Adrienne Little, business director at creative advertising consultancy 18 Feet & Rising, on why becoming a mum has helped her return to work as a more driven and effective employee.
Compassion, drive, ambition, effectiveness and clarity of thinking – are these not all traits we would want in an employee?
I don’t think you can be a mum without having these abilities. It doesn’t happen overnight – originally dubbed ‘my maternity holiday’ and quickly renamed ‘my new job’ – I, as all new parents are, was put on an intense training programme that guaranteed me a crash course in these skills.
I’m tempted to say “I am one of the lucky ones,” because my business is independently owned, a B Corporation and we have, I think, a great maternity policy, flexible working hours and a genuinely supportive team. All this makes it possible to leave the office every day at five to pick up my daughter from nursery. But I shouldn’t have to feel lucky; this should be the norm, especially since the skills you develop as a full-time parent could give every business a serious competitive advantage – and here’s why.
Living a more efficient lifestyle
Since having a child, simple work tasks that previously seemed to take up far too much brain space are done and dusted in a matter of minutes. Projects not going to plan are handled with a combination of ruthlessness and compassion. Compassion because everyone is human, and ruthlessness because there is no time to be wasted when it comes to business, or life.
I haven’t had a hangover since 2016. I get up every day no later than 6am. At the end of each day the next has already started. Bags are packed for nursery and work. The washing machine is set to go on overnight. Most mums will have even showered and done their hair so they can roll out of bed and spray some dry shampoo before they run out the door.
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You’d think businesses would be welcoming seriously efficient working-mothers back with open arms. Yet a recent study of returning mums across various industries showed that 24% were still denied flexible working, 15% were passed over for promotion, 8% were made redundant whilst on maternity leave, 18% returned to a different role and 5% of those received lower salaries.
Whilst we’ve come a long way, this research shows that hardworking and successful mums are still finding it challenging to get back into work after maternity leave. Women who – if the issue was addressed – could increase their total annual earnings by £1.1bn and could generate an additional economic output of £1.7bn annually, according to research from PwC.
Businesses must care about their people and ensure they are supported whether they stay at home or return to work. There are ways to achieve this. Higher salaries could help families cover life’s day-to-day chores and take the strain off working parents. This, coupled with an attitude shift in all employees to encourage each other to have children will make the working environment more accepting, more flexible and more efficient.
The mind-set of a returning mum
Being a mum is a 24/7 job. Rewarding but relentless, with ever growing pressures from social media showing you how everyone else seems to have their shit together. For me returning to work was returning to some level of normality – however difficult and exhausting the new routine.
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I now have a drive stronger than ever to be better, go further and work harder for my new family. I want to be a positive role model for my child and have an equal contribution financially to her upbringing. This drive is an invaluable resource that businesses could and should embrace.
However strong you are, you do need support and it’s not a weakness. When you return to work you need a back-up plan and a back-up to your back-up plan – things constantly do not go to plan.
Male and female leadership teams should lead from the front, being open with employees when it comes to leaving to see a school play, or picking an ill child up from nursery.
Do I enjoy the constant tornado of emotions having a child and a successful career brings? Not really. Does the love I have for my child totally outweigh these feelings? Absolutely. Does this make me a stronger, more determined, more passionate human being? Without question.
Who wouldn’t want someone with this experience and who is equally capable of doing their role to work with them? Organisations must respect that the year out on maternity leave is as valuable as the year in business.
Maybe one day we’ll even be able to update our LinkedIn profiles to, god-forbid, show you’ve spent a year away from ‘work’ developing some seriously advanced skills – aka maternity leave.