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5 Tips for Progressing Your Leadership Career Once You’ve Had a Baby

Posted on 8/10/2020 by Jo Hodge

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Guest post: Verena Hefti

Recently a new mother on maternity leave said to me: “I didn’t push my ambition out with my baby, but I feel forced to choose between being ambitious in my career and being an engaged parent.”

Sadly, she is far from alone. Far too many employers fail to understand that new parents want to progress their careers whilst at the same time be an engaged parent, and they certainly don’t address this when creating action plans to fix their gender pay gap.

According to research by King’s College, women are much less likely to progress their careers to senior leadership after having children, a problem also known as the ‘motherhood penalty’. The fact is, far too many talented employees get stuck in middle management because they happen to be parents. Or worse, are forced to leave the workforce entirely because it’s impossible to make work, well, work.

So how can working mums and dads shift the dial back in their favour?

The most important thing is to be vocal about the fact that you do want to progress up the career ladder, even if right now the only thing you can think about is how to position your Zoom camera so that so no one can see the porridge stains on your jumper.

The Fawcett Society recently found that 4 in 10 people believe working mums are less committed at work than other women. While it may be tempting to get very annoyed by this, the most important thing you can do is proactively repeat, like a broken record, how passionate you are about your work so that it seeps into colleague’s consciousness.

Second, be honest with your line manager about what you need as a working parent. Even well-meaning employers can sometimes make the wrong assumptions. In my experience of supporting more than 100 parents on our Fellowship Programme (plus working with their line managers), very often parents are pleasantly surprised about the support that is available once they’ve asked.

Third, work with your immediate circle of support. Try to find friends locally who can help with emergency childcare or last-minute pick-ups and if you’re in a couple relationship, have structured conversations with your partner about what your vision is for your career and how she/he can support that. If you are a solo parent, then pull in your immediate network of family and friends. Help is there if you ask for it.

Fourth, and this one is very important! Don't be too hard on yourself. Remember, it has only been a few decades since working mothers have become the norm and the system is still not geared up to allow us to easily and effortlessly integrate our caring responsibilities with our leadership roles.

By holding a senior role as a parent with young children, you will inspire younger generations without noticing it and while you may be working against the tide sometimes, you are making a path for a future generation and you should be really proud of that. 

Finally, and this one can really make or break your success - find a sponsor. A sponsor is that rare individual who is in a senior position and has your back, it is someone who will advocate for you and your potential while you are out of the (virtual) room rushing to pick up your child because nursery rang. Ultimately a sponsor is someone who believes in you.

The first step in getting a sponsor is to be noticed by someone who is senior to you for the right reasons, you need to show them how good you are. Good ways to do this are to volunteer to lead on a project or ask to chair a meeting if the opportunity arises. Sylvia Ann Hewlett has done a lot of good research on this which maybe useful to read.

I passionately believe that its time parents were supported not only to stay in work, but to continue to progress their careers into those senior positions. It’s exactly why I founded the Social Enterprise Leaders Plus. Our vision is to support new parents who are ambitious at work to continue to develop their careers. More than that, we will enable leaders with young children to grow into a global movement for change. Our award-winning Fellowship combines a carefully selected supportive peer network, a senior leader mentor, a structured career acceleration programme, plus tailored sessions with line managers and partners. But most importantly, it gives Fellows the time, space and sometimes even the challenge to think through what they want to achieve in their career and family life and importantly, the steps they need to take to get there.

We are delighted that 100% of our 2020 Fellows "feel more confident about developing their career as a parent" as a result of the programme. We are currently accepting applications for the Autumn 2020 cohort and we welcome both mothers and fathers. Our previous Fellows have come from a diverse range of backgrounds and include employers such as the BBC, NHS, HSBC, Action Tutoring and the Salvation Army.

So, if you’re ready to take the first step and join a community of change-makers who believe that it’s okay to love your baby and still want to progress your career then head to our website at leadersplus.org.uk/fellowship for full details of how you can apply. 

Please note, 2020 applications are now closed, however you can register your interest for our 2021 programme.