HOW TO: Rebuild confidence after having a baby
Two years ago, I attended a conference in Brisbane and made friends with a couple of lovely ladies there. With one of them working in HR and my background in Executive Coaching, we got to talking about a challenge I had seen crop up time and again with my female clients and colleagues - the difficulties with integrating back into the workplace (and getting back onto your career trajectory) after having kids. For some women I knew, 20 years after they had originally left their senior positions to have children, they were still in the administrative roles they had transitioned into after taking parental leave. Their kids had grown up, but their careers had stunted, and the frustration they felt was because they hadn't realised it would happen, and hadn't known how to actively keep their career goals on track through the transition to parenthood.
Enter: MY GRAND IDEA
I explained that I'd had this idea of a coaching program that supported women through transition to motherhood with career clarity and confidence. The program would have to start before the parental leave began - to really set some clear visions around what kind of reintegration experience they would want (knowing of course, their objectives might change over time, as with anyone). Then, support them with coaching check ins through the parental leave (so many colleagues and clients love being a working parent because career satisfies that intellectual, growth and professional drive, which many parents need during that leave time, too). And then more frequent coaching just before return to work, and in the weeks and months after. A full service, end-to-end experience that would guarantee career confidence well into the future.
So many ideas, so little time
The only problem is... I didn't want to do it! I saw this intense need, and I knew I had the skillset to design and run a coaching program like this, but I believe in following the things you are most passionate about and my passion at the time (and still is!) supporting leaders and teams through restructure, operating model and job loss change due to digital transformation. So I said to these two ladies at the conference: "You take this idea, make it happen, I give it to you freely."
Well, they didn't start that program. But I had nothing to worry about because someone else had. I first saw Grace Papers last year on a table top in my workplace, a beautiful paper mag on the topic of career and parenting and flexibility. Loved it instantly, and have been watching them now for a while.
Today, I managed to pop along to one of their live group coaching calls led by CEO and Founder of Grace Papers Prue Gilbert with guests Emma Bartel and Grace Papers' Solicitor and Head of Client Relations Amanda Meehan. And (despite not being a parent myself) I loved it because they were giving what I knew was needed for our workforce of incredible parents! It was an hour session, so I'm certainly not going to rehash all the fantastic gold that was discussed. BUT here were 4 gems that shone to me and I thought I'd share:
#1. Get yourself a sponsor (before you take parental leave!)
Men are 46% more likely to have a sponsor than women, which impacts the likelihood of their career progression. So get that career advocacy before you go on parental leave.
#2. Take control of your own goal ball
Being an Executive Coach who has been banging on for years about being in the driver's seat of your own career because it's your job, your life, your livelihood, I loved this metaphor. Responsibility and empowerment is a two-way street and you have to play your part, too. The coaching call explained "Managers manage people, not careers", and indeed it's the reason why I truly believe the best people to support employees with career development, restructure and redundancy is an independent third party because internal managers, quite frankly and quite rightly, have to think of what's best for the entire team or business.
#3. Utilise Keeping in Touch Days
Which is 10 days of work permitted by the Fair Work Act 2009, of which I never knew existed and absolutely advocate for. So often we have these benefits and entitlements in our work or career, that only actually have value if we actually use them! These Keeping in Touch Days so closely aligns to that idea I had of support throughout parental leave, it was like music to my coaching ears.
#4. Don't be afraid of being made redundant when on parental leave
Now, this is one that is really close to my heart because redundancy is one the greatest gifts of opportunity to reset yourself and your future for the one you want. Some of my clients stay too long in roles, they outgrow them, and sometimes even groom their replacements so well that they write themselves out of their own role! They stayed in that role because they were scared to tackle bigger work - and redundancy forces their hand. All you need is a reframe, and it can become the best thing that ever happened to you because it handed a growth opportunity to you on a silver platter.
The confidence myth
But perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Grace Papers group coaching call for me was that oftentimes, the career stagnation that women experience as they re-enter the workforce after parental leave is not actually a confidence issue, it's a system issue. There is a lot of gender bias inbuilt in our ways of working, our job design, our hiring processes, our performance and promotion processes, even our superannuation. So while as an Executive Coach I do focus a lot on confidence, it's going to take consistent and collaborative effort from everyone involved in structuring the future of work and careers to get long-lasting sustainable change in this space.
I never created that transition coaching program, and I'm grateful that Grace Papers has. Check them out and if you are planning your parental leave, I'm sure they can help you "find the joy in the juggle".
So what do you think is the biggest factors in career success when returning from parental leave? And what would you like to see more of?
Lata Hamilton is the Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers. She helps women in leadership carve their own path for change with Executive Coaching, Change Leadership Training, and Change Management Services. Subscribe to the Change Inspiration list at www.passionpioneers.com.au and never miss a post.