Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Return to Business after Maternity Leave

I promised that I would write this in my previous blog post about returning to business after a hiatus.  Maternity leave is different. I don't pretend to be an expert, but based on countless interviews with returning mothers (and occasionally, fathers), here are my observations.

There are a couple of essential points to remember once you go on maternity leave – and it doesn’t matter if it is three months, three years or eight or nine years. 

First, getting back to your previous job is relatively simple, provided you have stayed in contact with them.  If you are only out for a short period of time – under six months – your job will more than likely be waiting for you.  The law allows three months.  If it is slightly longer and you have stayed in touch, there should be no issue. 

Second, it is essential to keep in contact with key people from your old company and from your industry.  Staying in touch is essential.  You are far more likely to be hired by someone who knows you than someone who doesn’t.  An occasional lunch, drink or even a phone conversation, can do wonders for your career.  Some women are concerned that if they haven’t been in touch for a while, it is awkward to then get together with friends and associates.  Not so.  Believe it or not, people are flattered to hear from you.

Third, be active.  If you can do freelance work that is relevant to your professional career, you should do so.  If you do other work, keep a good list of your accomplishments, add them to your résumé and make sure that the way you list these things are relevant and connected.  For instance, if you are involved with the PTA and organize events, fund raisers or other things, these experiences are very relevant – fund raising involves selling, contacting, persuading, all of which are connected to your profession.  If, during maternity leave, you can do some freelance projects for an old firm or client, that will be immensely helpful.

Fourth, when preparing your résumé, it is literally better to list maternity leave as an item rather than leaving a gaping hole in your résumé.  Under that item you can and should list things you have done.  If you have done nothing but stay home and taking care of the kids, that is hard work and perfectly permissible.

One thing I see all the time, however, is women who I know who contact me, come to see me and then do nothing to advance their cause.  What I mean is that I ask them to make changes to their résumés and then I hear nothing back. Or I call them on Monday and don't hear from them for five days.   I can only assume that these women are dabbling and not serious about getting back to work – actions speak louder than words.

The fear of employers is that they want to be sure that you are committed to working again.  Advertising requires long hours.  You have to be prepared for that.  You must have child care and they have to be willing to stay late, if necessary.  These arrangements should be made before you begin looking – it communicates to potential employers that you are serious and prepared.

If you have been out for a while (more than three or four years), you should be prepared to start at a lower level than you had previously achieved.  This in itself is an issue because someone who is junior to you may be unwilling and threatened to have a more senior person reporting to them.  The trick will be to try to find a job where this is not an issue.

There is another aspect to returning to work.  Many mothers want to work on a limited basis, say, four days.  Agencies are not great about flex time.  Once upon a time, a recruiter I know hired someone to place women in agencies on a flex time basis.  I believe that she ended it after a year because not a single placement was made. My observation is that ad agencies will only agree to part time work if they know you and trust your work ethic.   


  1. I would add that if you don't intend to return to work, don't ask for maternity leave. We gave 12 weeks paid maternity leave to 3 different women who then decided to stay home to raise their children. They all claimed to have changed their mind once they had the baby, which I'm sure was the case. But an offer to pay the money back or work it off somehow would have been appropriate. I probably wouldn't have accepted the money or the work, but it would have been fairer that way. We not only lost the money but importantly, the time to find a replacement.

  2. Paul -- my other advice, is don't tell your employer that you are pregnant until it is perfectly obvious. The truth is that most will start giving you less to do or even writing you off as soon as you announce, based on my and friends' experiences -- so shortening the perception of how long your are out is key. I was eternally frustrated (based I am sure on experiences such as Paul mentions above) when NO ONE would believe me that I was coming back to work. Even when I told people that my husband at the time was laid off, they didn't want to believe I was coming back and just kept saying to me, "you may change your mind when the baby comes". Uh...no, I won't. (I was back 6 weeks after a C-section.) This was maddening and I feel like most women go through this or worse to be taken seriously. Your advice about staying in touch is CRITICAL. I had many who never called the whole time they were out and it was even hard to get in touch when they were getting close to their return dates.

  3. Interesting timing on your blog because I was just having a conversation about this subject. A colleague of mine's wife left our agency (about a year ago) to go to what is becoming a pretty hot creative shop. She completely blossomed (I like to kid my colleague that it is because she now has a better boss...I'm sure you can put 2+2 together on this one) and has been largely responsible for a couple of their bigger new biz wins. She was promised a promotion from CD to GCD when the agency did their next set of formal reviews and promotions. Shortly after that she found out she was pregnant. Just recently she had the review and they flat out told her that they wouldn't talk to her about the promotion until she came back from maternity leave (noting that she probably couldn't handle the additional stress). She loves advertising and had planned to only take off a month or so of work. However, this prompted her to quit. Just thought I'd share.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

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