There is a often 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 is another side to the narrative that is less celebrated. There are three recurrent myths that we see social and media focusing in on that are not necessarily. 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 coming back to work. They 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).
- Returning to their career that they have invested and progressed in.
This is why it’s fabulous in our Back to Work Programmes when we have a blend of 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.
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 and Impact and outcomes shifting the focus from hours work and head down working hard. Working smart, working on the right stuff and thinking strategically about your role and career is ever more important during this phase.
Thankfully since starting this work back in 2014 we see a step change since we started of women 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 ALL ABOUT THE BABY
For sure, especially with first time mums there is a bit of ‘mom guilt’. This ramps up when baby is sick and even worse when baby is a bit sick. Through Clearbird Programmes we see that this mom guilt is more real for first time mums who find it difficult to get their head around what this new life of juggling family and career look 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 coming back to work.
What is that about? The narrative, societal expectations especially in Ireland are such that there is almost an unwritten rule that you should have a preference for staying at home with baby, raising 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 make younger generations feel guilty about working outside of the home.
The majority of professional women who attend our programmes would rather be working full time or with flexible working arrangements than staying full time at home. 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 they are in fact still driven and ambitious – even if they are 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 leave the workplace earlier than before or arrive to work later than before. More often than not it is the additional 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 is important
Women struggle with this guilt even if they are logging on in the evenings, not because they need to but because they are 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 on social media chat groups the rants and frustrations and exhaustions of mums trying doing it all. 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 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 see consistently throughout the years and hundreds of women in our Programmes
- Sharing the load – crèche/childminding drop off collection
- Really supportive managers who are acting as sponsor, mentor, advocate and ally i.e. not writing their female talent off.
- 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 & 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 conversations 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 are serious about Feeding the Female Leadership Pipeline and retaining and growing our female talent, supporting parents in this life transition, in managing the mid-career phase is critical to every organisation’s Diversity & 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.