It’s not about women having it all, it’s about women having the same chances
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 team mates, 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-parental 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...smoothies?!
- 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.