How to create a community for working parents

When Marjorie Sanchez had her daughter in 2016, she was torn between her career aspirations and new-found responsibilities.

In this article, she shares her experience becoming a new parent, her tips for mothers returning to work and how she’s helping to provide working parents support at Spirit Energy.

Finding your balance between career and children

Before she had Ana, Mark says she was a bit naive about how returning to work would be. She thought she’d jump straight back into working five days a week and it wouldn’t be a problem.

She said that she always thought you were either 100% focussed on your career or a stay-at-home mum, but she felt she was somewhere in the middle. She still loved her job, but she also loved spending time with Ana.

After a year’s maternity leave, Marj decided a four-day working week was the right balance.

As a Business Development Manager, Marj’s job of buying and selling oil and gas fields is project-based, with peaks and troughs in workload. It wasn’t long after her return from maternity leave that a big project came up and Marj was keen to be involved in delivering it.

“I’d done all the groundwork, so when discussions started I wanted to see it through. I knew it would involve some intense work and I would have to sacrifice my Wednesday off for a few weeks, but I asked Mum to look after Ana and we just bashed through it,” she says.

“It was a fantastic project and I loved being involved, but it was difficult; I missed my daughter terribly. I knew I couldn’t continue working at that pace, so I started questioning whether I should be doing a role with more regular hours.

“But I’d done those roles before and had become bored quickly. I didn’t know what to do.”

Marj signed up for a mentor through the AXIS Network, a non-for-profit group focused on increasing gender balance in Aberdeen’s energy industry. It helped her effectively navigate the challenges she was facing.

“In hindsight, I didn’t need to lead the project on my own. I could have gotten some help, which my manager had offered. But I wanted to do it all; I was in denial, trying to pretend my life hadn’t changed.

“And I think you need to go through that journey to find a comfortable balance between work and parenting.”

Marj’s tips for returning mothers

Following Marj’s own experience, share has these tips for returning mothers.

Be flexible and find your balance

Everyone is different. You need to find your own place along the scale of family and career that’s right for you. And that might change along the way, so leave your options open and have honest conversations with your manager.

Explore maternity coaching 

The mentoring/coaching really helped me get through the internal struggle I was having. It helps you review how you’re feeling and what you see for the future.

Be present on your days off

If you’re going to work part-time, you need to be totally devoted to your home life on the days you’re off and vice-versa.

Initially, I only had one mobile phone that I used for both work and personal use, but it meant on my Wednesdays off I’d be getting work calls and checking emails, and I wasn’t fully focused on Ana.

Take it easy on yourself 

Make sure you regularly check in with your mental health and talk to other parents – knowing others are going through similar experiences really helps.

How Marj established a working parents’ group

Marj’s own experience motivated her to set up a working parents’ group at Spirit Energy.

“Once I felt more comfortable with my own work/family balance, I wanted to help other parents facing the same challenges. I had ideas around support that Spirit might be able to offer parents internally, and I brought these to our new Diversity & Inclusion Director,” says Marj.

“The leadership team encouraged me to implement these ideas, with support from The Network, which is our employee-led group set up to support and raise awareness of diversity and inclusion.

“I kicked things off with a focus group,” she explains. “The range of support people need is so bespoke, so you need quite a diverse group of people to bring out the right ideas,” she explains.

Some of the initiatives the working parents’ group has put in place so far, or are in the process of, are an informal buddy/mentoring system, information ‘care packages’ for pre and post-parental leave support and a Yammer communication channel.

The group has also helped the business carry out a review and update of its parental leave policy.

“We provided a lot of input and suggestions on how the new policy could be updated and structured.”

The best thing about the group for Marj has been that it’s connected her with other parents.

“There were days I was surviving on coffee because Ana had been awake most of the night, yet I’d look at other mothers who seemed to have it all together.

“It made me question whether it was just me. It’s only when you speak to people that you realise they are all managing their own juggling acts.”

Supporting working parents through COVID-19

Of course, the group found new purpose when the country was thrown into lockdown in March 2020 following the coronavirus outbreak, with its members exploding from a group of 15 to 50.

“Suddenly we had to pivot our focus to assist with all these new challenges thrust upon working parents. The group really came into its own, supporting and representing the needs of working parents during this time.

“We organised formal comms for how leaders could support working parents, and we had our CEO join one of our group meetings and share his own personal experiences homeschooling his kids, which was well received.”

Marj’s biggest advice for juggling work and children during COVID-19 lockdowns is to just be kind to yourself. “You can’t judge yourself too harshly – we’re in a crisis situation.”

Challenging your thinking

For Marj, another benefit of being involved in the working parents’ group – and more broadly Spirit Energy’s five other employee-led groups: LGBT+; ethnicity; gender balance; young professionals; and carers, disabilities and wellbeing – is a new appreciation for the importance of diversity and inclusion.

“While the company has been establishing its own culture [Spirit Energy was formed through a joint venture of Centrica’s oil and gas business and Bayerngas Norge in 2017], and on this diversity and inclusion journey, I’ve been on a journey myself.

“I’ve learnt a lot by being involved with these groups. I think it’s pretty cool that the company’s challenged my thinking, and made me reevaluate my views on what being diverse and inclusive truly means.”

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