I am entering that phase in my life where starting a family is on my mind, and not for the reason you’d think. It seems that this is going to be a pivotal moment in my career. I have been to quite a few conferences on women in business over the past two years and at almost all of them the conversation has steered towards maternity leave. It seems that when a women hits the point in her life when starting a family seems conceivable (pun intended), she is forced to make a choice: either continue climbing the corporate ladder and put family plans on hold (sometimes indefinitely), or take a step back from her career and focus on her family. From what I’ve heard from the women participating in the panel discussions at these events, I am going to start to fear that I will be passed over for promotions; that my career will stall. Although these are issues that do concern me, the biggest one I fear is being forgotten altogether. What happens if I take my maternity leave and my replacement is younger and smarter than me without any plans for a family? I know that there are laws in place in Canada to protect women in this situation, but they only ensure she has a job waiting for her. It doesn’t mean it will be the same one she left and it doesn’t promise that everyone will hold her in the same regard as they did pre-baby.
Further stoking the fires, there seems to be a tendency with senior level women not utilizing the full maternity leave and only using 6 months. As much as I appreciate the ambition and dedication to their career, this trend makes me nervous. If these women are only using 50% of their leave and making sure they keep one foot in the door at their company, does that mean that the women who utilize their full leave are considered less dedicated? What happens if I decide to have children and have a difficult pregnancy, leaving me bedridden weeks prior to even having the child. Will I be penalized for that too?
I’d much rather that businesses praise women for taking these periodic breaks in their career to have a family. From what I’ve experienced, the women who take time off to raise a family are warm, nurturing, smart and excellent managers of people and time. There are certain qualities that mothers bring to the business world that should be praised and appreciated more- patience, time management, people management, prioritization, and knowing when to say no- so why don’t companies look at maternity leave as a women’s time to further develop these skills?
So, what I want to know is how do you stay relevant while you are at home raising a family? Is it easier now to keep your name out there with sites like LinkedIn allowing you to engage in the business world virtually? Or does it make it even harder to stay relevant with the amount of news and information passing through the internet on a minute-by-minute basis? Is the guilt between balancing career and family real?