If you’re a woman who is focused on progressing in your career, you may have considered how becoming a mother or expanding your family might impact your career. It’s something we don’t often talk about, in the workplace it’s considered a slightly taboo subject, but many of us feel it’s necessary to plan our personal goals to start a family in a way that causes the least negative impact on promotions, pay, bonus or our general career. I think this is something that’s worth talking about.
As working women, many of us carry around a level of uncertainty and stress, sometimes we don’t even realize it. It can manifest itself as a voice that warns us, “If I get pregnant now, I won’t get the promotion, because I have to be in that role for two years,” or “I cannot take a new job because I want to get pregnant and we have been trying for two years, and if I get this new job, and I tell them three months later, I’m pregnant, I will be judged and it will feel like the end of the world.”
These are conversations that can go on inside our heads, that sometimes we don’t even realize. Stressing about these perceived pressures can take away our peace of mind when planning our lives. It can be liberating however to feel supported by your work team and leadership. That’s where corporations have a great opportunity to make a difference. Childbirth doesn’t have to be seen as a negative impact on business, it can be an opportunity for growth and fostering loyalty within the team.
The Transformation from Career Woman to Career Mother
Family-driven leaders in the corporate world can be a godsend to employees and an asset to the growth of the business. That’s why it can be helpful to train and develop leaders with parenthood in mind. It can become a part of corporate conversations. The language and sometimes pessimistic perception when someone takes time off to start a family needs to be challenged. Supporting and helping your employees through this time doesn’t need to be the business disruption it can sometimes be seen as.
Let’s move the conversation beyond the HR complaint tick-box, that tells women it’s okay to have a career and feel free to plan your babies when you want them to (but then punishes them with less projects and promotions). It can be much more productive to give authentic support and honesty. It can be better to be realistic. Having a baby can impact a career. This is where honest conversations can help to minimize the stress and uncertainty. When you empower your team with the information they need to make their own decisions, it can create an amazing sense of empowerment and a feeling of control of one’s life.
The more we give to people, the more we will get back. That is true in the corporate world with employers and employees. It’s wonderful to know that life is all about that. In challenging or transitional times, showing up for employers can mean so much. Because of this display of commitment, some will even do whatever it takes for the business upon their return, giving back with a renewed dedication.
It’s easy for business leaders to not see this sometimes. It’s natural to want to take control of the uncontrollable. But encouraging teams to be proactive and have a plan in place can minimize the stress on both management and employees.
Minimizing Our Stress
The first few months of pregnancy can be hard on a woman. There’s so much going on with your body, you’re tired and you may be feeling sick. Sometimes adding to that stress is the worry of workplace uncertainty. Women can feel pressured to hide their pregnancy because they’re anxious about revealing it to their superiors. This big secret can feel like an enormous weight. People may inquire about your change in behavior or ask if you’re feeling alright. What do you say?
None of us should have to feel this way at work, let alone during such a physically and emotionally draining time. This is when support would be so useful. Many women won’t receive this support because they won’t say anything out of fear that there will be a change in how they are treated. They worry that leaders may not give them promotions or new projects because they’ll be too focused on their pregnancy and planning around it.
The Pressure to Hide Your Life Never Stops for Many Working Mothers
Encouraging management to look at parenthood as a long-term status can help us better adjust to the changes and challenges parents will face. Feelings of insecurity and stress about their position at work often don’t go away after the birth of a baby. Instead, this can just be the start of a cycle of feeling uncertain and apologetic. Again, we in leadership roles, are in a unique position, to be able to change this cycle and create a nurturing environment where employees who are parents can thrive.
Let’s be honest. Returning to work after your leave ends means phone calls from your nanny or daycare which evolve into phone calls from school and the babysitter — there’s so many reasons for these calls home! There you are at work. You’re supposed to be working but it can be very challenging because you feel pulled in so many directions. You might feel like the last thing you want to do is have your boss think of you as less dedicated to your work. This is the reality of being a parent however, particularly for women who often receive the bulk of these calls and requests.
Parental responsibilities do sometimes bleed over into work time. I’d encourage management to be aware of this fact and proactively consider strategies for supporting parents. This doesn’t need to mean that parents would get preferential treatment or extra accommodations. But it can mean that we reassure these employees that their work won’t be dismissed or their dedication questioned if they require a more flexible schedule. Even just a minor change in a work routine can help a parent immensely, with no negative impact on the quantity or quality of work produced.
It’s exciting to know that we have the ability to change the mentality that can surround parenthood in the workplace. Leaders are more and more seeing the big picture and recognizing that women who are mothers are a true asset.
Mothers Make Amazing Employees
Look at motherhood for the amazing tools it gives you. We can multitask (even better than before!), we always have a to-do list, we function whether we have gotten sleep or not. As a mother, you have to function on so many levels in terms of efficiency. We all can learn a lot from mothers!
Motherhood is truly one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs. It should be added to your resume. It’s the most difficult school of life. If you can manage your crying babies when they are born, the stress of worrying about them and their health, dealing with weeks of colic, all the while still keeping an eye on work during the day. When you can be responsible for cooking at home, endless doctors appointments, doing laundry, whilst carving some time out for yourself to get back into shape, lest we forget the need to be present for our families. If all this is manageable, usually with a smile and four hours of sleep, you really can do anything for an employer. I want to encourage leadership to see motherhood and parenthood for what it is. Let’s give it the recognition it deserves.
What does this mean for business? Believe it or not it may actually contribute to improving a business’s bottom line. How? Recognizing and supporting parents (who make up a majority of employees most likely) may reduce the drain of turnover and the loss of momentum that comes from being short-staffed. It may also help make your team more focused and less distracted.
Imagine a team that doesn’t need to stress over what might happen when they get the unavoidable “emergency school call” or what they’ll do if they need to stay home with a sick child. Instead picture a proactive workforce that has protocols in place. There’s no wasting mental energy on navigating around the issues they know will arise. They become more motivated, more dedicated and more transparent. Communication improves as does productivity. And the business enjoys these benefits with a more dedicated, loyal and empowered staff.
Women will always have babies. Families will always be growing. The savvy business can embrace this role and all that comes with it. When they do, they’ll reap the benefits from a stronger, more capable employee who is ready to give her all for the company that was there to support her too.