A parent’s perspective on returning to work

working mum, returning to work featured
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The term “career path” is an interesting one.

Think of the last path you were on. Were you walking, strolling, or even ambling, perhaps? You were unlikely to be striding or sprinting. Not along a path, anyway.

For most of us in the creative industries, where I come from, careers don’t typically amble along. We do our best to push forward, elbows out, rising upwards as fast and furiously as we can. So that part is a little confusing.

It’s the career’s capacity to meander that gives the metaphor it’s meaning. The ability to take the odd step sideways, or even backwards, and to make a more meaningful jump forward once the time is right.

Having children can put a healthy switch back into anyone’s career path.

Many feel this is a challenging time when difficult choices must be made. It is often perceived in negative terms, with a mother’s return to work associated with fear, memory loss and sponge brains. As if we have removed ourselves from the strategically complex, to the domestically mundane, and will struggle to ever return again.

This shouldn’t be so. Caring for babies and small children is supremely hard work. The skills of diplomacy, negotiation, and the ability to perform under stress are not to be underestimated. They are invaluable in any workplace and will all sit on top of the years of professional experience you have acquired before starting a family. For anyone nervous about losing confidence and credibility for having had children, please absorb this. Your professional self remains intact. It doesn’t go anywhere. You don’t forget anything. Nothing important anyway.

Your perspective may sharpen, you will prioritise better. Your ideas for how your organisation can have impact in the world may grow with a purpose they didn’t once have.

I now look harder at how products are made, how services are delivered and am inspired and energised to help design a smarter world for parents.

Before I started parental leave, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d return.  With a second child about to arrive, I was about to take on a full time second job and having a highflying husband, I may not be able to handle both.  Not without a comprehensive domestic outsourcing strategy anyway, and that wasn’t an approach I was keen to take.  What I did know was that it had to be something great to return to: a career jump, a new challenge, a change in pace and a more flexible model.

We are all eager to see higher numbers of women reach top management positions and this moment is critical in the career path for women.

Think hard about what would make you excited to return to work. If you’re already tired of your existing job or feel ready for the next thing, use the time you have before your leave to engineer the change.  Acquire the skills and experience you’ll need to come back to something different.

Because while you’re still at work you have the time to think, reflect and act. And when you return be sure to set expectations, lay boundaries, communicate well and you’ll find yourself freer to work smarter, with more purpose, energy, and retain the balance needed to keep everyone in both your professional and personal worlds supported and happy. You too of course.

To all employers, I encourage you all to offer the flexibility and support in your workplace to allow young parents to return and flourish.  You’ll get the most out of them and you’ll create a better workplace for all.

About Louise Astley

Louise Astley

Louise heads up Smart Design’s London studio, championing the power of design to solve real-world challenges for our clients around the UK and Europe. Louise guides Smart’s relationships with the most strategically complex businesses seeking to bring dynamic change to their market.

Active in the local design community, Louise is a strong proponent of Women in Innovation, fronting Smart’s commitment to gender equality and empowerment of women in the workforce.

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