Selvi, an indePenn member, had her first child a couple of years ago. This is her story of getting Back to Work after a maternity Break. Though it is now only her husband, the baby and her at home, she grew up in a large, traditional joint family and is heavily influenced by the beliefs her grandmother and aunts hold – on the role of women in the family (her mother is the ‘rebel’ who worked outside the home). The moment she announced her pregnancy, she was asked when she would be leaving work. All this “careless, time-pass work business” must be set aside; the primary responsibility of women is to stay home and focus on the children.
Selvi was torn between emulating her mother and continuing to work or living by the ‘traditional wisdom’ of the other women in the family. She decided to put off the decision- after all, she had 6 months of maternity leave, and the option of another 6 months leave without pay.
She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. A few months later, Selvi met a group of friends from work. Some of them were single and others had school going children. They caught her up on all the office stuff – the status of her projects, the new projects, which customers they’d visited, the ones who had asked about her, who had moved to which new role, … A lot was going on! She returned home with her head spinning. Was she doing the right thing by staying home?
Like all new mothers, Selvi too was pulled in multiple directions. Biology pushes new mothers to stay with and care for the baby. To make the infant their sole focus. Going back to work after the birth of a baby is fraught with practical and emotional challenges. Finding trustworthy childcare, dealing with ‘mommy guilt’, pulling the mind back to things that have been left behind for a while – new mothers deal with all of these.
But their education and exposure to the world of work also makes them want to live up to their full potential.
Selvi talked to me, as her indePenn coach, about her dilemma. After many conversations over weeks, she decided that she would indeed like to return to work, but not at the same intensity as before. She listed her preferences.
On the personal side, she wanted to not travel for work for the next two years. She wanted to work from home or close to home. She wanted a role that didn’t expect 24×7 availability.
She accepted that this would mean slower progress on the career track than her peers.
Since she had worked for the sales team for over 5 years, her strength is product knowledge and customer connect. How could she use her knowledge and skills in a way that benefited the company and met her personal needs?
Selvi introspected for a couple of weeks. She asked herself, what support would she have liked when she was a sales person? What would have made her more effective? Where did she spend time that would have been better spent interacting with customers? What data would have made her prospect targeting better? What insights about a prospect would have helped her pitch just right?
She explored a function called sales support and educated herself on the latest research on what could make a sales executive achieve larger and more orders.
She narrowed her focus to the use of data analytics to support sales teams and created a proposal that she presented to the sales leaders. She was given a pilot to demonstrate her ideas. All of this while she was still on maternity leave.
By the time she went back to work when her daughter was a year old, she had been given a limited budget and a 3-member team to support the sales team for a small product portfolio. Her company also agreed that her travel would be ‘very limited’ and that she could work from home 3 days a week. Selvi tells me “I hoped for 5 days a week from home, but this is not too difficult”.
Over the past two years, she has changed the way the company uses data to find prospects and understand their expectations. The sales pitches and presentations are story-boarded by Selvi’s team and the sales team is coached on the whole package before they make the first call to the prospect or to a customer. Needless to say, she has made a big difference to the success of the sales team and her role is set to expand in scope to include more products.
What impresses me about Selvi’s journey is the initiative she showed in crafting the course of her career. Instead of waiting for the company to offer her ‘something’, she used the knowledge and experience she already had, to design a role that addressed a need that the company had. She explored an adjacent area, developed new expertise and relentlessly pitched her idea to the company leaders and won the deal.
As she was still on her maternity leave while she did this, she demonstrated strategic thinking that impressed the bosses.
Since she was not yet on the job, she had flexibility in how much time she spent on developing the proposal. As she became more knowledgeable about the subject, she became more confident that she could deliver results. She assumed that she would be successful in selling the idea and set up her home office, made arrangements for child care and support for domestic chores, so that everything was in place when she started work.
It hasn’t been easy but she says that because she was constantly working on it, she never lost her confidence in herself as a performing professional.
Last week, her grandmother held her up to her cousins, as an example of how women today can ‘have it all’. That, to Selvi, is the best compliment she will ever get.
indePenn coaches and prepares women on a career break returning to work, to present themselves as confident professionals.