Words: Nicole Lonsdale
I was recently asked to provide a quote that would form part of a wider initiative to inspire women in the media industry. While pondering what to write, I had a conversation with another senior female in the OOH sector who was looking at a project in her own business to understand why so few women returned from maternity leave at the company she worked for. This got me thinking that despite it being 2019, this is still a real issue and as a sector we are losing huge amounts of experience and talent. We should collectively be doing more to communicate to current and future working mums (but also leaders and managers) that motherhood can be fantastic for career development – it should not be a choice between one or the other.
“as a sector we are losing huge amounts of experience and talent”
There is obviously a myriad of reasons why a woman on maternity leave doesn’t return. From the financial – the cost of childcare in the UK is some of the highest in Europe – to a lack of flexible working opportunities on offer e.g. working fewer than five days or working reduced hours to collect children from childcare (most childcare finishes at 6pm so if you live in the suburbs/out of London you will have to leave before 5.30pm). In 2019 you would hope this would be on offer in any progressive company. At Kinetic we offer flexible working to all staff, irrespective of whether they are a working parent or not.
“many businesses still view maternity (or paternity leave for that matter) as ‘a break from work’ that potentially hinders career progression”
But there is another reason why women don’t always return to work after having a child (and one that I don’t think is made public enough), many businesses still view maternity (or paternity leave for that matter) as ‘a break from work’ that potentially hinders career progression. I have heard many times that a woman on maternity leave for six months or a year will have fallen behind on marketplace or sector knowledge or workplace skills. With new policies such as Keeping-in-Touch (KIT) days and the raft of information online, this is simply not true.
“time away from work can hone valuable skills that not only enable you to become a great parent but can be hugely beneficial in the workplace too”
With first-hand experience of maternity leave; twice as I have two children, this time away from work can hone valuable skills that not only enable you to become a great parent but can be hugely beneficial in the workplace too – and while you don’t have to be a parent to have these skills, I do think parenting can help refine them. These skills should be recognised and applauded by managers but should also be acknowledged by women, whether they are thinking about becoming a mum or are a working mum already. When a woman returns to work, she often lacks confidence as the dynamic has changed – not only is she a mother but she also has a career and she must effectively manage both (which is completely possible to do). So, I thought it’s worth reminding ourselves and current working and future mums what these skills are:
- Time management – becoming a mum and then a working mum means you are a demon when it comes to managing your time and often squeeze more into your day than you did before. This means you’re often great at chairing meetings as you know time is precious for everyone, so you’ll always set an agenda, ensure people don’t procrastinate and that people leave the meeting with clear actions.
- Productivity and prioritisation – you learn to quickly identify the most important thing that needs to be done and how much effort should be involved in delivering it (classic Pareto 80/20 principle). You also gain nimble decision-making skills.
- Patience – this is developed in spades as a parent but can also come in handy in the workplace too!
- Problem Solving – any parent becomes adept at problem solving e.g. trying to knock up a World Book Day Outfit at short notice while simultaneously practising a big client presentation, both for the following day.
- Communication – learning to communicate with a diverse range of people, in different circumstances and in a clear and concise way.
- Empathy and emotional intelligence – both become honed as a parent, and are a fundamental skillset for any manager or leader in any organisation.
- Resilience – having children brings lots of joy but also demands, and when coupled with having a career (particularly one in a deadline driven environment) means you become super resilient.
So, for every working mum or future working mum out there, remember the above. You rock! Happy International Women’s Day too.
Nicole Lonsdale is Chief Planning Officer at Kinetic UK and Founder of Balance