Denise Moller is a new mother who has recently returned to work. She explains what employers and business leaders can do to maximise the often experienced and valuable talent that new mothers can bring to a business.
At a recent business event, we were having a discussion about the lack of women in executive roles. My personal view is that I don’t believe in quotas for women in senior leadership positions – it needs to be the best person for the job.
There have been lots of articles written about this topic and I often wondered why many organisations lack female leadership at the top. As a new mum coming back to work I can now see that it is a potential impediment to career progression and that’s where we lose a lot of our female talent.
I was keen to explore this notion further, so got together the amazing group of mums that I met through a SPACE (mums and babies) group. This collective of highly intelligent women, ranging from their late twenties to early forties, includes those in banking, finance, engineering, architecture, medicine, tourism and more.
Some are back working part time, some full time and some have chosen to stay at home. They had very strong opinions about being a new working mum and what employers / business leaders can do to maximise this great talent as well as some tips for new working mums. If you are a business leader, a mum, or both then hopefully this article will provide you with some food for thought.
If you met me early last year and asked me what my role was I would have told you that I was the New Zealand marketing and communications manager for Marsh, the world’s largest insurance brokers and risk advisors. Fast forward 15 months or so and I still have that job along with another equally important one called “mum”.
It’s been two months since I returned to work and I am loving it. My mind is stimulated, I have had a year away to gain a new perspective on things and a renewed enthusiasm for my job. At the end of the day, I also get to go home and see my beautiful daughter’s smile when I pick her up from day-care.
We Need to Embrace Flexible Working
I am very fortunate to be with an organisation that values flexible working. I knew when I came back to work that I didn’t want to work full time, plus I would need to work different hours to accommodate day-care pick-ups and drop-offs. I currently work 7.30am – 3.30pm in the office Monday to Wednesday, Thursdays from home and have Fridays off. My 2IC also had a baby, three weeks after me, and she now works in the office Wednesday to Friday.
I’ve discovered however that not everyone is as fortunate as we are when it comes to flexibility at work.
Earlier this year, Next magazine surveyed 1,000 women about gender discrimination. Sixty-one percent agreed that their employers accommodated their family responsibilities. At first read this doesn’t sound too bad but in reality it means that 39 percent are not being offered flexible working solutions.
Case in point – one of my friends left her job in a professional services firm a few months ago because they weren’t prepared to accommodate her “other important job”. Sad for her but equally as sad for them as they have lost an employee with a wealth of knowledge and experience. No wonder her profession is male dominated and lacking in female leaders.
It’s not just about the hours though. Yes kids get sick, especially in the first couple of months at day-care, and we may have to rush out the door to go and pick them up. But, guess what, we will often feel such judgement and guilt that we more than make up the time at the other end of the day. That’s actually what flexible working is about. Even if you don’t have kids there may have been times where you have had to take your dog to the vet or an elderly parent to the doctor.
Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that this is not just an issue for mums. I am told that there is sometimes an equal stigma for dads having to pick up their kids. I love the fact that the dads around me are happy to go and do this and no one bats an eyelid.
“Your Priorities Change Once You’ve Had a Baby”
This line was used on one of my friends by her manager. That may be true to a certain degree but what does that actually mean?
In this case, there was an underlying assumption that she would not be as committed to her job now that she is a mum and that simply is not true.
My job is still as important to me as it was pre-baby. It doesn’t mean I love my little one any less, it just means that I am doing things a bit differently than I did before.
Tips for New Working Mums
- Be open with your employer about what you want when you come back to work – if you are afraid to ask for what you want no one will end up being happy.
- Keep in mind why you are going to work – remember that by doing so you are helping to provide a better life for your child.
- Accept that grief and guilt will come into play when you return to work.
- Allow a transition period for yourself and your child to help everyone to settle in to a new routine.
- Be flexible – sometimes you will need to work outside of your agreed hours and have to make alternative childcare arrangements.
- Don’t worry about your child being in day-care. They will eventually sleep there, eat their food and not cry when you leave.
- Be an advocate for your family. Make it clear to your colleagues, suppliers and other business contacts what your working hours are if you are not working full time. It is also normal not to be doing work on your day off if unless it is super urgent.
- Don’t judge other mums. It is ok to be a stay at home mum just as it is a working mum. All mums need support from other parents – not “judgey looks” for the choices they are making.
- Finally, remember that sometimes you can’t do it all. Some things will have to slip or be de-prioritised – maybe that means that your house is not as clean and pristine as it used to be.
Tips For Employers
- Ensure that you engage with mums on maternity leave and include them in key decisions that will affect their job when they come back. An invite to the work Christmas party is also appreciated. Keep them abreast of any new advertised jobs that they may like to be considered for on their return to work.
- Include mums that have been away on leave in annual pay reviews.
- Acknowledge that people (male or female) are parents and don’t make them feel like they have to pretend otherwise.
- Don’t assume that a mum’s priorities have changed. Instead, treat them with respect and ask them what their career plans are.
- Provide a flexible working policy for all employees – it’s not fair to discriminate against people without kids either.
- Offer a transition back to work programme that enables mums to work reduced hours in the first few weeks back.
- Review your parental leave policies. Make it easier for mums to come back to work both financially and physically.
Am I attending all of the functions or meetings I am invited to outside of my working hours? No. Have I reprioritised which are the most important and only going to those? Yes. Do I spend as much time going out for coffee with colleagues or suppliers as I did when I worked full time? No. Am I reprioritising that time to do other tasks instead given my reduced working hours? Yes.
I also get the impression that some people think that having a baby made me lose all sense of my ambition.
Just because I now leave the office at 3.30pm and am not working every hour that God sends doesn’t mean that I don’t want to get ahead. I am still as equally ambitious as I was before. I am just doing it smarter.
A United Kingdom study in September this year by Easy Offices found that that having a baby sets a woman’s career back six years. Is it any wonder then that there aren’t more women in senior roles?
What Working Mums Actually Bring to Work
You may think that a year off work has dulled our brains and that sleep deprivation makes us less effective. To start, I’ve seen people hungover from a big night that have been more useless than a sleep deprived parent.
We have actually been doing another job for 12 months that has given us a range of skills in different areas. We are better at crisis management, problem solving, managing change, relationship building and time management. You could say literally that we have learnt to “get shit sorted”.
If that doesn’t make us better managers and leaders I don’t know what will. Not only that, we are so worried people will think we are not up to the mark anymore that we will work twice as hard and end up working more hours than what we are paid for – so employers are really the big winners here.
Provide Incentives and Support Structures
I have to provide another plug for my employer, Marsh. They actually want working mums to come back to work and therefore provide an incentive payment for those that do, plus a top up of your maternity leave payments for your first month on leave.
Other mums I spoke to had similar offerings, however one had to wait three months before the payment was made. I had my pay within 48 hours. This was much appreciated as we had been living on one income for a year.
Some companies have support groups for working parents and I think this is a great idea. In fact, it is something that Marsh is currently looking at under our new diversity and inclusion policy.
Where Are The Role Models?
I can think of very few examples of working mums in the higher echelons that I can admire and look up to.
My new heroes are those that I have recently met and those who I work alongside, who admittedly I didn’t appreciate, until I became a working parent myself.
Essentially, working mums need to become good role models for other working mums. Those that push for more flexible working hours and challenge the status quo will help to pave the way for other mums coming through.
One mum said to me that a lot of the men in senior leadership roles in her organisation were able to get there because they had wives who didn’t work. What’s to say that you can’t have a mum who works part time on your executive leadership team?
I am currently reading Joan Withers’ book A Woman’s Place. In it she quotes a McKinsey report that says “people aren’t having the courageous conversations” when it comes to gender equality.
We definitely need to be having conversations about flexible working and paving the way for change – as I not only want to be a role model for other mums but also for my daughter.
One of my friends said, “I want to do all my jobs well, mummy and doctor”. I don’t feel that I should have to choose between being a good mum and having a career either.
If women don’t leave work to have babies our population wouldn’t survive and we certainly shouldn’t be penalised for that.
So, don’t judge me. I’m a working mum and really proud of it.
Denise Moller has spent most of her 24- year career working in marketing and communications for large corporates such as IBM, PwC, Hyatt and HSBC. Her current roles are marketing and communications manager for Marsh in New Zealand, Rotarian, partner to Reece and mum to 15-month-old Zara.