Rakhi Henderson, a senior manager at ING Direct, used both her maternity leaves to find better jobs for herself. "With a job to go back to, maternity leave was the first time I was able to pause and consider what next." While the dominant cultural message remains that having children irreparably damages women's careers, her story of professional success post-baby is not that unusual.
The MomShift: From Maternity to Opportunity is an online initiative currently interviewing women who achieved greater career success in the pivotal five to seven years after starting their families. Here, three of the women share their stories:
Changing how you think of the work day: The convention is that maternity leave should be a time with no office contact. Employers are reluctant to broach the subject, and many women don't consider it. But a slight reframe can be pivotal to a successful transition back.
That was the experience of Kristin Taylor, a Toronto-based partner at the law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain. Kristin, a mother of two daughters (9 and 6), found that staying in touch with the office and some select clients enabled her successful return and allowed her to maintain the profile she had built for her practice.
Instead of viewing this issue from the lens of an employee, Kristin suggests women should take "more of an ownership mentality. Just the way we want firms to make a long-term investment in us, we also need to make a similar long-term investment in ourselves."
This shift in perspective can open up other options. It allowed Kristin to have the confidence to reimagine her workday. Today, her schedule differs slightly from that of her colleagues but better reflects the needs of her family. "The trade-off is that I work a second shift from home once they're both in bed. I take calls when I'm out of the office and my BlackBerry is usually close at hand."
She adds, "There's no set balance … [but]my girls are thriving and I love what I do."
Doing what's right for your situation: Five years ago, Bushra Aafaqi and her husband moved from Malaysia to Canada. Armed with a BBA and an MBA, plus several years of work experience, Bushra hoped to soon find a professional position in Toronto. But without a Canadian education or work experience, only call centres would hire her. Determined to get her career back after the birth of her first son, she studied hard to get into Ryerson University's MBA program.
It was a challenging year, but the effort was worth it. Two weeks before graduation, Bushra was hired as a project manager at digital marketing company. Today, seven months pregnant with her second child, she has recently been given more responsibilities, including a new title: campaign manager.
During her coming maternity leave, Bushra plans further study to upgrade her credentials as a project manager. Her advice on post-baby success? "Carefully choose who you listen to and have your own long-term plan."
Taking a long-term perspective: A year after Angela Mitchell returned from her second maternity leave, she became an associate partner at KPMG. Similarly, after her first maternity leave, Angela went from managing a group of three to a group of more than 20. Each of these promotions came after she'd been away for a full year.
But maternity leave was not the first time Angela had taken a scheduled pause from her career track. Five years after joining KPMG, she took advantage of the firm's work-life balance policy and took five months off to live in Barcelona.
In all cases, Angela used her time away from the office to recharge, refocus and affirm her priorities. Her advice on maintaining this balance on a daily basis? "Don't be afraid of setting boundaries with both colleagues and clients. I have a window each evening where I'm not available, and that's my time with my family. Family and career is not an either/or choice - it's about thinking long term and balancing all your priorities."
Reva Seth is the founder of The MomShift: From Maternity to Opportunity.