It can happen to any of us, even the most career-minded of women. We go on maternity leave, and it’s like taking on a new, terrifyingly demanding job that we haven’t been trained for.
For months, our world becomes sleep deprivation, poo explosions, sore nipples and mindblowing love. Finally, it’s time to go back to our regular job. But now, that’s what feels unfamiliar and maybe even a bit daunting.
If this has happened to you, you’re not alone. New research has found that a whopping 66 per cent of women feel out of touch with the workforce after taking parental leave. The research was carried out by human resources group DeltaHR.
“We are not supporting women on leave,” says DeltaHR director Della Prowse. “Employers are saying, ‘Goodbye, and good luck with the baby!’ but failing to create clear pathways for how to return.
“The way technology is rapidly evolving and legislation changing, women are finding it ever more daunting navigating the process of returning to work, let alone day one back in the office.”
For their research, DeltaHR surveyed almost 500 Australian women nearing the end of their maternity leave. They found that 71 per cent hadn't taken part in any networking or training while on leave.
That's understandable. I can remember dropping in to the office to show off my baby, trying to time it so she would be asleep and look totally adorable. But I didn't consider sitting down with my boss for a formal catch-up session, or emailing her on a regular basis so I could keep up to date.
I felt like, because I was on maternity leave, my total focus should be on my baby. But maybe we're doing ourselves a disservice by thinking that way.
Another scary statistic to come out of the research is that 43 per cent of women feel they can't return to the role they had before going on leave.
“Women are unsure what their rights are and how they can negotiate work arrangements that fit with their shared responsibilities as parent and employee, with many worried about looking ‘difficult’," Prowse says. "We need to empower women to not only know what they can legally expect, but also to have the confidence to manage their needs during the negotiation process."
Among women returning to work, confidence is at its lowest among "managers of other managers", and those who've been on leave for more than two years.
We need to value ourselves more. We are good at what we do, or we wouldn't have got our job in the first place. Sure, we have new responsibilities now, but we also return to work with improved skills from being a parent: multi-tasking, time management, people skills.
Our employers need to do more to prepare us for a smooth return from maternity leave. Maybe we also need to have the confidence to do more to prepare ourselves.
How did you feel about returning to work after parental leave?