I’ve been up six times in the night, barely had time to brush my hair or eat anything – and now I’m about to walk into a playgroup full of strangers that I somehow need to turn into friends. Oh and I’ve got a tiny human to look after.
A very familiar scenario for anyone that’s recently been on parental leave – and one that shows just how possible it is to develop a whole range of skills crucial to leadership roles.
It’s my last two weeks of my maternity leave and that’s made me quite reflective about what the past year has taught me and how I’ve changed. I definitely expected to feel more unsure of myself at this stage, even nervous about returning to work.
Often as women, we tend to self-criticise and downplay our achievements, and there’s an implicit expectation that to some extent we put our careers on hold after having children.
We’re socialised to expect that a year or more away from paid work will somehow cause us to lose our confidence, our professional credibility and our ambitions.
If anything, I feel the opposite.
Of course, the prospect of delivering presentations rather than singing nursery rhymes is a little daunting – but fundamentally I know that maternity leave has made me a better colleague and leader.
We talk a lot about resilience in the business world, but I don’t think I ever realised just how resilient I was after having to pick myself up after a sleepless night, give the baby a big smile and push that buggy down the street each day.
In comparison, I think a tough meeting or triggering email will be a breeze. And after 12 months of walking into rooms and making friends for life while singing wheels on the bus – well I’m an expert networker!
Not to mention how much my organisation, time management and problem-solving skills have improved by just having to survive those early days of parenting.
I also feel keen not to hold myself back just because of my new status as a mum, and to support others in realising their ambitions. I have even more drive because I want my daughter to be proud that she has a determined working mum. But I know it won’t be easy. There are still many barriers and outdated attitudes that will make this a real challenge.
That’s why I decided to apply for the Leaders Plus Fellowship. It’s a programme with development days and mentoring to help you to be a great parent and continue to have a successful leadership career.
I’m four months in and it’s already enabled me to see my maternity leave differently, and how all those tough moments of parenting have made me a better leader.
As a group of Leaders Plus Fellows, I hope we can inspire others to continue their leadership journeys and make a positive difference to individual lives and business success.
So, if you’re currently on parental leave, think about all the transferable skills you’ve developed and how much more an employer will gain by having you back in the business or hiring you.
Looking ahead I’m excited about returning to work and putting all of my new skills into practice. I can smile at expectant parents knowing what an amazing adventure they’ve got to come.