If you think it’s hard coming back to work after the Christmas break, imagine what it’s like after a year on maternity leave. Notice I am careful not to say a year ‘off’ as it certainly is not a break! But a year away from the office, nonetheless.
In my sleepless night prior to starting work (typical first day back nerves) I started thinking about my approach as a new working parent.
The great return
Excitement about getting stuck into my role, mixed with guilt and trepidation at leaving my 11-month old at nursery for the first time.
Should I slot back into my pre-baby ‘professional’ persona? Will my career suffer if I don’t? Should I endeavour not to talk about my child, the fact that he took his first steps a few days ago, in the hope that it would avoid the preconceptions that sadly are still associated with being a parent in the workplace?
Katherine Goldstein, a New York Times journalist, writes and hosts a podcast about the systematic problem of ‘anti-mum’ bias. Namely how casually, openly and unapologetically discrimination is (still!) happening all over the country.
Questions raised about someone’s commitment as they take a day off for a sick child, lack of focus as they glance at their phone, or contribution to the company as they leave a packed office at 5pm to dash out the door for the nursery pick up. A friend of mine even confided to me that, once, she was packing up her things at her law firm and a male employee exclaimed: “see ya tomorrow… part timer!”
A new person
But then, how could I omit all conversation about parenthood, given the utterly life altering experience I have just been through over the past 12 months. I am simply not the same person any more and pretending to be so would be a fallacy.
Often we’re expected to be either a professional or a parent – and never the twain shall meet. The irony is that we’re expected to conduct ourselves at work like we don’t have small humans reliant on us to exist; and conduct ourselves at home like we don’t have careers and jobs that also demand our attention.
But I find myself in the fortunate position to work in an environment that is not only supportive of mothers – and parents – returning to work but eager and thankful for being able to draw on the experiences and knowledge of mums and dads. A way of understanding audiences better, a prompt to think more widely. Something that actually enhances someone’s ability rather than detracts from it.
Value parents at work
Tin Man’s successful Tick Tock ‘Til Bedtime campaign, helping to explain the challenges faced by working parents to children with the world’s largest job site, would perhaps not have come to fruition had it not been for the working parent contingent in the office. Nor would the strategy of our campaigns for the Institution of Engineering and Technology, encouraging children to think differently about STEM careers. Just two examples of hundreds I could think of.
I’m proud that our industry values parenthood – or any other life changing event – as something that makes you a better employee, and not a worse one. And how it understands that value does not always equate to hours spent in the office.
So now, as I sit at my desk, I make a vow to bring my whole self to work. Both the professional and the parent. And knowing that in itself is so freeing.
Written by Natalie Neave, director at agency Tin Man Communications
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