How can I take maternity leave and not kill my career? | Women's Agenda

How can I take maternity leave and not kill my career?

I am preparing for maternity leave but sense I am being side-lined at work before I am even out the door. Do you have any tips for how I can manage my maternity leave and an ongoing relationship with my employer with minimal stress?

Julia, Finance

What are you sensing is often a very real concern. In the Male Champions of Change initiative lead by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, one of the key twelve initiatives that were developed is around parental leave not being a career killer. Unfortunately, too often parents do get sidelined and find it hard to get back into meaningful work and progress their careers after kids. It is not always the case, of course, and there are lots parents who have thriving careers, however it does take management.

There are some actions you can take now, during and post your leave, to ensure your best path to both a successful maternity leave, and an ongoing relationship with your boss and employer.

  1. Meet with your manager – I recommend you have a formal meeting with your immediate boss as soon as possible. In this meeting I would state your intention to continue to progress your career after your maternity leave. Stating your intentions clearly is important. Unfortunately too many managers still believe that having a baby spells career suicide and that women are not serious about their careers post birth. We know this is utterly ridiculous, but it is a mindset that still exists. We also know that there are laws and human resources regulations that state the role that you may be entitled to on your return. Unfortunately this does not always translate into a role in which you can thrive. Spell it out for your boss that you are serious about your career and want to come back in a meaningful capacity. If appropriate have some discussion at this point about the options, whether you will return in the role you currently in, or if new opportunities will be identified and what that process will look like.
  2. Stay connected – one of the key success factors we found in the Male Champions research is that women who had successful re-entry after maternity leave, stayed connected during their leave. Only you can determine what frequency and type of communication will suit you. This could be connecting via email every few weeks to check in, a monthly coffee catch up with colleagues, a mentor or your manager, or just a touch point a few months before your return. You can set the engagement level, but ensure you do keep in touch with what is going on at work, so you feel connected, and they know you are still engaged on some level.
  3. Prepare to return – a few months before you plan to return to work, start the dialogue with your manager about potential roles. In an ideal world you would have set this up prior to going to on leave, and you would still be happy with this arrangement. However this is not always the case. By the time you are heading back to work you will have a sense of what type of working arrangements you are after. You may decide to head back in full time and seek a big role or promotion. Or you may decide that part time is the right move at the moment. Have detailed discussions with your manager exploring all of the options, to find the role that is the best fit for your mindset and needs at that time.
  4. Manage yourself – throughout this time it is really important that you manage your stress, and you mentioned it is a concern for you. Leaving the workforce for a period of time, for whatever reason, can be a scary prospect. You work so hard to get to a certain level or build a skillset, only to have to take time out and risk losing your footing. I don’t know many women who don’t feel anxious about it, and I know I certainly did when I had my son. However, all you can do is communicate your needs, state your intentions, and stay connected. The rest is largely out of your control. A lot can happen in a business in the time that you are on leave, so my advice would be to spend your time focused on you, your baby and the precious time you have together. This will help minimise your stress and anxiety for what may or may not be happening back at work. You will be back there soon enough.

I would also speak to your friends and colleagues who have successfully navigated this path (not the ones with the horror stories) so you can also learn from their success and get other tips on how you can make this a great experience for you and your family, and not one filled with stress and worry.

Wishing you the best for a healthy baby and a flourishing career.

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