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Engaging the Absent

How many times have you heard of the situation where a leader has just got their team “complete”, and they are finally up and running after many set backs; they have trudged through unsuccessful applicant after unsuccessful applicant in the struggle to find the “right” fit for the team.  Finally, they  get just the “right” team dynamic and have the performance of the team starting to improve, when one of the team advises they are pregnant.

Great! Just when the team are starting to perform well and this happens!

As a manager, if you have had these thoughts, it’s ok, you are only human!  The important thing of course, is to only think these thoughts but to verbalise or express externally, “Wow, congratulations, I am delighted for you!”

Why is this important? Women come off and back on the career track all the time and it’s during this vital period where many women are lost and organisations lose key talent, knowledge and expertise.  Yes, it can be a short term set back for the team, but if dealt with in a positive well planned way, the transition back can lead to a long term win for the team and organisation.

One of the keys to gaining as much value from this situation as possible, is “engaging the absent”, e.g. the mother on parental leave.

A Director once said to me, “If I could hire all working mothers in my organisation, I would.  Putting to one side the challenges that could come with an organisation of only women, what it would create is an efficient, focused and on task workforce”. Let’s face it, when any of us have something outside of our careers, whether it’s family, sport, or a keen hobby, we are more likely to work at getting things done efficiently so we have time for both.

Some assumptions managers make, which can lead to mother’s deciding not to return to an organisation are:

Mothers don’t want to be contacted while on leave

From the hundreds of women we have surveyed, spoken to and worked with over the past three years, 90% said they wanted some form of communication or contact while on leave.  Whether it’s an email, an invitation to monthly drinks, or simply a phone call, many of them said that when they were simply “left alone”, this caused them to feel devalued.

First time mothers go through an adjustment period and it’s a new experience for them, which is why having some form of contact and support from their manager or team can add huge value.

On returning, the work environment is the same

What seems like the same environment for the team that have remained, will not be the same environment for the mother who has been on leave.  When a mother is returning to the same organisation and even the same role, in reality, things still change.  People change, policies change and structure can change, which creates a new environment, even though for the existing team, it feels like nothing has changed.

When a mother returns to an existing role, treat it like a new employee starting with the team.  Make sure her desk is set up, her email address is live and you have a morning tea to welcome her back.  Small, well planned steps will ensure a successful transition back.

Once returned, mothers want less responsibility

When a woman has a child, this does not automatically equal, “woman must give up capability in her career in order to be a mother”.  This also does not equal, “woman must forego responsibility and authority in her career now she has other responsibilities outside of work”. When a woman has a child, it can equal, “mother cannot stay late 5 nights a week or attend every 6pm meeting”.  One would ask however, is this always necessary, or simply an unnecessary expectation (on any member of staff)?

We all know that significant costs are incurred in replacing key roles, so why not work on leveraging the key talent you already have to create your “complete” team and reduce the need for new hires?

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