By: Nancy Mcsharry Jensen and Sarah Duenwald
What happens when you’re trying to juggle a full-time job during the pandemic as well as trying to get pregnant? You may feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster, ranging from excitement to complete overwhelm, and depending on the day, everything in between. Whether you’ve been trying (and maybe struggling) to get pregnant, working on those adoption papers, or just starting to consider this life-changing event, there are factors to keep in mind before you start having kids—especially as they pertain to your career.
We get it—it’s hard to mentally think that far in advance! However, taking these steps now can make a dramatic and positive impact on your career after having kids. It’s worth the effort.
Here’s what to consider with your career when you are trying to get pregnant.
1. Create boundaries
When you have no kids, it can be easy to find yourself at the office for long hours, and at the beck and call of your management on evenings and weekends. Start slowly but deliberately setting boundaries now. Instead of saying yes to every meeting at any time, try instead countering with, “How about this time or that time?” which are within your stated work time boundaries. Give options, be flexible, and start protecting the time that you’ve allotted for yourself.
Even if your job is everything to you and you LOVE it, your priorities may change after having a baby. You may still love your job (and we hope you do!) but that demanding client or dramatic colleague may not seem like quite as big of a deal when you’re trying to take care of a human at home.
If you’re interviewing for a new role, once you land a position, set boundaries with your time early and often. You may feel like you need to do the opposite in a new role, but from the get-go, keep control of your time and your life. Ironically, the easiest time to do this is at the beginning of the work engagement, so colleagues know when to expect you to be available, and when is above and beyond the call of duty.
It’s also important that you recognize and work with other people’s boundaries as well. Acknowledge and praise these people, especially if they are in leadership roles. These are the examples we want to see more of in work environments. Reasonable boundaries are a great thing and you become an even better employee when you have them.
2. Investigate company culture around working mothers
Look around now. Are there lots of working mothers or parents around your workplace? If not, this can be a red flag OR an opportunity depending on how you look at it.
Start talking with your organization’s working moms and parents to get the inside scoop. You want to get a better idea of what it’s like when you’re employed there with kids.
If there are a good amount of mothers who work there, seek out their guidance now about setting home and work boundaries, insight into local childcare options, and opinions on departments or divisions that are particularly friendly to working parents. Ask what’s worked for them as they’ve built their families and continued in their career paths.
If your workplace isn’t conducive to working parents, we encourage you to start talking with your executive team about why there is a lack of working mothers. From your conversations with other employees, bring up issues like the company’s substandard leave policy. Maybe there is zero flexibility. Maybe it’s just not an inviting environment for working parents. This is all good information you want to know before you start a family and incorporate your career into that mix.
If you’re in a position of influence, this can be an opportunity to make a lasting impact by being part of the change and implementing policies and hiring practices that make your company more working parent-friendly.
If you’re currently interviewing, research the leadership team to see if there are women on it. Read what current or past employees have commented on Glassdoor or Fairygodboss (keep in mind most will only post if they’ve had a negative experience) about the company. Look at your network: Is anyone currently working there or has anyone worked there in the past who can chat with you informally about company culture and policies?
When you’re actively interviewing you can ask, “What does a typical day look like for an employee in this role?” or “Does everyone on this teamwork in the office every day?” You can pick up clues on how flexible and family-friendly the work environment is by their answers. More subtle clues can also be found on-site. Does the facility have a lactation room and/or on-site childcare? Do employees have family photos and kids’ drawings tacked up in their cubicle? All of these taken together can paint a bigger picture of the culture.
3. Pursue flexibility
A flexible work environment is interwoven within a company culture and it’s one of the most important factors for new working mothers—and we want to call it out specifically. One “silver lining” of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the enforced work-from-home environments. Research is showing for many roles and teams it’s driving productivity more than before. For example, Lauren Calabrese, Strategic Brand Development Manager at Amazon, states, “My biggest challenge was finding a company where I could have flexibility but also get paid enough to offset childcare costs.”
Remember: Childcare costs are the single biggest factor kicking mothers out of the workforce. LinkedIn released its 2020 Global Talent Trends report where the top benefit for what women look for in companies is flexibility, which allows those costs to be lower and make work more achievable. The good news here is companies are leaning in with large investments in workforce development and other creative ways to increase female representation at all levels. Angela Miller, Senior Director of Global Talent Acquisition and Operations at Pure Storage, says “Getting more women back to work is truly the hot iron and women now are the buyers in a buyer’s market.”
When’s the best time to discuss this? Before having kids is a great time to talk to senior leaders about flexibility options down the road, especially right now, when so many people are working from home. It’s a less pressured conversation than when you know that a baby is arriving in 5 months. It also gives management time to think about what options there could be for you and be able to prepare accordingly. Even if you’re expecting now, the sooner you have the conversation with your management team, the better. You need to know where they stand so you can start arranging your life to best accommodate these coming changes.
If you’re currently interviewing, it’s okay to ask what the process and options will be if you have to move from remote work to getting back in the office again, especially right now. If you have been offered a job, be sure to think beyond salary and include benefits when negotiating. This is one of the best times to get what you want so don’t waste it! Ask about working from home at least part-time.
You’ll also want to consider when you’ll pick up your kids from daycare and preschool. Many have strict terms and penalty fees regarding late pickups. Ask if you can come in early those days or just set the expectation that you’ll get your work done, but you need to leave at 3 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This goes back to boundaries. Boundaries will help with your flexibility and it’s easiest to establish them upfront.
4. Plan your childcare
It’s important to talk with your partner and come up with what childcare will work for you and your lifestyle. This might seem a little early to discuss if you’re not even expecting yet! However, this is the single biggest factor that takes working mothers out of the workforce. So, you need to plan. Call around to learn about facilities in your area—this includes large daycare centers, in-house options like nannies and family sitters, neighborhood in-home care and everything in between. Get information on the waitlist time, costs, hours and family expectations, just to name a few. Explore all the options you have available and understand what ones are accessible and affordable for you. Consider joining some online groups or local mom groups and ask new working mothers what they are doing and any info they have.
For first-time parents, we want to caution that your wants and needs may change once you have a baby. So definitely be prepared! And also, be flexible. Even the most thought out plans may not work for you once the baby arrives. Researching your options in advance, then making adjustments and changes won’t be as scary, and being prepared will keep anxiety at bay. And, have a backup plan; once your baby arrives, many factors change, oftentimes unexpectedly and rapidly. You’ll want a “back pocket” option, just in case.
5. Use your network
Your network is your career currency. Before you actually need your network is when you want to start paying attention to it. Make sure you have a LinkedIn Profile and it looks polished and complete. Connect to your colleagues past and present as well as clients or vendors. Actively engage with others you haven’t seen in a while.
We say this because you may love your job and not imagine ever leaving. However, we’re seeing millions of women getting laid off or leaving the workforce during this pandemic—you cannot plan for unexpected events like this. Also, once you have a child you may discover you’re not quite emotionally ready to leave them. Many women don’t anticipate this. If you’ve thought of this as a possibility, you can save, budget and arrange your lifestyle to accommodate it. Then when you’re feeling ready you can use your connections to help you get back to work.
6. But what about “mommy brain?”
We would be remiss if we didn’t also mention that after you have a child, your brain will be filled with things that may take priority overwork. This includes the battle of hormones and “mommy brain,” where your brain actually shrinks and impairs cognitive functioning during pregnancy. Also, the day-to-day demands of caring for another human being can be unexpected—ask any parent about the first time they tried to leave the house with their baby, and how long it took to get out the door. Your structures, routines and daily expectations are inextricably altered the moment your child comes home, and you’ll need to adjust accordingly.
Don’t let any of this shake your confidence or have you believe you’re less qualified to do your job. Just know this may happen and give yourself grace during that time. It’s not permanent! And we argue that after kids and once you get in a rhythm (and we promise you will), it makes you an even better employee. It forces you to have incredible time management skills that simply can’t be taught, a maturity that brings poise and an ability to thrive in chaos and change, because well…that’s what your life will be. You learn to adapt and thrive and manage things at an incredible rate.
To conclude: Planning out how work and home life will work together helps you make the transition to becoming a great working mother. Remember, that it’s part of a larger approach to the modern job search.