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The fork in the road

Where Future Talent meets Working Parenthood
By Nicki Seignot

If you’re reading this MummyJobs blog then you may be someone who has left their former employer after having had a family, or is perhaps thinking about moving on. I wonder what changed for you when it came to balancing work and family? Has the experience been what you expected? How did your employer support you – or not – during this important transition point? Where are you now in your quest to combine parenting with a fulfilling career?

In my experience many employers have a gap in their approach to supporting talent at this time. Typically, employers will invest in graduate programmes, programmes for high potentials and fast track development programmes. Undoubtedly many of you reading this will have been part of a pipeline of talent for your own organisation at some point. Perhaps you were a graduate or someone on a fast track promotion programme? The surprise is that despite having invested so much prior to this point, many employers fail to extend the investment through the seismic transition that occurs where work meets parenting.

I’ve talked to hundreds of working parents, and find that people rarely – if ever – talk about what great maternity / parental leave policies their employer has. Too often navigating a return to work is left to self-help. For a fortunate few, it is a matter of sheer good luck to have a supportive line manager and achieve a return to work solution that meets their needs and ambitions. And for the many? Those who aren’t lucky risk disappointment, finding their choices compromised, perhaps flat lining, stepping down or resigning altogether. Yet these are talented individuals returning with a brand new set of skills, focused energy and bringing back much needed experience. The losers in this are the individuals and their organisations. It just doesn’t make good business sense to lose good people and all the skills and knowledge that go with them.

So perhaps you are someone looking to start afresh? The opportunity is to reconnect with the professional you, to have confidence that you still have lots to offer a prospective employer. It’s also important to acknowledge the journey you’ve been on, to recognise how much has changed and the value of time away from the workplace to refresh and learn a bunch of new skills.

Here are some ideas and questions to think through as you move forward:

1. Have a vision of your ideal work scenario (Ask yourself – What could that look like? What would you be doing short term / longer term? How much do you want to work – i.e. full time, part time? What do you need to earn? What skills and experience do you bring as a potential employee?)

2. Research the employer (What sort of an organisation is this? What is their track record for supporting and developing diverse talent? What’s possible for longer-term career ambitions? How do they support working families? To what extent might you be able to work flexibly e.g. work from home or condense your hours? What’s expected in terms of working hours / start and finish times? Who can you connect with who might share ‘on the ground’ insights how it is to work there?)

3. Know what you are willing to compromise on (e.g. Being flexible around the days you work, or perhaps the location)

4. Be clear on your non negotiables (e.g. Leave time at the end of the working day to be there for pick up)

5. Think positively about your skills and experience (What have you learned about yourself through this period of transition? Returners can offer different perspectives, they are likely to be more focused, to achieve more in less time and to bring fresh ideas and thinking having been out of the workplace for a while. Perhaps you’ve been involved in community or charity work)

6. Think about what new skills you might need (Boost your confidence by learning something new. You’ll find a host of ideas and online courses as recommended by Mummyjobs. Click here for more details)

7. Plan for contingency (As one working mother said to me ‘Everything works when everything works – but you’re one crisis away from chaos. It’s crucial to have a back up plan for the times you might need it.’)

8. Do a dry run of the morning and evening commute (i.e. So you have a sense of the traffic / peak points en route and know your margin for leave time.)

9. Know you don’t need to make this journey alone. (If you’re about to start work again, seek out or request an internal mentor as part of your induction programme. Someone from within the business, another working parent may be a valuable source of off line support.)

10. Still looking for inspiration and a bit more guidance up front? (MummyJobs can support you with one to one coaching through your search. Click here to find out more.)

Nicki Seignot is the lead consultant and founder of The Parent Mentor and co-author of Mentoring New Parents at Work (Routledge 2017). Nicki works with employers to encourage them to invest in returning talent through better preparation of line managers and connecting working parents with fellow working parents through internal mentoring programmes. You’ll find more information and lots of resources here

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