How can I get my voice heard returning to work as a new parent, and how has being a parent changed my leadership approach?

2 very important questions I hoped joining Leaders Plus would answer for me, and by sharing my experience I hope will answer for others.

Leaders Plus is a new social enterprise designed to empower new parents and women who are returning to the workplace, set up by new mum – Founder and CEO Verena Hefti.

Who are Leaders Plus? I’m going to directly quote the opening statement on their home page as it explains perfectly the aims of this valuable new network.

We are a group of parents who want to continue their leadership careers while enjoying caring for young children. We believe in gender equality in leadership roles and that everyone should be empowered to find their own approach to blending careers and family lives. We support each other through high quality peer support, inspirational development activities and providing space to think.

Over the past week I have attended 2 workshops led by Verena and I’m going to share what I’ve taken away, but first off I am going to give you some stats!

  • 4 in 10 people believe mothers are less committed at work (Fawcett Society 2016), only 3 in 10 believe fathers are less committed.
  • There are only 7 women leading FTSE 100 companies!
  • Between the ages of 30 and 40, the gender pay gap increases by 11.5% (full-time employment), the average age of new mothers is 30.

And even more powerful is this quote I wanted to share

“I feel that I have to either fail at being a mum or fail at being a leader”

All of the above in my opinion and as a new mum looking to return to project work needs to change.

I’ll be honest I myself BC (‘before child’ and often how I refer to my life before my daughter entered into it and turned it upside down) also had the opinion that some women (some not all) may not be as ‘career driven’ as those without children. Wrong I know but maybe that was due to stereotypes we are constantly presented with, or influenced by the opinions of others, I don’t know, but what I do know now is that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yes as a working mum your priorities change, of course they do, but that doesn’t mean that those women that do choose to return to work are any less committed to their roles and careers and I’ve often found that it’s actually the complete opposite – they can actually be more productive, managing to fit more work into a shorter amount of time and simply because they work smarter.

Multi-tasking to give an example. I thought I was the best multi-tasker BC, I really did – it doesn’t even come close to the level of multi-tasking I do now and I am much better at prioritising things! My view is that motherhood has enhanced some of the skills I had previously and I’ve also picked up some new skills that I never knew I had.

So how did attending a Leaders Plus event help me? Well first of all I could attend with my daughter, so there was no need to arrange and pay for childcare, but also I could attend an event that wasn’t centred around baby sensory or soft play or small talk about Ella’s Kitchen. It was one where I could talk to others mums in an open and professional setting and use my brain for a few hours.

It was incredibly liberating to be able to do that, to share professional experiences, but also to hear that I wasn’t alone in terms of my thoughts about returning to work as a parent.

The first workshop I attended was a session on ‘how to get your voice heard’ and as promised I’m going to share what I took away from the event.

When presenting your ideas remember the male characteristic of “this is what we need to do, this is why we need to do it, and this is why it’s going to be great”, combine it with a female characteristic of simply taking someone for a coffee and having a good old fashioned chat to be even more successful.

Regularly challenge yourself to go and speak to the highest ranking person you can, whether this is at a meeting or an event. When speaking to them or asking questions acknowledge their rank letting them know that you value their experience and their role.

Respect the organisational chart – It’s a great way to make friends and influence people.

Make sure you have status symbols, how does a leader in your work environment dress and accessorise? Try and do the same.

When you are at a meeting or attend an event think about where you sit in the room? If at a meeting sit opposite the door if you can, take up physical space. If at an event, get yourself up at the front!

When introducing yourself include your job title – don’t just say your name and company, job titles matter and use a slow low voice.

Plan your questioning and use detailed explanations and argument!

Women are always celebrated for working hard, and it can be an attribute that many of us are guilty of listing on our CVs. This can make it easy to be drawn into doing tasks that you may not be too happy with, so say no to office housework and don’t fall for the work even harder trap, work smarter and ‘prioritise the water cooler’ –  form a posse, find yourself a sponsor.

 

Make high profiles absences known so people do not automatically assume that you are absent from the workplace because you are at home with your children.

Finally, be smart about celebrating your achievements, be verbal, toot your horn, change from a general female to a super charged female! Show your status, play the game and drop in hints.

Drip feed information and self market yourself to your peers and remain committed to work – say it again and again.

I took so much away from this first Leaders Plus workshop and above are some great tips that not only working mums, but all women looking to get ahead in the workplace can adopt.

Watch out for part 2 next week where I’ll cover ‘new parent, new identity and new leadership skills’.

Until next time #Eventprofs…