How To Succeed As A Working Mum
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Introduce us to the book, Tobi…
When I was approached with the idea of writing a book, I knew almost instantly that I wanted to write a guide for women to unpack the journey of working motherhood in an honest and empowering way. I wanted it to be the kind of book you’d share with a sister or a best friend, and give as many tips and tricks as possible about how to make it work – without sugar coating anything.
The Blend shares wisdom about the entire working motherhood journey, from the very moment you think you might want to have a child, through to the return to work, growing your family and building a successful career along the way. It covers negotiating promotions and pay rises while going on maternity leave, sharing parental leave, the best childcare for your needs and budget, how to return to the workplace and much more. Within the book I had the honour of sharing the stories of incredible women who have navigated The Blend successfully, and share snippets of my own.
Why do you think it’s an important read in 2023?
Women still hold only 4% of CEO and board positions globally, but we enter the workforce in equal proportion to men. What’s happening? Parenthood is a key factor impacting how women progress and even remain in the workplace – this year alone, 43,000 women have dropped out of work to look after their families. Yet 98% of mums want to work given the chance. We also know that a more diverse workforce produces better results and is simply the right thing to do. While the system and infrastructure have a way to go, I want this book to give women the confidence, tips and tricks to make the most of their career at the pivotal inflection point of having a family.
How has the conversation around being a working mother evolved?
The fact we are having this conversation at all indicates we’ve come a long way. The pandemic-induced acceleration of remote and flexible working has opened up seismic new opportunities for working mums. We still have some way to go – for example, we have one of the most expensive childcare systems in the world and that prohibits many women from having the choice of going back to work until their children are in school. While glass ceilings are being shattered, the conversation needs to move towards ensuring all mums have the option to work and can access fair employment.
How does the book dispel the myth around finding 'balance'?
It’s incredibly hard to exist in a world where there are equal amounts of work and parenting in your life. I learnt the hard way that chasing balance can leave you feeling like a failure and deeply disappointed. It’s why I believe in the power of The Blend: taking the elements you need to build your family and your career and putting them together. Sometimes there may be a bit more family in the mix and other times life moves in favour of your ambitions – whatever blend you create is right for you in the season that you’re in.
Women often find it hard to negotiate maternity leave with their employer – any suggestions?
To build your confidence it helps to have a look at your data. By data, I mean have a look at your performance. Have you exceeded your targets, helped to boost profits or save your company money? Reflecting on your achievements in this way will not only help boost your confidence, it will help create a more compelling case for negotiation. I always remind myself of the fact that lots of studies have shown that by not negotiating at the beginning of their career, women leave an estimated £830K to £1.25m on the table in lost earnings over their lifetime. So, in many ways negotiation is an important part of levelling the playing field.
Any tips for negotiating maternity leave and pay specifically?
Negotiating maternity pay in large organisations may certainly be difficult, as these are policies which impact a large number of people. There may be improvements to maternity pay that you can suggest, some of these improvements may include changing the length of time you need to be employed before being eligible for maternity pay or negotiating additional benefits around parental leave. It’s wise to start off by getting yourself clued up so you know where you stand. Read through your employment contract as well as your company’s maternity leave policy from HR so you start off negotiations on the right foot. Overall, when it comes to negotiating maternity pay, I think it’s critical to do heaps of research to help you benchmark your organisation’s maternity pay against others in a similar industry.
How can working women prepare for maternity leave?
The most important thing is being as proactive as possible. Get involved in the plans for your maternity cover, and design what that could look like. You might also think about what you want your return to look like. It’s fine to communicate your career goals, as well as your achievements, before you go on maternity leave, so that when opportunities arise key stakeholders have you in mind. Think in advance about how you might want to use your ‘keeping in touch’ days. You could use them to be a part of an away day or to have one-to-ones with your work colleagues. They are wonderful for helping you feel connected to professional life.
Any advice for working while pregnant?
I believe it’s 100% possible to perform at work while pregnant – if you are experiencing an uncomplicated pregnancy, you may just have to tweak how you approach things. The best piece of advice I can share is: make sure you have absolute clarity on what is expected of you in your role and what excellence looks like – and ruthlessly focus on those things. It’s fine to focus on these things to ensure you are delivering to the best of your ability and, while you do so, don’t forget to nurture and maintain relationships. Professional relationships inside and outside of your organisation are so incredibly valuable whether it be for mentoring purposes or just staying connected to your industry as your life evolves.
There is a temptation to disconnect at this stage, but it’s vital to keep the relationships alive because you never know where your next opportunity may come from. Largely, it’s personal relationships that play a huge role in opening up new opportunities regardless of how you build a family. All of this is heavily caveated by making sure you look after yourself and attend all of your medical appointments, of course.
In your experience, is there a way to deal with mum guilt?
Yes totally. I often feel a lot of the guilt that seeps into motherhood is due to the pressure that we put ourselves to parent in a particular way. That particular way of parenting can often come from our perceptions of what we think a good mum should be or what we compare ourselves to. Guilt can be evoked by thinking another parent is doing a better job at spending quality time with their kids. So, try not to compare, and remember that you have no context or background to anyone’s parenting. Instead, remind yourself that a perfect parent does not exist and that you are doing an incredible job giving as much as you can to your family and to work.
How will you know when the time is right to go back to work?
As much as it is wonderful to watch your little ones grow and to nurture them, for so many families the decision to go back to work is largely driven by money and how long they can afford to be away from the working world. I encourage people to go through the numbers and have a look at your maternity pay and your expected income to work out when you might want to go back to work. Another factor that is good to take into consideration is key milestones in your career that might be important to you, like the opportunity to take on a new project or role. Such milestones may influence when you want to head back.
What would you tell women looking to re-enter the workforce after a prolonged break?
Reflect on the skills you’ve amassed while on your career break. It’s really important to remind yourself that we do not lose skills during this time – in fact, we gain highly sought-after new ones, such as people management, empathy and ruthless efficiency, all of which are incredibly valuable skills if you ask me. Second, don’t be afraid to use your network of friends, family and even school parents. Be open to letting them know you are keen to re-enter the world of work and what your strengths are. Lastly, be on the lookout for ‘returnships’ – there are a number of brilliant schemes wanting to support individuals back into the world of work.
Finally, what's the one thing you wish all women – pregnant or not – knew about being a working mother?
Being a working mother isn't easy but I truly believe motherhood is a superpower. The journey of motherhood arms women with incredibly valuable skills, so any woman who embarks on a motherhood journey with the right support is actually well equipped to thrive in the workplace.
The Blend: How to Successfully Manage a Career and a Family by Tobi Asare is published by Headline on 9th March. To find out more about International Women’s Day – and this year’s #EmbraceEquity theme – head to InternationalWomensDay.com.