Lucy Painter, Founder, Studio, discusses the emotional, professional and political aspects of returning to work after maternity leave.
If you’ve ever had to say ‘Please can you not mention that I have a child to prospective employers when you approach them’ or; ‘Am I asking for too much, wanting to work four days a week when I return to work?’ or even; ‘Before I accept, should I ask my future employer to put into writing that I can leave early to pick up my child from nursery?’ then you may be one of the many female interior designers who are looking to return to the workplace after maternity leave.
The above quotes are real examples taken from associates, design directors or senior level women I’ve been working with in the last four weeks alone.
It’s clear that these women, prior to having children, have independently won and run multi million pound projects, managed teams of designers and presented to boards of large companies. So why are they anxious about returning to work after nine months off and concerned about asking for a little flexibility? I found, on conversing with these women, that their confidence had hit an all-time low, forgetting all that they’d achieved prior to maternity leave.
So, where to start? When I have the privilege of helping these women find work after a break, be it nine months, three months, or over a year, there are two important exercises that I encourage them to do before we begin the search. Firstly; write a list of all of their achievements in their career to date. These should include, not only the big win’s – such as completing a prestigious project, but to include the smaller details, such as when you mentored a junior designer to reach mid-level, as an example. This ‘success log’ will not only reinforce what you have achieved to date but when talking to potential or current employers you will be confident in defining your ability and accomplishments.
The second exercise is to write down what a day or a week looks like when it’s a ‘10 out of 10’ – your very best day/week. Again, add as much detail as you can, from describing the type of company you want to work for, your working hours, projects, the team structure, length of commute etc. and remember, don’t hold back or compromise! This in itself will give you something to aim for and you can then really focus and visualise what you need and want from an employer, be it a return to work or a new venture entirely. It will give you clarity and I truly believe that when you know what you want, you will find a way to make it happen. When you have a job offer you can then compare it to your 10/10 list to see how much it aligns with your values and ambitions.
If the pandemic has taught employers anything, it is how adaptable employees can be, that working remotely, and sometimes on more flexible hours isn’t the end of the world and projects are still completed on time and on budget.
I really hope that employers will take the positives out of this and use it as an opportunity to give more flexibility to women returning to work. I want women to feel empowered and confident to ask for what they want, and in return employers will listen, reassure them, find solutions and put faith in the fact that these incredibly talented women will still work to a high standard and be an asset to any business, even if they are not there 9am-6pm, five days a week.