A few months ago – just before I started back at work – I did a Q&A with the team at PR Week.
They wrote up a really nice piece as a result of our conversation, but we did cover some more ground, and I thought it might be nice if I shared the whole interview with you (warts and all). Let me know what you think..
Q: Do you think pressing pause on work for maternity leave has given you the time to reflect and possibly affect your outlook on work/life?
I really hope so. Before I took maternity leave I tended to throw myself into everything, never saying no to anything. Whilst this was clearly beneficial in my early PR career (and no doubt got me to where I am today), maternity leave has been a good time to reflect. Now I know that I don’t need to throw my hat into the ring for every piece of work or every new business pitch. Rather to work smarter I aim to be more selective on what I do and focus on quality over quantity. With a family to consider, I will have to say ‘no’ more and I honestly think that, as long as my choices are smart, this will be no bad thing.
Q: What has been the hardest part of maternity leave?
I really miss my professional self. Being a mum you turn into a bit of a nursery rhyme singing, sleep deprived, mush brained woman (well I am anyway). I miss being able to hold an uninterrupted conversation with other professionals about something that isn’t baby related.
Q: Has the transition back to work been harder/easier than you thought it would be?
Bizarrely, so much easier than I thought. I think that’s down to two things; 1) I have an understanding and reassuring boss who is also conveniently a mother and 2) because I have used my blog as a means of therapy to get me through this whole transition. My KIT days have been a real success and I have come away feeling really revved up to return. There is always a nervousness that you might have changed during maternity leave – that you can no longer can do it – but my fears were alleviated quickly and any feelings of imposter syndrome were quashed immediately when I returned to the office.
Q: What would be your advice to other women in the industry who have similar emotions/fears as you did before you took maternity leave?
Be open and talk about your fears (easier said than done for sure). We’re all too worried about looking like bad mothers if we admit to being afraid about going off on maternity leave or, worse still, missing our jobs whilst we care for baby. There really is nothing wrong with loving your career if you’re a mum – it doesn’t make you a bad mother. Quite the opposite! I believe this kind of passion should be celebrated. I recently heard an amazing quote from Annabel Crabb which really resonated with me. She said “the obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job”. Never before has such a simple quote meant quite so much.
Q: Does the industry make women feel reassured before they go on maternity leave? If not, what could they be doing differently to ensure that women feel supported throughout the process?
No I don’t think it does, however I don’t think this is just limited to our industry. I think as a whole we aren’t set up to reassure women who go off on maternity leave (even less so men who take extended paternal leave). I think we could go some way to changing this by offering career coaching specifically before, but also during and after maternity/ extended paternity/ adoption leave to help them through this transition. It’s an investment for UK plc, but the investment upfront would have a much longer term positive impact on productivity. I was lucky enough to benefit from some career coaching in the lead up to my maternity leave (something work arranged for me) and I really think it helped me enormously.
Q: What did you learn from other women (or men!) to help you through the process of maternity and returning to work?
You bracketed men here, as I’m assuming you expected me to reference a woman, but in actual fact one person I learnt from over this last year is a chap called Neil Sinclair (otherwise known as Commando Dad). The best thing about writing my blog is that I get to meet loads of new inspiring people and Neil was one of them. He helped me realise that we are all learning on the job as parents and no one is a pro. Importantly he taught me to let my guard down a little and not to worry about doing everything perfectly. I’ve always been a perfectionist, but Neil reassured me that I shouldn’t always strive for perfection. It’s unworkable. He reminded me that often good is ‘good enough’ and it’s ok to make occasional mistakes. It was very refreshing and something I hope to take back to Bottle, when I return in a few weeks’ time.
Q: At what point did you decide when you wanted to return to work, and what thought processes led to that decision?
Originally I had intended to take the whole year off. However since going back for my KIT days I toyed with the idea of returning to work earlier. Various team changes at the office left me feeling that I could really help the business if I was back. It was completely my decision, and of course the business would have been fine without me, but I took the call that if I returned early it would enhance both the business and me professionally. So after much discussion with my husband, quite a few calls with my boss (who really impressed on me to deeply consider the decision for fear of regrets later on) and a few sleepless nights, I decided I would return to my role two months early. I’ll tell you now that it was a hard call and every time we spoke about it I felt very guilty. However for me, returning early feels like the right call both for my family and my career.
Q: How has your blog helped you to shape your view about what it is to be a mum and PR professional?
Not only has the blog been very therapeutic for me, it has taught me a lot about myself. On a personal level, it has taught me how to open up, remove the façade a little. On a more professional level, it has taught me so much about digital PR. From liaising with PRs, to creating my own brand, writing about sponsored products, running Instagram competitions, to cold calling publications in order to place my copy, and even trying to decipher my analytics. I know what makes bloggers tick and also how to infuriate them because, I too, have felt it first-hand. I am excited to bring this expertise back to Bottle and share my knowledge with my colleagues. Hopefully being on this side of the fence will make me a better comms professional.
Q: Has your blog, and experience of maternity leave, led you to discover a community of like-minded women? If so, how does this community differ to the one at the workplace?
I guess the people I have met though my blog are more open about being working parents and recognise their vulnerabilities. I don’t think the same can be said at work where we tend to be quite stoic in our attitudes, never letting our guard down for fear of being judged. The Annabel Crabb comment comes to mind here again. I don’t expect to wear my heart on my sleeve when I go back to the office, however I hope this whole experience will allow me to be a little more human and open in my approach.
Q: What do you wish you had known before you left for maternity leave?
I wish I had known how much I would learn and develop during maternity leave. I was staggered at how much I have done and what skills I have picked up over the last nine months. As such, I know I go back to my job as a far more rounded individual, having learnt so much and most importantly ready to get stuck in and prove to my daughter that she too can do it all….And what a great life lesson to teach her.
To see my interview with PR Week click here …As always thanks to the guys at PR Week for the awesome write up and supporting me in something I feel strongly about. With their help I feel that we can really make a difference to the industry and champion working parents.