Jo Otterburn, Court and Tribunal Fees Policy
Joanna is a Coaching Squared graduate, here she shares with us her strategy to enjoy maternity leave with career confidence.
How I have prepared for maternity leave
In March, I was over the moon to discover that I was having a baby – our first, a boy, due in November. But as someone who has always placed a lot of emphasis on my career, I also felt unnerved about what this life event would mean for me.
Would my ambition level change?
Would I want to come back part-time?
How could I find a job share?
These were all questions I had and, to be honest, for the large part they (rightly) remain to be answered. But I have learned a lot over the past seven months – mostly from speaking to other new mums – which I hope is useful to distil and pass on in this blog.
What follows is my personal take on what was the best advice I received but it is not intended to be prescriptive – everyone has different motivations and there is no ‘right way’.
1. Build new networks
Almost the single most important thing for me has been the discovery of the New and Expectant Parents’ Network, which was set up earlier this year by Abigail Plenty. The network helps new and expectant parents to meet others in a similar situation, build a support network and, put simply, make friends.
2. It’s ok to be excited
I am really excited about going on maternity leave. It’s about doing something different for a year – and to talk about it. At first I didn’t think that was a great thing to advertise – it could be misconstrued as meaning I was no longer interested in my career, which is not the case. But from speaking to colleagues I realised that there was no shame in it. I am going off to do something really important, and it’s natural to feel excited about that.
3. Lean in!
A couple of years ago I read Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’, in which, broadly, she urges women to take advantage of opportunities right up to the last moment they go off work. Sheryl’s theory is that leaving your baby to return to work can be a real wrench, so the job you’re coming back to needs be worth it and motivate you.
Taken with a healthy pinch of salt, this advice has worked for me. Pregnancies happen. Life happens. Opportunities can present themselves at what can seem like inopportune times but if we hold back from moving forward we will never get to know our true capabilities. One year out of a fifty year career is nothing.
I pushed myself to apply for a new job, on promotion, at six months pregnant and by some miracle got it. For me this has made the prospect of returning from maternity leave less daunting – not least because it helped me to find a job share partner. Even if I had not been successful, just getting my CV and application up to date was a really valuable exercise that was a lot easier to do now when my examples were fresher in my mind.
4. Don’t become invisible – make the 9 months count
Building on the lean in principle, I was advised to keep sticking my hand up for things and maximise the time I had before going on maternity leave. See point 5 below for the counterbalance, but this was a good tip. Nine months is a really long time – most of a reporting year – to contribute, learn, and build on experiences. I have also felt that by taking advantage of opportunities I have made myself more memorable for when I will be away – if nothing else that is a good confidence boost.
5. Recognise that you are growing a human and that takes energy
I was fortunate not to have terrible morning sickness, but I did spend the first four months of my pregnancy feeling permanently hung-over. Once I hit the second trimester and felt better I could almost forget that I was growing a baby during office hours. I had my old energy levels back and there was a lot of work to get through! But a few weeks later I came down with shingles and then I got a stinking cold – let me tell you, paracetamol is a useless pain killer. Although neither of these were serious they were possibly an indication that I was overdoing it.
I remember one of the Deputy Directors in my Directorate saying: “your body is doing more than most people’s right now, and you need to remember that.” And of course, she was right. I started to work from home more often, which really helped by eliminating the commute and meaning I could have a cat nap at lunchtime if I needed it, and I became more self-disciplined about my hours. My team have been incredibly supportive, and this re-balancing has made me healthier in my pregnancy and ensured I have continued to be effective at work.