Within weeks of finding out I was pregnant, I accepted my dream job as part of the ThoughtWorks Global Leadership Development program. The program would entail travel before I was due, as well as for a few weeks after the birth. I’ve always worked with the attitude of saying ‘yes’ then figuring out how to manage it later. This attitude has allowed me to achieve my goals and experience new and exciting opportunities.
In the year that has past I have learnt many things about myself, my support network and my work family.
1. Say yes and know what you want.
At times, we have to do tasks we hate or projects that don’t necessarily excite us and this is fine, it’s a part of life. But having a clear direction on what you want and what is important to you will help you make the right decisions and enable you to prioritise. Having this mindset will allow you to quickly calculate choices, is it what I want? Does it help me towards achieving my goals? Does it open doors to other opportunities?
One of my all-time favourite quotes is: “If something doesn’t excite and scare you, you need to change the game you’re playing…” That’s from Mike Harris, mentor and creator of 3 iconic billion pound brands.
2. Don’t give people problems, give them solutions
It’s sad to say that still in the year of 2017 many women are still under the impression that having a child will end their career. My husband said, “If a company isn’t going to support you, then they’re not the company you want to work for”. He has a point.
I called the company MD to tell him I was 4 months pregnant and to reassure him that everything was going to work and I already had a plan. Was I worried he’d turn around and say that my situation changes everything. Of course! But he didn’t. He congratulated me on the news and went on to tell me how his wife started a business when she was on maternity leave.
Rather than presenting a problem and leaving it for them to solve, go in with, ‘this situation has come up, but these are some possible solutions, or I just wanted to keep you in the loop but, I’ve already got a plan’. You will find people will have a more positive response if you give them a possible solution rather than just handing them a problem.
3. End assumptions
Often when we see people accomplishing amazing things we assume they have done it on their own and that we can’t possibly do the same. Nobody ever achieved anything on their own, and if they say they did, they’re lying!
I couldn’t have attended a Leadership meeting in Melbourne, spoken at a conference in Sydney and lead a pitch team within the first three months of being a mum without support. James was 7 weeks old when I travelled to Melbourne. The plan was for my husband (Mark) to come with me and look after James. As we know life often throws up challenges! Mark suddenly had to work the first two days of my training, luckily my father-in-law was visiting from the UK and helped out.
Don’t assume you can’t ask an employer for support. You will either be told a ‘yes’, ‘no’, or, ‘we can’t do that, but we could do this’. If you want to continue your career and have children, ask for the support. If your company don’t support you, ask yourself if they are the company you want to work for.
4. If you want it, get it and leave the excuses at home
I often hear people giving excuses why they can’t do something; more often than not there are a multitude of ways around their problem. But, because they’re so fixated on the issue or process, they can’t see beyond to allow themselves the space to develop creative solutions.
I could have stopped halfway through my leadership training and said it’s just too complicated with a newborn. If you really want something go and get it. You may not always be successful, it’s better to try and fail than never to try.
5. It’s time to step it up.
It’s 2017! I really shouldn’t feel the need to share these tips. The truth is many women still shy away from asking for support from their employers and even their partners — and sadly high profile cases of pregnancy discrimination may explain why.
The long-standing history of companies giving little support to women is so ingrained in our society that many of my friends (male and female) instantly assumed that work was ‘making me’ go back when James was only a few weeks old.
These perceptions need to change and can only be changed by women sharing their story and more importantly by businesses actively sharing and demonstrating the different ways they’re supporting women. I don’t just mean add it to your company mission statement or stick a pointless logo on your email signature to say you support women. It needs to have more impact and be meaningful.
Equally, women should step-up and ask for what they want, even if the answer is no. The more women that ask the question the more employers will start listening.
It’s no longer about women’s rights, it’s about gender equality.
To achieve it all, you can’t get disheartened when the going gets tough. See the tough days as a challenge and something that will make you stronger.