My name is Jessica Dennien. I am a wife, mother and engineer, a "mumgineer". I work with individuals and employers to provide insights on how balance can be achieved within the workplace whilst ensuring an efficient, engaged workforce.

A common concern heard among the STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, Maths) community is the difficulty in getting girls and women engaged in STEAM subjects and pursuing STEAM careers. But a conversation not as often had is the difficulty retaining women in STEAM careers.

Retaining women in these careers can be difficult particularly when they decide to start a family. Balancing a demanding STEAM career with family life can be difficult when the male dominated system expects mothers to adapt to it rather than updating the system to allow flexibility and work with ALL parents who want to achieve a better work / life balance.

Losing this talent is not only detrimental to the women who lose engagement in the workforce, but also to businesses that experience significant talent loss. This should be concerning to employers who are experiencing these types of losses as they are losing an investment when talent and IP leave their business.

Returning to Work Following Maternity Leave – Advancing your career

Following on from Overcoming Discrimination, as reported by the Australian Human Rights Commission, of the 36% of mothers who experienced discrimination on return to work, 27% of those felt it as part of performance assessments and career advancement opportunities.

Stats

Australian Human Rights Commission – Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review - Report, 2014

“If a woman was genuinely good at her job she would be given the right to juggle work and pregnancy. You can’t put a line through someone because they’re going to bear a child . . . but there are trade-offs and not everyone can make them, the CEO becomes the company. It’s hard work, 18 hours a day, six days a week, and it’s an enormous commitment.”

- Neil Waters, Egon Zehnder

But the fact remains that only 18% of chief executive roles are held by women, and men outnumber women on boards by almost three to one.

The follow are some of the apparent reasons that mothers who take maternity leave are not able to make it to executive positions. I am going to debunk these myths and then provide some useful tips on how you can advance your career WHILE STILL ON MATERNITY LEAVE and upon your return.

  • If you’re out of the workforce for 12 months you don’t advance your managerial skills and, inevitably, everyone else does

Who says that you don’t advance your managerial skills when becoming a mother? I would challenge this to say that women who take time off to become a mother advance their managerial skills just as much, if not more, than those who continue working. Managing tiny versions of yourself who has no filter or emotional control takes a lot more patience and skill than managing a team of professionals!

  • You don’t get to the top doing 38 hours a week

Why would you do 70 hours a week if you can do what you need to in 38? Women who become mothers become masters at time management! 

School pick up and drop off, swimming lessons, football practice, dance lessons, cooking dinner, making sure bills are paid on time, keeping the house somewhat presentable. It sounds like a lot even before factoring in that it all has to happen outside work hours! 

Managing your time outside work hours also helps you to learn how to use your time in work hours most efficiently. So, as long as you are managing your time well and delegating effectively, there is no reason that you can’t move up the ranks whilst still maintaining a semi-normal work week.

  • It’s highly competitive, and if you’re an aspiring rising star and take a year out, your star won’t keep rising

There is nothing stopping you from continuing to shine even whilst on maternity leave. See my tips below to see how. Never let you light go dull!

  • If you’re aiming for managing director, stopping and starting your career will make it tougher to place yourself properly

Going on maternity leave is not “stopping your career” and if you follow my tips below, your career won’t even be on pause! 

Tips on advancing your career whilst on maternity leave and upon your return to work

1. Keep your career at the forefront of your brain

Staying home with a baby requires an immense amount of strength, energy, resilience, patience, problem-solving, multi-tasking, and the self-control and negotiation skills of a bomb diffusing expert!

However, for women who are used to fast-paced, intellectual careers, adapting to this completely different role can be challenging. Then returning to work after some time can really test that stagnant part of your brain!

So, it is an excellent idea to keep the work and career parts of your brain fit and healthy while you are on maternity leave.

This could be helpful for the following reasons:

  • It will be less of a shock to your mind when you do have to wake it up again to return to work
  • Most women find using this side of their brain to be enjoyable and interesting
  • It looks better to your employer, or to a new employer if you are switching jobs
  • It will keep you busy during long periods when your baby is sleeping, feeding or having tummy time
  • It will keep you abreast of any changes to your industry

2. Apply Your Parenting Skills to Your Job

As mentioned above, when you become a mother you will be constantly learning and mastering new skills that you may have never tried before. Your communication and interpersonal skills, as well as problem-solving and empathy will become part of your everyday life when trying to manage a small child. Your negotiation skills will also likely get a good workout once your child becomes more defiant. 

Many of these skills and new talents can be applied to your career! Many employers are now even beginning to place the value of “soft and transferrable” skills above the need for industry-specific skills.

Don’t underestimate the value that you will be bringing back to the workplace with you. Many women are concerned when re-entering the workplace following maternity leave. However, if you remain confident in your new skills you may find that you are able to be more assertive, decisive, resilient and able to deal with situations that may have once stressed or frustrated you.

3. Keep up to date.

When you have some spare time, check in to see what’s happening in the real world and in your workplace. Your job role may be morphing into something different during your time off so it is good to stay informed of what is happening while you’re on leave. 

If there are new skills that may be required for your position, take the time to update your skill set. Watch some TED Talks, or tune into a webinar. 

If you’re in a position that requires a certain number of hours of continued professional development, it can also be a good time to log in some CPD since you do not have to work.

4. Conferences and networking

If your employer is happy to fund your attendance to a conference while you’re on leave, that’s great! But if not, it may still be worth going. You can stay up-to-date on the industry, network with people in your field and, as an added bonus; you could get a couple days break from the baby bubble.

If you’re not a member of a professional association then it is something worth considering. It’s an excellent source of information to help you with tip number 2 and a fantastic way to stay in the loop.

5. Reevaluate and reflect on your career pathway

Are you happy with where your career is currently? Are you happy with where your career is heading? Do you want to make a shift in your career? Are there new skills that you would like to gain to advance your career or move it in a different direction?

Maternity leave could be the perfect time to do some online training to get the skills you need to move your career in the direction you want. 

As an engineer in Queensland, to advance your career you need to become a Registered Professional Engineer in Queensland (RPEQ). I had been working towards my RPEQ for years prior to my second maternity leave but between work and family time I found it difficult to fit in the time to focus on this. Now, during my second maternity leave, I finally have the time to dedicate to achieving this which will have an immense impact on my career upon returning to work.

If you are looking for a career shift, keep an eye on the job market in case something pops up. It may require going back to work before you had originally planned but could be the perfect opportunity to advance your career in the way you want.

6. Keep in touch 

Whilst I was on maternity leave, I kept in touch with some co-workers who would keep me up-to-date with what was happening in my workplace and would also forward invitations to staff events. If possible, I would attend many events (mostly informal) and often bring my new baby with me. 

Naturally, co-workers would generally want to talk baby, however, I would be sure to also ask plenty of questions about work and listen to the conversations happening around me so that I didn’t become completely out of the loop. 

If you’re not keen on visiting your workplace, at least try to make the effort toward the end of your maternity leave so that the information you gain is likely to be relevant upon your return and give you the opportunity to prepare for any potential challenges before officially starting back at work.

Comments

  1. "Apply Your Parenting Skills to Your Job". And as children grow and we learn more about being a parent, this is a skill that is priceless while dealing with people, especially more 'traditional' men and those that are angry and/or frustrated. We women are able to master the art of being firm and strong at the same time as gentle and kind. Anyone can do this, but parenting certainly helps, and we women do most of it.

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    1. YES! This is 100% true. Thanks for commenting :)

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