We realise motherhood is a huge subject, and we wanted to start the conversation on how best to manage motherhood and our careers – from telling your boss you’re pregnant, to discussing maternity leave, returning to work and asking for flexibility… the list goes on. How do we best prepare for and manage this crucially important process? Elizabeth Cowper joined us to talk as a mother of three, as a Director of HR, and as a founder of a fantastic network called WoMo for working mothers. Here are our key takeaways:
1. Preparation is key when entering a discussion about motherhood with your employer. Be empowered and know what you want to gain from the discussion, rather than just asking what the company will give you. Be armed with information before you walk in – you will get more out of the conversation.
2. Be authentic, be ‘your you’. If you can focus on yourself before having your baby it will help you have a smoother transition back to work. Remember what’s important to you, whether it’s a Saturday morning yoga class or a Wednesday night glass of wine – you’re still the same person once you have a baby, so try and take time for yourself to do those things. It’ll keep you sane.
3. The longer you’re out of work, the more disconnected you can feel when you return to work. Try to keep connected with your team and job throughout maternity leave to make joining less intimidating. Use your ‘KIT’ (keep in touch) days – you’re legally allowed 10 over your maternity leave.
4. You will have guilt, and that’s ok. Being a working mother means you may have to miss out on things. At some point you may feel like you’re not doing enough (at work or at home) but remember you can’t do everything exactly as you were before! Spread yourself more broadly but accept it will be with less depth.
5. Relinquish control and share the load. If you can get support, take it! It’s easy to take on too much and burn out. Remember that airlines tell you to put your oxygen mask on before others for a reason. Say yes to help, it will benefit you, your child and your career in the long term.
6. Find other parents in the workplace. Start a discussion around the issues of parenthood and maintaining a career. Even if it’s an informal one, it will help you get things off your chest and in the long term could help with company policy.
7. Men need to be involved in the conversation. To really solve long-term issues of equality we need to include men in discussions around parenthood. Shared parental leave is a right which is still rarely taken up – this should change but society needs more time to get there and we need to help that.
8. Job share is a great option for people who want to maintain the same role and responsibilities but having a day of overlap is critical. Ask HR, you never know if someone else may be looking for a similar arrangement. If you’re not interested in a job share you should still have a discussion about your options.
9. Think about your role in terms of output, not just hours. Women in particular tend to graft, and it takes some adjustment to think about what you achieve rather than the hours you put in. Write everything down so that you are armed for a conversation if needed, for example, if you’re doing five days work in four days. If your responsibility and output hasn’t changed, then your salary shouldn’t either.
10. Be vulnerable. There’s a widespread perception that we must go to work and switch off from parenthood. It is ok to be open and honest with your colleagues about the difficult responsibilities of parenthood. It is only through showing vulnerability that we will see a shift in attitudes.
11. Things are getting better! Attitudes are shifting and companies are finally catching up! Working Mums are being recognised for having a more efficient output.