Many of us hear about the hurdles moms can face in the workforce. Falling behind while out on maternity leave. Career tracts blunted. Grappling with guilt over not being there enough for our kids.
But if you are a woman and choose to pursue your career while also being good mom, I want you to know that you have the power within yourself to influence the outcome of your career. You don’t have to wait for your employer to tell you the next step in your professional journey. You don’t have to wait for your company to add benefits. You can start taking actions today that will help you get what you want out of work while still making your children a top priority.
I want to share with you what I’ve learned firsthand being a mother and an executive in corporate America. No. 1, you need to create the narrative around what you think is important and how you plan to design your career. Don’t allow others to map it for you and tell you what you’re capable of and impose their thoughts and limitations on you. Take control of your own career path, and you’ll create the experience you are looking for.
It starts from the first phase of motherhood: pregnancy. Women’s bodies are amazing — they are capable of bearing children and producing sufficient nourishment for them. Those physical differences are what make a woman who is going to have a child stand out from a man who says he’s going to be a parent. Those visual cues of motherhood can quickly lead coworkers and managers to focus more on you being a mother than on your work. It’s up to you to change the narrative back to your career, goals and accomplishments.
When you go out on maternity leave, you’re going to be busy and exhausted those first weeks with your new infant. But you can still take easy steps to ensure you stay engaged. Listen to podcasts, attend webinars online, and read newsletters and journals associated with your career. If there are events you can attend, such as a company party, be sure to go. Keep informed with what’s going on that may affect your workplace or industry. Take the initiative to be strategic, and put yourself in the best place to be successful.
When you return to work, keep the narrative on your work and career, not on your physical needs as a new mother. Discuss with your manager a strategy to take regular breaks, so you have the time and space to express milk without having to step away from meetings or draw attention to what you’re doing.
My employer, SAFE Credit Union, offers the Baby at Work program to new parents. Mothers and fathers may bring their babies to work until they are 6 months old. This encourages parents to get back into the workforce, reduce some of that new-parent stress — and gives the rest of the staff the chance to play with babies!
One of the challenges I struggled with was “mommy guilt.” When I worked for another company, I traveled almost weekly. Thankfully, I have an amazing personal support system, primarily my husband, Kelvin, and his parents who live less than a mile from us, so my kids were always with family when I was away. Truthfully, without them, I couldn’t do it. After one incredibly taxing travel season where for four months I was rarely home, I sat my daughters down to apologize. My daughters looked at me, confused. They told me that they thought my job was “cool” — that they were proud of me and someday wanted a job like mine. My daughters were watching me, and I was inspiring them, helping shape their views on being a working mom. I encourage moms to talk about their careers with their daughters and learn about their daughters’ career aspirations.
And you don’t have to go through all this alone. I recommend women in general and mothers in particular find people outside of work to network with and talk to about the challenges they are experiencing. It’s important to find people to share similar experiences, come up with solutions and celebrate victories.
Above all, let’s look out for one another. As women, we have to make a conscientious effort to ensure that women are involved and included in all levels of business. We too can fall into the trap of perpetuating assumptions about traditional male and female roles. We need to remember to challenge the status quo.
I am a very proud wife and mother. I love talking about my family, and my kids are the most amazing gifts I’ve ever received. But I also enjoy being a professional woman. I never aspired to be in an executive position but am proud to be here. I love being strategic and accomplishing things. And I can do that and be a successful leader while being a caring mom.