It’s still commonly assumed that when you have a baby, two things are inevitable: firstly, you will fall so in love with that baby that you will lose all your career ambition, and secondly, that you’ll lose your confidence.
There is ample evidence that women do not lose their career ambition. This includes a recent report by PwC, Time to Talk: What has to change for women at work, revealing that women are determined to succeed professionally: 73% responded they are actively seeking career advancement opportunities. Yet their research also revealed that 42% of women felt nervous about the impact children might have on their career. With good reason too: one in five (18%) mothers reported that they were made redundant, restructured, dismissed or their contract was not renewed either during their pregnancy, when they requested or took parental leave, or when they returned to work.
While we advocate for the addressing of bias to be a shared accountability with the workplace, the reality is this responsibility still largely falls to women.
What can you do to address the bias?
Researchers from Canada and Australia surveyed 558 Canadian employees and asked them to review a job application for a marketing manager role where the candidate had taken a year of maternity leave.
Survey participants were randomly presented with one of four scenarios:
- the would-be marketing manager had used a keeping in touch program while on maternity leave
- the keeping in touch program existed but the would-be marketing manager hadn’t used it while on maternity leave
- there was no information about whether the keeping in touch program had been used while on maternity leave
- there was no reference to a keeping in touch program
While economists have looked at maternity leave length and career impact, the study, published in the prestigious Journal of Applied Psychology, was the first of its kind to investigate why women often experienced penalties after taking a longer maternity leave, and strategies to overcome this.
According to RMIT School of Management lecturer, Raymond Trau, “When a woman takes a longer period of maternity leave, such as a year off work, they’re often perceived as caring and nurturing but less ambitious and driven, whereas, when a woman takes one month off, they’re often perceived as ambitious, assertive, driven and committed to their career.”
What is keeping in touch? (KIT)
KIT is a strategy or program that allows team members to remain connected to their workplaces while on parental leave. Under the Fair Work Act, employees can access up to ten KIT days while on unpaid primary carer’s leave.
A KIT activity might include:
- doing training or attending a conference
- support for transitioning back to the workplace such as using coaching and transition programs
- becoming familiar with new processes and refreshing your skills, and
- participating in conversations with your people leader about changes to your role
Keeping in touch is good for your personal brand, and is a great way to reduce the likelihood of losing your confidence and missing out on potential opportunities while you are on parental leave.
- Create a calendar of activities you may like to attend as the basis for your KIT plan – e.g., conferences and Christmas parties.
- Work with your people leader to set the parameters and agree on a keeping in touch plan that shares the responsibility for keeping in touch (and therefore addressing biases) as between you.
- Share your professional vision and keeping in touch plan with your people leader, and ask them to look out for career advancement opportunities for you.
- Engage additional sponsors: if you know there is a project, deal, or opportunity likely to come up while you’re on leave, ask to be consulted about it so you can decide whether you might like to return sooner.
- Share your handover notes with your people leader – we can’t tell you how many women going off on parental leave have been replaced with not one, but two people once they list ALL that they were doing and responsible for.
- Know your rights – the Fair Work Act provides for you to, in agreement with your people leader, access to up to ten paid keeping in touch days while on unpaid parental leave.
For step by step support including downloadable templates, check out our Career Conscious Mama program.