As a working parent, Nicki is well placed to understand the challenges of combining a career and parenting. Here she shares the inspiration for mentoring new parents;
As a senior manager, I observed increasing numbers of friends and colleagues taking maternity leave and returning to work. Typically they were in their early thirties, making a substantive contribution to their organisation and, by virtue of their age, more likely to be in mid to senior level roles. They had achieved much, with more still to do. No one saw parenting as anything other than a temporary break before resuming work and career.
In practice of course the experience was very different. Over an extended period of leave, things at work had changed and critically so had they. Becoming a parent was (and is) life changing; with questions of identity, new challenges, adjustments and choices that once appeared so straightforward, now much more complex.
Some reported positive returns and were more than ready to come back, managing the balance of work and parenting with alacrity. Others found leaving their baby and the repeated metamorphosis from mother to professional-self overwhelming and stressful. Stories of return were frequently expressed in terms of luck; ‘I had a lucky return’ or ‘I was lucky to be offered x days a week’, or ‘I was lucky to have x as my Line Manager’.
Too often, managing maternity - beyond procedural briefings relating to pay and statutory leave - seemed to be a matter for self-help. Yet these were talented individuals returning with a brand new set of skills, focused energy and much needed experience. Intuitively I believed mentoring by parents and employees from within organisations themselves could form part of a more strategic approach to managing returns.