There is a often a mis-representative narrative around how difficult it is for women returning to work from maternity leave. It is challenging. The juggling is real. The sleep deprivation is intense (for a while). And trying to figure out work/life balance – well, that’s an ongoing piece of work. Yes, this phase is hard. Our programmes support parents in managing this transition, enabling them to take the reins on career and life. However, there’s another side to the narrative that is less celebrated. There are three recurrent myths that we see social media focusing in on that are not necessarily true. Here are just three myths that are busted again and again in our programmes.
Myth #1: Most Women Dread Going Back to Work
The majority of women who attend our Back to Work Programmes admit to looking forward to going back to work after Maternity Leave. Of course there is some mom guilt and they wonder how they can juggle everything and manage their working hours. But they also look forward to:
- Re-claiming their professional selves;
- Having adult conversations;
- Re-engaging their brain;
- Getting stuck into challenging projects;
- Having the opportunity to take an actual break for coffee and lunch (sometimes); and
- Returning to their career that they’ve invested and progressed in.
We often see this more with mums on a second or subsequent Maternity Leave. It is daunting come back after baby 1. This is why the wider perspective that is brought in our programmes is so impactful. We love when we have a blend of more experienced mums and new mums. All mums find the peer sharing and learning from other colleague experiences empowering and enabling. We consistently hear that a key benefit is knowing that others are feeling, thinking and experiencing the same challenges. And that’s ok.
Having family does not have to mean giving up on your career or plateauing or freewheeling and getting by. By having the right conversations and focusing on presence, impact and outcomes, you can shift the focus from hours worked. Working smart, working on the right stuff and thinking strategically about your role and career is ever more important during this phase. Knowing this, helps women to more successfully navigate this phase. So often we hear from participants ‘but no one tells you this’. It is possible to stay present in and advance your career when the focus is on impact and outcomes and not presenteeism.
Thankfully, since starting this work back in 2014, we see a step change of women being promoted just before, during and on return from maternity leave. We see an increasingly common narrative that is positive and empowering.
Myth #2: Mom Guilt is a Given and is all about the Baby
For sure, especially with first-time mums, there’s a bit of ‘mom guilt’. This ramps up when baby is sick and even worse when baby is a bit sick. Through our Clearbird Programmes, we see that this mom guilt is more real for first-time mums who find it hard to get their head around what this new life of juggling family and career looks like.
But there are two other forms of guilt that show up consistently in our Back to Work Programmes.
Guilt about not feeling guilty about going back to work.
This is such an interesting one to pull apart. The narrative around societal expectations, especially in Ireland, is such that there’s almost an unwritten rule that you should have a preference for staying at home with baby, to raise the family. After all, we even have Article 41.2.1 in the Irish Constitution, in which “The State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”
Is it any wonder therefore that there are generations of Irish women who still make comments that contribute to younger generations of mums feel guilty about working outside of the home. There is a new generation of dual career couples that is figuring out what dual careers look like. Organisations are starting to consider more seriously what this shift in demographics look like too.
The majority of professional women who attend our programmes would rather be working full-time or with flexible working arrangements than staying at home full-time. This of course doesn’t apply to everyone, but it does apply to many. My own view is that a happy mum owning her choices usually means a happy baby and happy family. Being in a room full of peers who challenge that guilt expectation, allows women to own the fact that they do enjoy their career and that they are in fact still driven and ambitious – even if they’re still figuring out what that looks like and what the timeline and pace looks like.
Guilt about team members picking up the slack.
The other big ‘guilt’ that shows up is the guilt about team members having to ‘pick up the slack’ as these mums may now have to finish up work earlier or arrive to work later than before they had children. More often than not, it’s the ‘out of hours’ hours that suffer when family comes along.
Women struggle with this guilt even when they know productivity is increasingly enhanced during the day. The focus on what is essential is more clear than ever. Sharp focus on what’s important takes a priority.
Women struggle with this guilt even if they’re logging on in the evenings, not because they need to but because they’re choosing to. If logging on later to catch up with e-mails and get ahead of the next day works and enables getting home early for bedtime and dinnertime, many women are happy to make that choice.
This is again the shift from presenteeism to outcomes that is a critical part of the change in perspective for both mums and managers in navigating this phase.
Myth #3: Working Mums Have to Figure out How To Do It All.
Too often, I see and hear the rants and frustrations and exhaustions of mums trying to do it all especially on social networks groups. Sharing the pain about how much there is to be done. I get incredibly frustrated with the excessive use of ‘I’ in this context.
Thankfully, over the years that Clearbird has been delivering these Back To Work Programmes, we do see a step change, especially in dual career couples. That change is even more evident in our New Dads Programmes, where partners are talking about the real sharing of responsibilities at home. A potential unconscious bias at home is increasingly being addressed. Sharing of childcare drops and pick-ups, sharing of sick day cover (the big challenge in year 1 of being back to work) and sharing of the household and family responsibilities – cooking, shopping, laundry and the rest.
Yes, this phase is hard. But there are many and increasingly positive changes and narratives that are an important part of the mix.
The top three factors in a good return to work that we’ve seen consistently throughout the years and across the many women who go through our Programmes are:
- Sharing the load – crèche/childminding drop-off and collection in the first instance. After that and even better is when the dual career couple or taking on unconscious boas at home – sharing the batch cooking, the shopping, laundry etc and playing to what each partner has a preference for. Unfortunately many mum are still trying to do it all, when there are some things that they really don’t have to do by themselves.
You might also be interested in reading ‘Going Back to Work after Maternity Leave is about More Than Being Organised‘.
And coming right up behind that in terms of what works well are:-
- Really supportive managers who are acting as sponsor, mentor, advocate and ally, i.e. not writing their female talent off; and
- Owning the narrative around enjoying being back at work and re-claiming their professional selves.
Clearbird’s suite of Back to Work from Maternity Leave, New Parents and Inclusive Leadership Programmes support diversity and inclusion thinking and strategy.
We help females returning to the workplace to feel empowered, re-focused, confident and energised. We support new dads/parents who are also thinking about what this new phase means for them and enable this important conversation to take place. We support, guide and challenge managers in successfully managing these key life transition points – with an eye on retaining and developing female talent.
If organisationally and societally, we’re serious about Feeding the Female Leadership Pipeline and retaining and growing our female talent, supporting parents in this life transition to manage the mid-career phase is critical to every organisation’s diversity and inclusion agenda.
Our sessions are incredibly effective in bridging the communication gap, bringing a wider perspective and providing practical strategies to enable the important and honest conversations.
Contact us to find out more about our Group Programmes and 1:1 Maternity Coaching Services.