Before her telecommuting media frenzy, the world was watching Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer because she was a newly appointed Fortune 500 CEO – and pregnant. And Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, has over 2 million YouTube hits on famous quotes like “Don’t leave, before you leave.”
It’s no wonder women and organizations today, more than ever, fear the maternity leave.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
As a leadership development expert (and working mom), I have witnessed that women come back from maternity leave, regardless of the length, with more focus, more drive and determination, and more professional maturity than before. No role pushes you to your limits, has higher stakes, or tests your resolve more than being a parent. It helps other work challenges seem less daunting.
Lara Root, Vice President Human Resources for Rogers Media has had a similar experience. “When you come back from leave you have a different perspective – whether you are off for reasons of maternity or paternity or caring for a sick parent – your perspective on what you do and how you do it changes. Having been off for maternity leave made me a better leader in fact; I was more patient, more humble, and had a better sense of balance. I was also far more productive because I really needed to focus during the hours I was at work.”
In her Time Magazine August 2012 article titled, “The Motherhood Penalty: We’re in the Midst of a Mom-Cession,” Bonnie Rochman refers to a 2008 study by the Families and Work Institute’s National Study of the ChangingWorkforce that found – much like Root and myself – moms are as dedicated to their jobs as men or women without kids are.
There are some things that you need to look out for however if you want to stay on the career track. Here are five strategies to tackle career-family integration with determination, fearlessness, and poise:
1. LOOK UP. Working mothers learn to be incredibly efficient with their time at work. Many make the mistake, in their haste to get hoards of work done, to neglect the relationships that will increase their sphere of influence. Continue to nurture work relationships and build out your strategic network.
2. DON’T MOAN ABOUT YOUR SCHEDULE. No one has to know that you need to leave to get to soccer or dance practice. It’s okay to occasionally take calls from the arena parking lot. Learn to think about your schedule more flexibly to be successful in multiple domains.
3. OUTSOURCE AT HOME. Delegation at work makes us better leaders. Drop the guilt and outsource at home too. Delegate tasks to your partner, kids and outsource to experts. Time for more valuable and strategic activities pays for itself in spades.
4. BECOME DISPENSABLE. You read that right; you actually need to make yourself superfluous at work to get ahead. Too many leaders perceive that their power lies in dependency. Become known as a leader who can build great teams and add higher-level value, and you’ll become a sought out leader in your organization no matter what.
5. CHOOSE WHAT YOUR CHILDREN SEE. Be deliberate about your children seeing you happy. When away on a business trip, tell your children you miss them but don’t complain about having to go. Involve them in the great things you’re working on and ask for their input or insights. Choose to be a role model of a woman who is happy and fulfilled with her choices, not one wrought with guilt.
No matter what your age and stage, ask yourself whether you are using excuses or creating an environment where other women need to feel angst around maternity leave. I’ve seen successful leaders with no children and with eight children. Some took no leave and some took more than a year. Bottom line is that when you’re good, you’re good. Make your choices and work hard at it every day – both in the office and at home. That’s what a great leader and role model does.
Tammy Heermann is Principal, Global Leadership Development at Knightsbridge Human Capital Management. She designs and facilitates award winning leadership programs for global audiences including the Elevate Your Influence™ program in partnership with Women of Influence.