose touch with the big picture. Before you leave, review your company’s strategic plan to stay connected with the overall direction of the team, and the big goals set by senior management.
High performance athletes don’t just show up on day one of the Olympics—they train and prepare. Similarly, it’s a good idea to prepare for your first day back at work.
Organize a reintegration meeting. High performance athletes don’t just show up on day one of the Olympics— they train and prepare. Similarly, it’s a good idea to prepare for your first day back at work. Three to four months before you intend to return, set up a one-hour check-in meeting with your boss. The purpose of this meeting is for you to develop a clear picture of what has changed since you left and to learn more about what’s important to your boss and your company over the next year. Gather a complete picture of what’s going on and what’s coming up for your organization. Then, book a follow-up meeting to be held one to two months before you plan to return.
Schedule an on-boarding meeting. About one to two months before you return, hold an on-boarding meeting with your boss. The purpose of this meeting is for you to lay out an action plan for how you see yourself reintegrating back into the team. Find ways to align your work with your boss’ big strategic aims. This meeting will help you step back to work feeling prepared and plugged in.
Establish a support system. We humans find change extremely difficult. When it comes time to return to work, get support not only for your child, but for YOU. Arrange lunches with friends who have experienced the back-to-work blues…and the exhilaration of being back in the game. Practice extreme self-care as you step into the rewarding, fulfilling role of combining motherhood and ambition.
Child-rearing has historically been a career limiter for many women. Smart policy-making can correct the imbalance—as do savvy career strategies.