I recently had the privilege of mentoring three women who took maternity leaves and re-entered the workforce in 2016 and early 2017. All three are emerging leaders in their industries (two in the for-profit and one working in non-profit); all three are in their late twenties to mid-thirties; and all three are first-time mothers.
Working with them has been an eye opening experience. I’ve learned that today’s new mothers are changing the game in all the best ways. They’re not cautiously dipping a toe back in (as I once had); they’re coming in full steam ahead.
Their self-assurance has left me wondering if maybe we are making too many assumptions when we talk about women in the workforce today. As managers and coaches, we’re supposed to be guiding them, but there are important things we should be listening to.
What do we need to know about them?
They’re ready to roll
The three women I mentored wanted to return to work and pick up right where they had left off. This does not mean they weren’t also feeling tired and sometimes overwhelmed. Rather, they seemed more equipped with the knowledge that there is light at the end of the tunnel and this piece of the journey should not overshadow their goals.
They want to prove themselves
They may be new mothers, but these women don’t want to postpone their yearly job performance appraisals or give up projects they’re spearheading to let someone else lead them during and after their leaves. They might not even want to completely and fully disconnect during leave. Whatever their preference, they see this very much as their choice.
They’re bold without apology
These strong leaders are direct and comfortable with advocating for themselves and others. They don’t take no for an answer. They work full-time and parent full time and pursue graduate degrees. And they do it all not by being over-the-top superstars, but by using a strategic approach to work life balance and planning for the time and resources they need to make it all work. And they’re not afraid to pack up and leave if they meet resistance. If they don’t feel supported, they will take their talent elsewhere. The phrase, “love them or watch them go” rings true.
Don’t Underestimate Women in the Workforce
The above commentary warrants our attention. In this competitive talent market, we need women’s contributions. And to get them, we, as employers, coaches, and managers, need to listen to what they want and need. If we have them pigeonholed as exactly the same as people we hired a decade ago, we don’t have a prayer of getting the most from them.
Listen to them, coach them, and let them own their paths back to work. Help organizations change the way we allocate benefits, review performance, and advance women in the workplace.
Ultimately we all will gain from it.