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Women in Leadership: Returning to work after maternity leave

Women in Leadership: Returning to work after maternity leave

Are you on maternity leave and wondering if you’ll be able to walk back in to the same role? Or are you looking to return to work after having children? Rhian Morgan chats with the experts about how to improve your chances, and talks to one manager who maximised her leave to gain promotion

You’re flying high in your career but would like to start a family. Yet you worry whether having children will affect your prospects. If you’re the highest earner, then legally you can now share your leave with your partner. However, many mums stay at home due to health considerations (it takes about three months for the average mother to recover), and a wish to bond with their baby.

Yet many still work from home, or learn new skills. A good way to enhance your prospects is through flexible learning, via companies such as IT learning specialists Pluralsight.

Award-winning digital careers expert for the company, Denise Hudson-Lawson, said: “Maternity leave can very stressful. You hand over your role to someone else and not know what you’ll be coming back to. However, it can also be an excellent opportunity to think about your prospects. Many companies offer mums training days. This presents an ideal chance to ask their employer how they intend to help them keep in touch with their colleagues and whether there will be any online learning opportunities. Online and on-demand learning allows mums on maternity leave the freedom to up-skill at their own pace.

“Many women can use maternity leave to completely change the direction of their careers, and seek new roles or get promotions within their organisations. At the same time, it is very important for employers to ensure those on maternity leave feel included in the company’s plans so they hit the ground running on their return.”  

One such woman who felt online learning was for her is software manager and mum Karoline Klever, who was promoted after her maternity leave.

She told me: “I’d tried courses before but they were never quite right. On top of this was the exhaustion from looking after a new-born. However, when my fiancé Harald introduced me to Pluralsight, I realised I had stumbled across something different. It responded to my needs as a developer. They have experts teaching their courses: sometimes even the people who invented the technology.

“I could learn as much or as little as I liked, anywhere and any time. Pluralsight was simple to follow and I could do the courses on my phone or tablet.

“My son was born early, so he slept a lot, meaning I had quite a lot of time on my hands while also having to be on constant ‘baby standby’. However, I needed to have something to feed my brain while he was sleeping.

“This is one of the main reasons I chose Pluralsight. I needed a way to learn that would be flexible enough to fit around Henrik’s schedule, but also one that didn’t put me to sleep. It meant I could study from home and, if my son needed me, I could drop the course and pick it up later when he was asleep.

“I think I sometimes make it sound easy but it wasn’t. I was lucky to have a great support system; both my husband and the Pluralsight community. There’s a really great social media presence among users, so I never felt I was alone and was always able to ask questions.

“Knowing what I learned would be relevant motivated me immensely. Being taught by respected developers I had seen speak at conferences is a privilege that usually costs a fortune.

 “Obviously, the skills I acquired made me a better developer but the main reason behind my promotion was my increased interest in transferring my skills to my colleagues. It didn’t take long before we had a company subscription to Pluralsight. 

“Gaining these skills also gave me confidence. Within a year of my leave, I spoke at conferences at home and abroad, using what I had learned from the Pluralsight authors combined with my own experiences. Before Pluralsight, I was just an average developer who really loved her job. Now, I can take on anyone.”

I talked to a few experts about their tips for mums looking to return to the workplace:

Professional business coach and mentor Penny Davenport (pennydavenport.co.uk):

“Be sensible about commitment. Do you want to work full- or part-time? Are you willing to employ a nanny? Will you be happy if you miss bedtime or would you like a school-hours job? How much time would you like off for holidays? It is important to think about these questions in advance, rather than once you have taken a job and find your children are distressed by your absences or your boss expects a huge amount of face time.

“Then treat the job search as a project. Write a list of 20 interesting working people you haven’t seen for a while. Send them a note inviting them for coffee. Book childcare and dress the part. The more you get out, the more opportunities will arise.”

Helen Watson is an owning partner in law firm Aaron & Partners as well as being Head of Employment Law. She made the transition from salaried partner to owning partner when her son was just 18 months old:

“You need to juggle being a mum and a manager, and that comes with a guilt trip (which I think you just have to live with!).There is still an element of proving yourself when you return to the workplace and this is respect you still need to earn, in reality.

 

“Most women who have had babies will feel some insecurities but shouldn’t. You are still the same person who left the boardroom and now you are back to provide that expertise, wisdom and balance.”

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