A recent Stylist Magazine feature entitled ‘Power Maternity Leave’ looked at the growing number of women using their time out of work to further rather than stunt their personal and professional lives. What was once viewed as the best part of a year off work for breast feeding, baby bonding and daytime TV is now being used as an opportunity to not only learn to care for a little person but to realise a whole new career path and future for yourself, creating the new ‘brand you’. This doesn’t mean trying to ‘have it all’, it is just about not letting go of your own dreams in your pursuit to be the ‘perfect parent’.
The rise of the ‘Mumpreneur’
The feature struck a chord with me as it is exactly what I did six months into my second round of maternity leave when I decided to quit my job of ten years and set up in business with a former colleague. It seems I’m not the only one – the trend for ‘Mumpreneurs’ is very much on the increase. Stylist reports that, according to Barclays, 34% of new businesses are now led by women and most of those are more likely to have children than not.
I noticed a recent Facebook update from a friend announcing her upcoming maternity leave which was met with the comment from a male friend saying: “I’m going to come back as a woman so that I get loads of time off work”. Although I’m sure the comment was made in jest, it’s not an uncommon perception that women take months off work and never give their job or career a second thought until their first day back in the office with a heavy heart and sick on their shoulder! But so many women are now using this time to take a step back and really evaluate what they want from their future career and, even in an uncertain economic climate, many are deciding that ‘going it alone’ is the best option. This means that employers are missing out on the opportunity to tap into their new-found skills, expertise and ideas.
Using your ‘baby brain’
When I look at my own situation, I was happy climbing the career ladder up until having children. I was working for a global PLC where I had the comfort and security of a regular salary and benefits package. The desire to set up my own business was always there but there was always a reason not to do it – the money, the recession, the number of businesses that fail in the first year, the list goes on … and then the doubt sets in.
For me, maternity leave provided a welcome break from the ‘rat race’ and a real opportunity to think about what I really wanted from the rest of my career. It also gave me a new-found confidence and super-charged survival instinct – a real sense or ‘now or never’. Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet put it perfectly when she said: “The great thing for women is that they have these interludes in their life where they can re-evaluate what it is they want to do. Pregnancy can show you that you don’t just have to plug away at the same job forever”.
Even in today’s ‘politically correct’ society there are still many negative connotations around working women taking maternity leave. I’ve heard older generations literally scoff at the suggestion of a man taking paternity leave and many employers still see the moment you tell them you are ‘expecting’ as something that’s ultimately going to cost them. However, ‘Mumpreneurs’ say that pregnancy was a time when they felt their most creative and driven and employers should embrace this for the benefit of the business.
I look back at my maternity leave as not only a magical time to bond with my new-born but also as my saviour when it came to focusing my mind on where I wanted my career path to ultimately lead. The skills I have developed and refined as a result of being a parent – increased patience, the ability to super multi-task and the organisation skills required to get small people from A to B has undoubtedly given me the confidence to drive forward my new business and put the doubts to rest. It ultimately helped me realise my personal brand.
If employers want to keep hold of their talent, they need to find new ways of keeping women engaged during maternity leave and ensuring that their new-found personal brand can be embraced in their existing role.