20 January 2017

By Daniel Godsall

baby, back to work, business woman, career, maternity, mother, return to work

I’m under no illusions about how hard juggling work and family life will be

Making the effort to return to the workforce after my baby is born is anything but the easy option. But having dedicated such a lot to my career over the years, I’m unwilling to give it up in a single stroke. Working in a company with a good maternity scheme, I have high hopes that there will be tangible, practical support available as I readjust back into the office environment.

The good news for me is that my company offers a best-in-class maternity provision. Payment terms are generous and a year’s leave is standard. Working in a female-dominated industry, with many talented, inspirational women, I’m also very lucky to have visible working-parent role models, whereas many others don’t. So far, so good, right?

But when I do return to work, despite the official lines and terms seeming clear, I suspect things will be a lot blurrier. What, if any, flexible working will I be able to negotiate? How will my role in a fast-paced, changeable industry evolve in the time I’m away? Most crucially, how much tangible, practical support will there be in readjusting back into the office environment? And by the way, how do parents working in companies with less decent family-friendly policies cope?

I’ve worked my way up in my role for over a decade, have dedicated a lot to my career, and am proud of my professional achievements. Despite this, I’m aware that nothing is a given. And at this stage (admittedly pre-baby), I’m unwilling to give up being a valuable and valued member of the workforce for an indeterminate number of years just because I’ve become a mother.

But sadly, I’ve witnessed many smart, talented women unable to return to work for various reasons, despite their best intentions to do so. Some are given no choice in having to return full-time, or not at all. Others tell tales of the stress involved in having to work twice as hard to prove themselves after their absence, despite successfully holding down the same role prior to childbirth.

And sometimes in my industry, when a woman’s company hasn’t been able to agree a mutually beneficial return, she has been able to find the same sort of work with a more forward-thinking competitor, who is happier to negotiate flexible hours in order to gain an experienced employee. So who loses out then?

Working parents are usually highly motivated and organised, as their time is precious and they’ve learnt how to use it to best effect. Companies would do well to recognise that this focus, efficiency and determination can be a real asset to them, and work hard to retain it.

This is why I was so interested in the WOMBA Transitions Programme. I’m under no illusions as to how hard it will be juggle work and family life in choosing to go back to work, but WOMBA aims to smooth the path and make the world of work a more accessible place for parents.

WOMBA works with both businesses and individuals to help companies realise the commercial benefits of retaining talented staff post-parental leave, and supports working parents in making successful transitions in and out of the workplace. A three-stage process, the course consists of initial introductory sessions during pregnancy, further workshops post-baby whilst on maternity leave, and then finally a regrouping once back in the work environment.

I’ve completed the first stage now, and have found it genuinely valuable. The most useful thing so far has been meeting like-minded individuals in the same situation across different companies and roles, and being able to network and share ideas, thoughts and any anxieties.

We are not alone in how we feel – whether it’s excitement at becoming a parent mixed with a large dollop of trepidation at being supremely unqualified for this new job, or uncertainty around having to leave a hard-won professional role at a key time in our careers – we can support each other through these big changes.

The workshops have been great in helping me identify my core personality traits and related skill sets, and how I can utilise them to help with a smooth transition away from a work-centric lifestyle into a new environment where priorities (and everyday life!) will vastly change.

I’ve been able to clarify personal goals for the coming year, and define what key transferable skills I have that may help me be a good parent in the coming months. The next sessions are a chance to reflect on this and also discuss how any new skills I’ve specifically developed as a parent will transfer effectively back into a workplace environment and be of tangible benefit to my employer.

It’s great that there is extra support like this out there for both parents and employers, and hopefully it will lead to a better understanding and communication between the relevant parties. It will certainly help me feel more confident about initiating the return to work conversations and being able to demonstrate my continuing worth as an employee.

Programmes like WOMBA can play a very practical role in helping companies recognise and retain key talent, whether an employee has another role as ‘mother’ or not. Ultimately, being listened to and supported in returning to work is of mutual benefit – there is great value in retaining us working parents, so don’t just write us off.

Nicola works as an editor at one of the UK’s leading publishers, and is expecting her first baby in early 2017. Nicola joined the WOMBA Transitions Programme in November 2016.