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Returning to work after parental leave, a two-sided tale

29 September 2020 <> Written by Razor
Returning to work after parental leave, a two-sided tale.

I always thought that nothing would take priority over my career. Even during pregnancy, I was certain that I’d be itching to get back to work. Back to my routine, back to what I’m good at and have worked so hard to progress and refine over many years.

I work with organisations who want to change how they do things, make them faster and more efficient. Take away all the ‘techie’ talk and at its root, it is people making things better for people. This is my passion. The energy, enthusiasm and pure connection people can bring to change making projects is why I love getting to my desk and working with my team each day. I was focused on what I wanted to achieve and the kind of career I could carve out for myself.

It's not that it changed when my baby arrived, but it was different. Everything else felt like it had dimmed, quietened; like it was happening in the background. Work felt like another life. I’d heard mothers talking about how they’d felt torn or in two minds but I didn’t feel like there was a contest. The hormones, the love, the dependency - which goes both ways - the lack of sleep, the beautiful chaos. All of this and much more, became the most potent connection I had ever felt. Suddenly, I was unsure of where I was going. How important could a career be in comparison to this one very special human?

An emotion I didn’t feel was fear. I was sure of one thing. That I could rely on the support of my teammates, leaders and friends at work.

I’m lucky enough to work with an amazing bunch of people, many of whom have their own children and understand the changing needs, juggling acts and emotions you have to adapt to when becoming a working parent. I know this isn’t everyone’s reality, I hope one day it can be. I knew that when I emerged they’d be there.

When I decided the 8 months I’d originally decided to have on parental leave wasn’t quite enough, work was there for me and supported me to extend the period to give me a little more precious time for me and my baby. Everyone took it in their stride, understanding that I needed longer to adjust, offering ‘keep in touch’ days to ease back in and checking in regularly to make sure I was okay.

Even though I’d had this incredible support, the first day back was nerve wracking and the walk from dropping off my son to getting into work felt pretty scary. I can’t imagine how unnerving this could be for parents who don’t have this support framework. But that 30 minutes to myself allowed me to ease from mum mode into client services Ellie, seeing all of my colleagues and putting my work head on.

And I was back and everything seemed to return as it was; there was a cup of coffee that I didn’t have to microwave four times, no poo explosions, no upset teething. I missed my boy every minute but the joy of realising I hadn’t forgotten everything that makes me good at my job made that much easier to handle. I reconnected with the passion of creating and problem solving.

The leadership team was so supportive of my change in circumstances that I was empowered to transition from my project management role in client services to a position on the senior management team. Even with taking extra time off, I had been awarded a promotion to Head of Client Services with flexible part time working too.

Receiving a promotion post-paternal leave is rare, but my experience shouldn’t be exceptional. As a woman I know the figures, I know that we outnumber men in lots of industries but we are dramatically underrepresented in senior leadership positions. Until more women can access reasonable, well supported parental leave, their careers will not advance at the same rate as their counterparts. This type of discrimination will continue. I speak as a woman but I know this affects all kinds of parents.

Having been in my new position for a few months with a smashing work life balance, it was going great. But life always turns up. Now we’re all dealing with COVID, it’s changed again, but that definitely deserves another blog post.

Top tips for surviving your first day back in the office:

  • Be kind to yourself; no one else is expecting you to win a new deal, smash your targets, complete a project on your first day back in.. and if you do any of those things then it’s an added bonus!
  • Remember that no one wants you to fail; and if they do, then you’re in the wrong job
  • Accept all offers of being made a cup of tea, coffee...wine?!
  • If possible, allow at least 20 minutes of time in between being a parent and being a professional to just being yourself, alone, with your thoughts. It might just be on your commute from nursery to work, but I have found that little bit of headspace to switch roles and prepare for my day to be invaluable
  • Prepare for your day the night before; avoid the mad morning rush that comes with having another person to organise, as this is an added stress that you don’t need! The night before a working day I lay out both mine and my little boy’s clothes for the day, make up a packed lunch, make sure there’s petrol in the car and that my laptop is charged. Then you can go to sleep feeling like the most organised person in the world.

Jamie Hinton, CEO and Founder at Razor also commented…

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I was aware Ellie was writing a piece on women in tech but not specifically about returning to work after having her first child. I had no idea the article was being released and it was an incredibly moving experience to read how our business has supported Ellie throughout her maternity which was originally published in Startups Magazine.

What really struck me was how our actions made Ellie feel. We never “designed” or constructed a specific maternity strategy or made any special concessions - we do what we always do, and act in ways we thought was right and what we would do for anyone. This is how you would treat a loved family member, right? Why would we (or any business) do it any differently?

Having a child is a rollercoaster of emotions and an experience that will last a lifetime, for women, and men. Memories are embedded deeper when we are on emotional highs and this is by design, your reactions at these times are always remembered.

I’m immensely proud of everyone on the team for how we approach situations like these. When we are put under pressure, the true nature and culture of an organisation really comes out. In the same way that money can amplify the true nature of a person; a bad apple turns into a rotten apple and a good egg, well, they remain a good egg. The same is true of an organisation.

A promotion out of maternity leave isn’t something that should be a rare thing - it would never stop a man and we ask what’s the difference? As a father of two I know exactly what it’s like in the early days both mentally and physically so what’s the difference?

I am never really sure how to think or speak when it comes to equality, other than to listen and learn continually. I sometimes feel that whatever I say must have a counter side to it. I know that I still have a lot to learn and I am open to different perspectives. All I can say is that being aware of any biases is the first step to eradicating them. Society has a long way to go to remove the values that are imparted on us from a young age and if we are all aware of what is going on in our own heads and we begin to push against them and stand up for them we can begin to make progress.

I’m truly touched that we had not even noticed what we were doing was so radical and that we have kept to what we think is right regardless of gender. Excellent work, dedication and loyalty should be rewarded. Give and you will get and be true to the people around you.

Jamie’s three top tips for a supporting your team through Maternity Leave:

  • Realise your biases and don’t just follow the flow Slow down and think - what’s the right thing to do, not just what does historical society say we should do
  • View every person as a heart in your company Have empathy and treat people with the same kindness as you would your family. To receive, you have to give, so as a leading company, you need to put the first foot forward.
  • Be consistent Be clear in your values and stick to them. Treat everyone equally and hold your standards high.
  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable This is possibly one of the hardest aspects for most. Showing that you aren’t perfect and are just as human as the next. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable as a leader builds a deeper connection. The fear that you might get slammed is almost never realised. The return is huge but that is usually the case for everything worth doing.

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