Babies and business: Savvy working mothers can handle both well

Dear Joan:
I would value your opinion on the topic of mixing the following two careers: professional person (management level) and motherhood. I am establishing a good, solid place for myself in business but since that proverbial biological clock ticks away, my husband and I want to plan a family soon.

What does one tell her employer? Is motherhood still viewed so negatively? Is it acceptable to request three to six months off after the child is born? It might be a thought to work part-time for a while afterward - how do employers react to that? Can I reasonably expect any flexibility (on a general level; I know you can't speak for the firm I work with!) Or do employers regard pregnancy as "downtime" or "lost production," thereby nullifying any hopes of retaining a career?

Help! After working this hard to get where I am, I don't want to jeopardize the professional life but, on the other hand, I'd like to begin a "new challenge," with a family.

Motherhood is alive and well in corporate America. In fact, so many mothers are in the professional work force today, you may be surprised by your company's lack of reaction to a pregnancy. However, much depends upon how you handle your new role.

When considering babies and the bottom line, your company will look at your performance. You are "establishing a good, solid place for yourself in business." That's an excellent position to be in. Because you have a strong performance history, your employer will use that as a gauge to project how you'll perform after the baby's birth. Live up to their expectations.

Examine the careers of other working mothers in your company. How have they mixed babies and business? How has top management responded? How much time have they taken off after delivery? Who replaced them while they were gone? What happened to their careers when they returned?

Consider the answers to these questions when preparing for the future. When you tell your employer, anticipate his reactions and discuss any concerns. Reaffirm your commitment to continue your career. Be prepared with a plan to train your replacement and to take all necessary actions to maintain productivity while you're gone. Then back it up with actions.

During your pregnancy, it's imperative that you continue to take your job very seriously. Discussing booties in the boardroom won't do. Dress in professional, tailored maternity clothes. Be ready to politely answer questions (even some of the impolite ones) about your future career plans. Maintain your professional demeanor at all times.

Talk to your boss frankly about how much time you want to take off. Many companies allow three months off - some firms will allow even more.

Companies are changing their attitude about working mothers who return to work. However, your firm may want a full-time professional. A part-time worker may not be viewed as being "serious" about her career. It depends on the company. You may have more luck requesting flexible hours on a full-time basis.

Interestingly enough, many career women who return to work are surprised by a phenomenon that's been labeled "postpartum ambition."

A recent article in the January issue of Working Woman magazine, by Karen Ray, points to several reasons for this burst of productivity. Career mothers Ray interviewed point to a desire to prove to themselves that "becoming a mother doesn't rot the brain." They also are forced to sharpen their ability to prioritize, organize, delegate, take risks and put things in proper perspective.

In addition, they want to earn enough money for things like adequate day care and diaper services. Finally, these mothers want their children to be proud of their accomplishments. They want to be strong role models for their children.

Hardly a negative picture for companies smart enough to be flexible and supportive.

Balancing a career and motherhood isn't easy. If you're willing to work hard at both - yet abandon the Superwoman myth - your baby and your career will probably thrive. If both your spouse and your company support you, they may be surprised and what you're capable of. The choice is yours.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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