One PSP member asks the Working Moms Group...
“I am due with my first child Sept 4th and have (in my opinion) a very progressive leave plan through my company at 4 months full pay. However, I find myself pretty hung up on the fact that leaving work for 4 months can lead to a natural divide between you vs. your peers eligibility for growth/promotion/raises, not to mention the ramp up time coming back to a role that's rather demanding in nature. I've researched a bit online and it's only led me to further understand how the pay inequality in this country can be found rooted in this exact issue (still feel very lucky to have it).
I would love to discuss how other women have dealt with longer leaves, created solutions for ramping up or staying in touch, not getting left behind or forgotten about, setting expectations with leadership in the company, etc.”
Take what’s offered, and don’t sweat the career repercussions. Four months is a drop in the bucket:
“As someone who has taken two mat leaves and managed countless employees on mat leave 3-4 months is not that much time and I'm not sure it impacts careers negatively, at least in my experience. When it gets much longer I'm sure there is impact.”
“Different perspective but I got 24 weeks fully paid from my old company, I took every single day of it and came back and got promoted less than a year later. I was in a very demanding role in a finance related industry at the time. When I came back it was weirdly almost like I had never left, I slipped right back to where I had been with a lot of downloading of new information of course. I came back to a full (overflowing!) plate and the next 10 months until the promotion were extremely intense but I found it didn't hold me back. I also arranged adequate coverage, left a ton of information and we worked on teams so there is always a system of backup and someone else who was assigned to step into each of my roles. Maybe I was lucky but I don't regret taking that time to fully focus on my new baby because that was time well spent and that can never be replicated. Different perspective again but if your career is some 30 or so years long in total, 4 (or 6) months is a drop in the bucket. I'd argue that when women step out of the workforce entirely for a period of time after having a baby or reduce to a part time schedule is when you see the real impacts on earning potential. It was actually something I was counseled about by a more senior woman in my firm - she said that realistically, the length of the parental leave is so short in comparison to your total career, think long term and enjoy that time, if you are driven, you won't get left behind. I also think that attitude helps. I had the attitude that - this is my job, I am going to do this totally normal thing of have a baby and take leave, here's what's going to happen when I'm gone and then I came back and was like now I'm back, here we go. Further, when I returned I worked a strict 8:30-4:30 in the office so I could leave and pick up my kid and ran a 6 month block on my calendar twice a day to pump. I worked a TON of hours at night and on the weekends at home to get the work done but that was the understanding - I had limited facetime hours and then said I was available and able to do my (well more than 40 hour a week) job partly remote and then I proved it out by my actions.”
“I also had 4 months full pay and I took it all, along with 10 days unpaid to do a gradual return at 4 days a week for a few months. I don’t regret it and I don’t feel like it had any affect on my role when I returned- the economy and shifts in my company made the environment different, but me being on leave had no effect. I made sure to have conversations with my managers one level up as well as a level up from them to reiterate my ambitions and make sure I was considered if anything came up. I also made sure to touch base once every month or two while I was out.
Men at my company also get 4 months paid and are encouraged to take it, so that’s at least a start in the right direction for pay equality etc. We still have a far way to go, but at least it’s moving in the right direction.”
“I ended up going out on leave for almost 7 months — my company offered 6 months on full pay and I left three weeks before then because my pregnancy was high-risk and my doctor recommended going on disability. Before I left I thought ‘how will I ever disconnect’ but that was a Friday and by Monday I did not care about my email anymore.”
“I agree with a lot of what has been said. I'll add that it has to do with timing too. Our performance reviews / promotion decisions go from March to August, and both my leaves have been around February and March starts for 4 months each. That was inconvenient in the sense that performance discussions happened with me on leave but perfect since both times I had a discussion with my manager about what I expected for the following year promotion-wise and had a ‘full year’ of performance to back me up. We had this discussion right before I left and performance discussions for me and my team was the only thing I allowed to interrupt my leave. Got promoted right after coming back first time and am in consideration for another.
As to how to come back, I actually kept on reading the industry newsletters (it was nice to remember a world pre-baby!) and the random email that came my way, but as others mentioned 4 months is really not that long. I went back into meetings where things I had started were still being discussed. I needed to catch up but really... the details weren't that important and I had a good sense of the big picture.
I also read a book called The Fifth Trimester and it has some good advice there on how to manage up down and sideways.”
“I want to agree with all of those who have said that you do not need to worry about falling behind due to a 4 month maternity leave. The pay equity and loss of promotion and getting off track is much more of an issue if you step out altogether or go part time. I took 5 months plus three weeks of disability before I delivered. I got a promotion while I was on leave that I had been pushing for before I went out, and in the four years since received an additional raise and more recently a very significant promotion.”
“I took 9 months off and even that went by in a flash and absolutely nothing changed when I was gone. I was very engaged when I went back, had much more focus and better perspective, and had bonded extremely well with my daughter in the interim, so had zero regrets.
I’m now more highly paid, more senior and more happy than before. So I don’t agree that 3-4mo maternity leave is a game changer at all. In fact I think it’s absolutely essential that this sort of time be taken; in other parts of the world it’s a year and promotions happen to those people as well. If you’re a solid professional at what you do, you may find that even a year off makes zero difference. Don’t be afraid to take your full maternity leave, email switched off, and be completely present as a new mother. You won’t ever get that time again and you won’t regret it.”
“I've been a careerist well...since I started working. Early promotions, over achieving, etc. etc. I was up for a promotion to director when I got pregnant and was so worried I wouldn't get it, and especially when the promotion evaluation timing shifted to be during my maternity leave. I made countless offboarding plans, planned to hire a backfill, etc. (My leave was 6 months and I took. every. drop.) Here's what happened. I delivered at 32 weeks, unexpectedly, and had to text several colleagues to say basically "i'm in labor, nothing is going to be delivered today that you were counting on!" After that, my daughter was in NICU for six weeks, and I spoke to work exactly twice in that time - once because my boss called me to check I was alright, and two because I had to talk to IT so I could access my work laptop to fill in some mat leave paperwork. After that, I spoke with my boss and my mentor about two times in the space of six months, about 2 months and 1 month before I went back. Before I'd left, I'd been discussing my career path and plan with both - so they knew where I wanted to go and since they'd worked with me had seen performance first hand. Each time I chatted with them during leave, I listened patiently to work updates (which i no longer cared about), and continued to highlight where I wanted to be in the company (and why that would be good for the company). I was promoted to Director while on mat leave and given a raise, and came back after six months and did a department transfer (that had been the goal a while) and got another raise, within a week. Also in the last conversation I had with my boss and mentor before I went back, I said I wanted to work remotely a lot of the time so I could spend my commute with my daughter, and they agreed (this was pre corona :)). Since then, I have been recruited by my boss (from when I went on maternity leave) into a new role, that is more flexible, but cooler, with more learning potential, and higher powered.
I share all of this to say...I do believe that those articles are right -- societally there is a systemic issue, and the maternity leave, working mother thing definitely contributes broadly to the issue. But don't forget who you are in this. Individual stories (as you can see by all the posters above) can be really great. I've had an overwhelmingly positive experience - much of, yes, because I advocated for myself at every stage - but it's more than possible and I didn't need to worry as much as I did.
Best of luck. You won't need it. you got this :)”
“I think I'll echo much of what has been said here about not worrying too much about a 4 month maternity leave. You'll be surprised how little time that actually is in your work life.
I've taken 3 maternity leaves in my career of 3.5, 3 and 4 months. My first was at a large law firm, the other 2 in city government None of them has affected my career prospects. However, after my first leave, I chose to go back part time and I think that affected my career at the firm significantly. I was given much less substantive work and pretty much sidelined - this was the experience of most of my colleagues who went part time after having a child. I left that job about a year after my daughter was born. To be fair, this was over 16 years ago so things may have changed. With my subsequent 2 leaves, I returned to work fairly seamlessly and within a few months it felt like I hadn't been gone at all. It did not affect my quality of work or promotions at all even though I took leave a year after starting my current job. I was subsequently promoted a few times. My most recent leave was 2.5 years ago. I am now the head of my department and was a little nervous about taking 4 months off in that position - something I'm not sure anyone had done before - but no one even blinked.”
Set clear expectations with your manager, and make sure your role has adequate coverage while you’re out:
“I counsel my friends to prepare very intensely for coverage during the leave, set the terms and expectations you want and then peace out and enjoy your baby. Then come back, again, set the terms you need to succeed and whatever they are, you prove you are up to the terms.”
“Before I left I made a clear plan with my manager about when and if I’d be contacted, and when we would check in — I think we did a three-month call and then checked in once a month before my return.
This was helpful, but it did not prevent my company from giving me an entirely new (lateral) job when I returned, which did not thrill me. However, it did not affect my place in the queue for raises etc, which was company policy — I actually got a small pay bump while on leave, and I know colleagues have been promoted while they’re out. Perhaps it’s worth establishing what the policy is for that before you go?
And if I go on leave again, I will ensure that I have a maternity cover in place so that it’s less easy for them to see my role as re-organizable, so if possible I would push to get them to hire a contractor while you’re out.”
“Doing substantial planning for my leave, and hiring a contractor to fill in while I was out, were key in allowing me to truly disconnect, and keep my work stable without overburdening my team. Once I was further into my leave, and bored from constantly walking with a newborn who would only sleep in motion, I called my boss to check in, and talk through a thing or two, but on my time and interest level.
I was very anxious when I came back that people would think I was less committed for working a non-negotiable 9-5, or that I’d be left out of those important informal debriefs with my boss when she finished her meetings at 5:30 or 6, but it turns out I was more efficient than before because I had to be, and my boss and I figured out how to make my schedule work so I didn’t miss things. And while the contractor we hired was great, and he kept things going, having someone else try to do my job had just highlighted my value to my organization.”
“Before leaving, I helped hire an intern to support my team in my absence who I was later able to hire full time as a junior member of the team. I also proactively found teammates to temporarily take over my tasks, and in some cases my boss and I decided that some things were no longer truly needed. I then left development ideas for my next two seasons (I’m a fashion designer) for the team to use. I ended up receiving a large raise while on leave, and as I had a December baby and policy changed in January, I was generously included in the paid leave for the next year (I was planning on 10 paid weeks and got 12).
After I came back, I worked from home for the first 6 Fridays while my spouse took his 6 weeks paid leave. It was nice to ease in, and eventually I extended and took Fridays off for the rest of the year. I would say it did slow my promotion track a bit, but after being back full time for 6+ months, my boss said I should be expecting a promotion after this review round. Overall, I don’t regret a thing and I am immensely grateful to my company and myself for advocating extra time with my little one.
That all being said, I was at my company almost 4 years before maternity leave, so my boss and I already had a lot of trust built up. I have a senior position at my company. And lastly, much of leadership are around the same age as me and just had children of their own (men & women)- so for me it was more like I joined them in the parent club, as opposed to doing something divergent.”
Depending on your field, be aware that it might take a bit of time to get your workload back up to normal when you return:
“I took 6 months with my first and am considering whether I should come back sooner but part-time. I'm a corporate attorney, so we measure work in billable hours, and I would say it took another 6 months after I returned to get my hours back to ‘normal’ level again. It was just hard to get staffed on projects, even after constantly reminding partners that I had returned and was available to work. I'm also in a very male dominated field, and it doesn't really help that even though my firm offers 6 weeks paid leave to partners, many of the men "voluntarily" take less than that (e.g., a male associate took 1 week after his wife gave birth and then he was promoted to partner shortly thereafter -- what message does this send?!). That being said, I am glad that I took 6 months off to be with my son, and given the lack of sleep at the beginning, I'm not sure how fully functional I would have been had I returned much earlier!”
Remember you can always shorten your leave depending on how things go:
“Another consideration is that as babies get older it's easier to go back to work with your A-game on. By 4 months babies are sleeping more. By 6 months they are on solids so you don't have to pump so much and sleeping even more (though still not nearly enough). Some women return with their A-game at 6 weeks, for some (ahem me) it takes longer. When you go back early, the babies are fine. It's the moms who are miserable.
You might consider erring on the side of a longer maternity leave you can always shorten leave if you want to.”
“Here is what I did with child 1. I put in for the 4 months. But I felt ready at 3.5. So I went back a couple of weeks early and it was all good.”
Or establish some ways to remain connected while you’re out:
“I am currently about 4 months into a 6 month leave, and I was also very nervous about how being out would impact my career (especially given how 2020 has gone with additional months lost of face time, and I even was assigned two weeks of grand jury duty at the beginning of the year!). To prepare, I left an extremely detailed handover document, which I felt also made clear how much work I put in daily, and the value I bring to the organization. I also met with my boss in person (pre-Covid) to review my coverage plans and to also discuss my career trajectory upon my return (I have worked for the same boss for 6 years, so this was certainly easier but not easy).
I love my job, and to be honest it feels a lot easier (because I know what I'm doing) than being a new mom, so it has also been nice for me to take some ‘breaks’ from parenting by keeping in touch with work- I have had a few catch up calls with my boss, and one of my direct reports, I have allowed people to text or call for advice on something every now and then, and when there have been major organizational announcements I would miss, I have some trusted colleagues who I asked to keep me updated (and with everything remote it's easy for me to zoom into org-wide presentations when I want to!). I also actually also took part in my team retreat since it was remote anyway, and I am fortunate that it was light enough that I was able to have the baby with me/my husband working from home to help out.
Also, my organization offers 6 months leave to all employees, so it does put me on a level playing field with male colleagues (my direct peer, a man, is coincidentally taking his full 6 months of leave basically directly following mine which helps!).
I will admit I am still nervous about the curve of returning, with the pandemic still going on, and childcare uncertain, but I have enjoyed staying in touch in some appropriate ways.”
Final words of wisdom:
“Bottom line, take your time with your baby without worrying about staying relevant at work. Those four months are precious time for your physical and emotional recovery from childbirth, adjustment to a new phase of life, and getting to know a brand new tiny human.”
Further reading on Park Slope Parents:
More Parental Leave articles
More articles on Working Mother Topics