Maternity leave should be about balance – caring for a baby
For many working women maternity leave is an exciting but potentially daunting prospect. New fears can arise such as, the fear of missing out on what is happening at work, the fear of missing out on career progression opportunities and the guilt of feeling like a bad mother for having these thoughts.
The average age for women in Australia to have their first child is 29. Most working women at 29 or older are already on a well-established career path which could be interrupted, stall or ended due to a period away from work. Interestingly a study published by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that 54% of women believed that their careers have been affected by taking maternity leave; 44.1% believe their salaries stall, 30.4% believe that their careers take a backward step and 29.9% say that they sacrificed their careers for having children.
One conclusion that can be drawn by this study is that women can feel pressured that they have to choose between having a family or having a career.
I am currently on maternity leave and while waiting with excitement for my first child to arrive a number of questions about work have crossed my mind such as;
Will my role still be there or will it be in a different form? Will my established networks and connections within the business still exist? Will I now fall behind my counter parts who not have had time out when it comes to career advancement? Will I have fallen behind in my skills and Industry knowledge compared to my peers when I return? Will I be able to do the same job with the same amount of travel and hours when I return?
Many of us wonder if not being able to work the same hours or travel as much as previously will have an impact on career progression; could it even put us on the sideline? I consider myself lucky as I work for a company where our Senior Management Team has a very balanced male to female ratio which is still unusual in the Freight and Logistics Industry. The company has strong family values and makes a lot of provisions for working mothers such as flexible work arrangements, working from home and attending meetings via online mediums rather than having to travel. Yet we still often feel that our career stalls or goes backwards once we start a family due to having to take the time off.
I have been thinking a lot about this in the last few weeks and doing some research on ways I can ensure that I stay on the radar of my managers and work colleagues to make sure I am still in the loop on the developments and remain on their minds while I am away.
Stay current with developments in your Industry.
Lucky we have the Internet which makes it so much easier to stay current while being at home with your child. Stay up to date by reading Industry publications, catching up with your contacts within your Industry, join a LinkedIn Group that is related to your Industry, take part in online seminars, and continue reading the newsletters your company sends out to their customers.
Stay in touch with your colleagues.
It is a good idea to check in with your colleagues every now and then. Just for a general catch up and yes you might even get a detailed download of the latest developments. Meet them for lunch. Take your baby to work and introduce him or her to your colleagues and your manager.
Take Advantage of the ‘Keeping in Touch Days’
It is an initiative introduced by the Australian Government for employees on maternity leave to remain in touch with their workplace by doing paid work up to ten days during their paid parental leave without losing the pay. This is a good way to ease back into work, remain a part of an ongoing project, participate in crucial meetings, refresh your skills or keep up to date with changes. It also makes you feel that you are still being a part of the business. The other benefit is that you get paid for the work you do and you continue receiving your maternity leave pay.
Participate in Work Social Events
Most Companies organise Social Events for their staff so why not go to those? Christmas is fast approaching so it is a good opportunity to attend the yearly Christmas Party to meet all your colleagues in a social setting to catch up.
Speak to your employer
Have a discussion with your Manager or HR Manager about how they can help you stay in touch with the company. Wanting to stay current on the developments and having some input could be well received by your employer as you are proactive and show willingness to continue contributing to the success of the business.
Connect with other women
Connect with other women who have been on maternity leave and are now back on their career track. Learn from them on how they did it.
I hope that these tips will help women feel more at ease and reduce their concerns while on maternity leave because every minute of this special time should be enjoyed. To me maternity leave is about balance where I can enjoy my new priorities by spending precious time with my newborn but also being able to continue on my career journey. Being on maternity leave should not mean that we are cut off from our corporate life that we left behind for a while.