How to be confident in returning to work after maternity leave

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Working mum

I get infuriated that more employers don’t recognise the skills that women have in returning to work after maternity leave, not just from actually becoming a mother but also from having that time out of the business or workplace.

I mean clearly the fact that we have been off for 3, 6, 12 months (maybe longer) means that all our previous experience has disappeared. Gone. All those incredible projects, results, outcomes we’ve achieved must have been a total fluke.

It’s not like we are now having to organise a family, negotiate with a toddler on a daily basis, manage finances like never before, have enough patience and empathy to let someone who is far more demanding than they will ever be as a boss (probably) stop and look at what is essentially a half dead leaf on the floor like it is an actual piece of gold, even when we’re late for a class. It’s not like we can now multi task like demons, achieve far more than we ever did before in half the amount of time (no-one is as productive as a parent who has to get something finished before getting to the nursery pick up on time – have they read the small print on how much you get fined if you’re late?!) We return from maternity leave loaded up with fresh skills and perspective, on top of everything we already had before, and yet this is too often just not noticed.

Working mum after maternity leave

Ahh but we’ve been out of the business for a while – we must have lost touch with current trends, we might be behind on some training required, we won’t be up to speed on that really important piece of work being done. Hmmm.

I was responsible for leadership development for a large corporate in my previous role and after returning from maternity leave became convinced that we needed senior people to have more time away from the day job. To experience different industries and roles and broaden their thinking. To get out of their comfort zones and see new opportunities.

Because that was what had happened to me after having 9 months out. I came back and asked questions I’d never have asked before. I wasn’t bogged down in the detail or the day job so came in with a fresh pair of eyes, I was more curious and not only that, full of renewed enthusiasm and ideas.

In said role I wanted to make taking time away from the day job a fundamental part of senior leadership programmes in future, you know this time out that with mothers is too often viewed as negative and problematic. Yes we might be lacking some training (doesn’t sound insurmountable to me), and no we might not be as up to date but these are technical and easily resolvable issues.

The problem is that when we are slightly tired (o.k perhaps we are still absolutely knackered), have had such a huge change to our very identity and are still getting our heads around combining work with family, it’s not always easy to shout about how awesome we are. I get this 100%. I was actually just so grateful for being ‘allowed’ to work flexibly I didn’t really shout about it at all, “thank you for only paying me to do the hours I work, I will still do many extra hours just to show how grateful I really am for you paying me for that job I am doing”. You get the drift.

This is why I am so passionate about running Rock your Return and think it can make such a difference. Sometimes it is just in stopping to realise some of these amazing skills we’ve actually gained, to get a bit of clarity on who we are now as mothers as well as working women, to consider how we want to be perceived in the workplace when returning from maternity leave, that we can take back a bit of control of the situation. The first workshop – Back to Me – is completely FREE because I’d love as many women to do it as possible. A full 30 minute video workshop and workbook that can really help with feeling more confident and creating a plan for what next when returning to work. Even if you’re feeling o.k about the whole thing, taking time to remember how great you are will definitely be helpful both shorter and longer term. I don’t want to spoil it but there is one activity in particular that I think can be invaluable. It doesn’t take very long but can help move your mindset from what you can’t now do, onto all the things you can. And trust me, once you make that shift the list will be huge.

Women speaking confidently about skills when returning to work after maternity leave

There are so many gender biases and too much discrimination that is still happening in the workplace for mothers and it’s not our responsibility to fix that. It took me a long time to believe that it wasn’t my fault that I wasn’t promoted, that I wasn’t partly to blame for my subsequent maternity discrimination and I’m now determined to shout about the change that needs to happen. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still look back and think that there were ways I could have helped myself as well. And that would have started with building my confidence that I was not only still capable, but now MORE capable than ever of achieving great things.

If some businesses and organisations aren’t figuring out quickly enough that working mothers make hugely skilled and talented and loyal employees then let’s empower ourselves to make sure they hear us loud and clear. Because I promise you, not only should you be confident that you can still do your job, you should also be confident that any employer will be lucky to have you.

Here’s how to sign up to a free workshop from Rock your Return, I would love to hear how you find it and hopefully chat more soon,

Helen x

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