As I said in the previous post, things have changed. Unlike our parents who got babies in their early 20s then pursued their careers, we are getting children at a later age, and at the same time we are getting into senior management positions much younger than our mothers. The average 30-35 year old lady in middle management probably has very young children or hasn’t had children yet.
The usual approach is to ask women to choose whether to pursue career growth or motherhood and while some women are able to make the choice the rest of us want to have it all and must find a balance. When it comes to maternity leave, I advocate for a balance that ensures the mom is well rested and recovered, the baby gets as much time as possible with the mom throughout, and the mother’s career does not suffer.
I am not advocating for a change of law, the law is great as it is as it works for the common good.
This approach also may not work for positions where one is required to be at work 8 hours a day or where one is required to be physically in the office for her to work, which is why I speak of middle / top management. My assumption is that a manager’s work is mostly giving guidance and direction, managing the team, and a couple of individual tasks which can be handled from home. The rest of the work can be delegated to the team. This would be based on negotiation with an employer, and it assumes that the employer is reasonable. In such a position, my approach to maternity leave would be as follows:
4-8 weeks of full time maternity leave for the mom to recover physically and get used to the intrigues of motherhood. Like I said in the previous post, I have absolutely no idea how long it takes to recover from childbirth and all women are different this period should be a personal decision. After that, I would negotiate for 6 months of flexi time starting with a couple of hours per week in the office (for team meetings, interviews etc), while working from home the rest of the time, finally settling to an arrangement where I am allowed to report to work late (9am) and leave early (3pm), then maybe work for a couple of hours at night to compensate.
When I got my baby, my employer graciously offered me maternity leave (the law doesn’t provide maternity leave for adoptive moms) which I turned down in favour of 3 weeks leave, and flexi time for as long as I needed it. At the time I felt my presence at work was crucial for the organization and I couldn’t afford to be away for 3 months. In the end, it has worked out great for us.
– I have spent a lot of time with my Little One (LO). I get to see her in the morning and evening on most days, which is a luxury for parents who work 8-5 and have to contend with Nairobi traffic during the commute.
– At the start when she didn’t sleep through the night, I found that I was quite productive after the 3am feed. During this period, I was able to put in an enormous amount of work, something I wouldn’t do in the office where there are interruptions (and of course I got to sleep in to recover).
– When I was offered leave, I reasoned that it wouldn’t be fair to take off for 3 months, because if I was running my business I wouldn’t need 3 months. For that reason I took just the time I felt I needed at the time. By extending that grace, my employer has been in return very gracious when I have needed time to take her to the clinic or when my helper has been away. Most bosses are human I want to believe.
– Finally, it has taught me to be disciplined. I have limited time at the office yet my work objectives have remained the same, for that reason I have had to learn to be very efficient in the work I do, and to delegate and train my colleagues to handle tasks they can.
Overall, it has worked well for all of us (baby, myself and my employer).
If you are not in a position to negotiate for a flexi-time arrangement and have to be away for the 90 days, I would offer the following tips to manage your career while away:
- Try not to take your mandated annual leave together with your maternity leave. This will give you some legitimate leave days when you go back to work, enabling you to take time off to handle baby issues, or even to just rest without over-extending your privileges with your employer.
- Don’t spend your maternity leave keeping up with the Kardashians as attractive and nicely lazy that sounds. Use that time to research on work issues that you otherwise wouldn’t have time to work on while in the office, to think up solutions to common work problems and basically to grow your knowledge in your area of expertise.
- Keep in touch with the office. If there are major meetings/launches etc happening, make a point of attending these. If you usually have weekly/monthly team meetings, request to attend the meetings so you’re not completely out of the loop.
- As much as possible, try work from home. I’m yet to meet an employer who will mind it if you offer to work while on leave.
- Finally, bear in mind that the most successful and fulfilled employees are those that treat their job as they would if the business they’re working in belonged to them.
What are your thoughts on this? Please leave a comment, let’s debate the issue.