As much as we may like to believe that having a baby won’t harm our career too much, the reality is that becoming a mum is often like throwing a grenade into your job – leaving you scrabbling around trying to fit the pieces back together.
But before you give up completely on the idea of enjoying being a mum and career woman, there’s a lot you can do right now to minimise the impact having a baby will have on your job (whether you’re a first time mum or extending your family) and baby-proof your career.
10 ways you can baby-proof your career
With some carefully planning, you can establish yourself as an essential member or manager of your team, and ensure that you are able to slot back into your job after maternity leave more smoothly – and improve your bargaining power for flexible working, if you want it.
To help you get started, we’ve put together 10 ways you can baby-proof your career.
1) Maximise your continuing professional development
If there are any opportunities for you to extend your professional development, grab them with both hands! The more qualified/experienced/well-trained you are before you leave work to have your baby, the easier you’ll find it to slot back in, negotiate terms for a position you want instead, or look for a new job.
It’s also a good idea to cram as much professional development in as you can right now, as chances are, the first few weeks or months after you return to work from maternity leave, you’ll be too exhausted or consumed with your new baby to give it your full attention.
Ask your manager or HR department what is available through your company, but don’t just restrict yourself to in-house or company funded opportunities. Think about what kind of career you’d like post-baby and look for training or qualifications that can help you reach that goal.
This can include acquiring skills that will enable you to change career, or even enable you to act on ambitions to become a freelancer or consultant, or start a business of your own. (Don’t forget to include volunteering options – it can be a good way to get relevant experience and skills.)
2) Use your Keeping In Touch days
It can be tough returning to work after a long absence on maternity leave – you’re out of touch with the latest office developments (and gossip), and it can feel like your old skills are frustratingly rusty.
And that’s just what Keeping In Touch days are designed to help you avoid. If you wish to use them, you can choose to work up to 10 days on maternity leave (usually without losing your maternity allowance – you can find out more here). You can take these in one chunk, or spread them out throughout your maternity leave.
By using your Keeping In Touch days wisely, you can keep abreast of the latest work developments, and refresh your skills (and your memory!) while you’re off. So that when you do return to work after your maternity leave has ended, you’ll be all guns blazing!
3) Do your homework on flexible working policies
Before you plan your post-baby career, do some research on your company’s flexible working policies. What does the company handbook say, if you have one? If you’re not sure, ask your HR departments to clarify their position on flexible working.
It’s always good to be prepared, so look at the law, too. You have a legal right to request flexible working arrangements, and there are strict grounds on which your company can turn you down. In order to exercise your rights you need to know them, so start doing your homework! (You can read more about your working rights after maternity leave here.)
4) Explore all your childcare options
What childcare options are open to you? You may have more choice than you think. While childcare can seem prohibitively expensive, remember that it’s only for a relatively short period of time… it won’t be long before your tiny baby is ready for school.
There are also creative ways you can save money on childcare by looking into nanny-sharing, or even swapping childcare with a local friend whose working hours fit in with yours. If you have the space in your home, au pairs are a great way to have on-site childcare at hours that suit you – without costing a fortune.
5) Negotiate with your boss
Before you consider making a formal request for flexible working, speak to your boss about the possibility. Be prepared to be flexible and negotiate towards a compromise that suits everyone.
If you’re reasonable and look for ways that flexible working can benefit your company, your employer is much more likely to look upon your request favourably.
It’s also important to agree clear boundaries and goals for flexible working – on both sides. You need to remain visible when working flexibly, and to feel as if you are still a vital member of your team. Setting clear guidelines that are in line with the needs of both sides are more likely to lead to a more successful result. (You can read why flexible working makes good business sense for companies here.)
6) Start gathering contacts
Before you leave work on maternity leave, start gathering as many contacts as possible. Make a point of attending networking events, and make sure you carry a business card with you at all times – even when you’re not at work. (Need some help with your networking skills? You’ll find some helpful tips here.)
Every time you meet a potentially useful contact (even if they’re not useful right now), ask for their card and connect with them on LinkedIn. Try to have at least a quick chat with them if you can, giving you a chance not just to impress them now, but increase the chances of them remembering you later on.
And don’t stop at face-to-face networking. Go through your work emails and connect on LinkedIn with as many clients, colleagues and contacts as you can. You never know when you may need them when you resume your post-baby career. (You can read seven simple rules to create a perfect LinkedIn profile here.)
7) Prove yourself
Don’t miss an opportunity to show your manager (and their managers) just how valuable you are to the company. Be proactive in looking for chances to impress, and put yourself forward when you can.
And make sure that you perform well in every aspect of your job. Ask your manager for a performance review, and together agree areas to improve on – and then make sure you DO improve on them.
The more impressive and invaluable you are to your department or company, the more they’ll work hard to keep you – and you’ll have much more leverage when negotiating flexible working terms.
8) Get evidence
Don’t just rely on your manager noticing or remembering all the effort you put into your work – and the results you get. Keep a record of it.
Keep a record of every target you have passed, every complimentary email from a client or colleague, every time you have gone over and above what has been expected of you, and delivered impressive results. Also make a note of any ways that you have improved your workplace for your colleagues – are you a great resolver of conflicts? Or do you make a point of nurturing and mentoring junior colleagues?
Gathering an armoury of brilliant reasons why your company can’t afford to let you go will help your negotiating position later on – and ensure that you don’t forget anything!
9) Change the way you talk
As a rule, women tend to be more modest than men in the way we talk about ourselves. It’s even been cited as one of the reasons we usually get paid less.
So if you’re guilty of being modest about your own achievements – stop! We’re not suggesting you suddenly become boastful, or worse lie, but simply be proud of what you do, and vocal about it.
If you’ve had a great result at work – tell your colleagues and boss. Let people know how successful you are, and carefully build a reputation as someone who performs well, and achieves more than is expected of them. Paired with the evidence you have collected, this can give you some powerful bargaining power when it comes to negotiating flexible working.
10) Ask for a pay rise
It may be that once you have a baby (or another one) you’ll want to return to work on a part time basis if you can afford it. And as any part time salary will be worked out based on your full time one, it makes sense to try and earn as much as you can right now!
The higher your salary now, the more any part time or flexible working wage will be – and the more likely it is to be a viable option.
So if you haven’t had a pay review for a while, ask for one. If you’ve followed our last few tips, you should have enough to make a good case for a pay rise (you can also get some advice on how to ask for a pay rise here).
Start baby-proofing your career today
It’s never too early to start preparing for the day you tell your manager you’re pregnant. Even if you’re several months – or even a year or two – away from thinking about starting or extending your family, you can take positive action now to inoculate your career against the impact of having a baby, and ensure your career remains as interesting, growing and successful as it is today – if not more.Hannah Martin