You’ve worked hard at your job. You love it. You’re good at it. So, how do you make sure having a baby doesn’t throw a hand grenade into your office life?
No matter how desperate you were to get pregnant, finding out that you’re going to be a mum can provoke major career panic. After the initial elation, there’s that dawning sense that your life has just changed track and, OMG, what about work?
But look around and you’ll see a growing band of inspirational, influential women proving that having a baby is no barrier to success. Just ask the amazing M&B mum mentors on our Working Mums Club panel – if anyone knows about babyproofing your career when you’re pregnant, they do.
1 Talk To Your Boss
Many women avoid having a proper conversation with their manager about their post-baby plans – you don’t know how you will feel yet and you don’t want to say the wrong thing. But it often means there’s a question mark hanging over you.
Instead, be proactive. Talk to your boss and be confident you want to return to your job. ‘Communicate clearly that you plan to return to work and that you still have ambitions for your role,’ says Karen Gill, mum of one and founder of Everywoman, an organisation specialising in the advancement of women in business. ‘When you’re on mat leave, I would keep up that conversation by staying in touch with your boss every month or so.’ You can always change your mind later, but you want to make sure you’re still ‘in the room’ even when you’re not.
2 Network from your sofa
Social media is a lifesaver for new mums – that 4am feed doesn’t feel so lonely when you’ve got a friend on Twitter making up hilarious hashtags.
But just a few minutes each week spent on work-based sites can help keep your career on track. ‘Using sites like LinkedIn to connect to people, join relevant groups or read some industry news can give you a confidence boost during those baby days,’ says Jessica Chivers, mum of two and founder of talentkeepers.co.uk. ‘If you’re feeling out of it, it reminds you that your brain hasn’t turned to mush and you still have a life separate to parenthood.’
Also, being outside the goldfish bowl of your usual working life often means you come up with new ideas. ‘It’s a great opportunity to step back and get some perspective,’ says Jessica. Instead of feeling that you’ve forgotten it all, it can empower you to return to work with confidence and a fresh eye.
3 Be super-professional
We know it’s hard to think about anything other than your baby right now, but save this chat for the NCT mums. Don’t let your Keeping In Touch Days – when you go into work (and get paid) while still on maternity leave – turn into little more than an opportunity to show off the latest Instagram shots of your newborn.
‘Focus on being in work mode,’ says Wendy Hallett, MBE, mum of two and managing director of Hallett Retail. ‘Get in on time, dress well and prep yourself to ask lots of questions about what’s been happening. Focus on work as much as possible, even if you’re not in the zone yet.’
You can meet up with the colleagues you’re close to for lunch on other days to do the baby chat.
4 Tap into positivity
So much of our happiness stems from the attitude of people around us – so if you’re back at work and surrounded by people who do nothing but stress about how hard the baby/career juggle is, then you’re going to feel anxious. Instead, hang out with women who have made it work, and take in their positivity.
‘Tune out the negative stories, which people are all too ready to peddle, and find some mums within your organisation who are doing what you want to do. Then ask them how they manage it,’ says Jessica. ‘Also, talk to them about the ways becoming a mum has made them better at their job – maybe they have become more organised, or empathetic.
It’s not mentoring in the traditional sense, but it is creating the kind of conversations that will inspire you.’ Outside of work, it doesn’t matter if your entire group of mum friends want to stay at home – everyone is different. ‘Run your own race,’ says Jessica.
5 Remember you’re not alone
Managing deadlines and poorly children, not to mention needing to disguise the fact you’re so exhausted you could nap under your desk right now, encourages a bond between working mums. But, on a bad day, it can still feel you’re the only one who’s struggling.
‘Everyone has times when you feel you’re doing it all wrong and not managing anything properly at work or at home,’ says Tamara Heber-Percy, co-founder and CTO of Mr & Mrs Smith. ‘The important thing to remember is all working mums will feel like this at some point.’
Tamara recommends repeating this mantra to yourself: ‘I am not alone. I am not handling this any worse than anyone else. I am doing two jobs at the same time to the best of my ability.’ You deserve respect, so be the first to give it.
What’s your mantra when it comes to babyproofing your career? Let us know below