Georgene Huang and Tina Pettigrew
Many of us know that networking is incredibly important to our career success.
When we’re students, networking means making the best of our relationships with professors, peers and alums. Networking can help us land a coveted internship or even our first job. Fast forward a few years, and networking becomes more critical and multi-faceted because career and life events become more complex.
The research shows that your next opportunity is more likely to come from a loose connection, so the more people you know the more likely it is that you will be on their mind when an opportunity arises, and the more likely it is that they’ll be willing to help you when you need it.
Pregnancy, in particular, is one time when women have a great deal of advice and information to share with each other. First-time mothers can find the workplace to be especially isolating. As professionals, we are often instinctively guarded about our personal lives in the office. During the early months, many women keep their news secretive but start doing research about all the changes to come in their lives. Among other things, newly pregnant women worry about morning sickness, maternity leave, future work-life balance, being judged or stigmatized (i.e. being “mommy tracked”) or losing all the momentum they’ve built in their careers, to date.
We believe better information can make this period less stressful. To that end, Fairygodboss recently launched a crowdsourced database of maternity leave policies, and provides practical data and checklists to consider while preparing for your leave (and return). New relationships also play an important role in reducing stress during this time. In fact, we believe life transitions are some of the best times to connect with other professional women. After all, networking is about finding support, and we believe that fellow working moms can be a great source of emotional help and inspiration.
We all know that networking is so important, but how do we use it to our advantage authentically in a way that yields real benefits? The important things to keep in mind are a) your network evolves over time; b) the more diverse your network, the more likely an opportunity will pop up for you; and c) doing favors for other people and connecting with them about real things (including your transition to motherhood, back to work, etc.) is how you build a strong network that lasts and evolves. Don’t be afraid to ask other women questions, share your experience and be honest. It will pay off.
We’ve heard from hundreds of working women who told us they desperately needed information and support from others during this turning point in their lives. If a woman is lucky, she will have sympathetic, trusted colleagues at work in whom she can confide. For example, if your company’s maternity or short-term disability policies are obscure or difficult to understand, other working parents will often share what they know. They may also give you “unofficial”information regarding the ability to negotiate your leave, or help you navigate a more flexible work schedule. Others may help allay concerns that you may be perceived to be a less-committed professional. The women who’ve been through your experience will understand who is the friendliest ally in Human Resources, or which departments may be better options for a transfer if your current role seems incompatible with motherhood.
Even working moms outside your company and friends can be hugely important sources of information and support. Women in the Fairygodboss community can help you understand what life is like for them at another company or industry in case you decide —like so many other women —that motherhood is a good time to make a career change. This is where Ellevate’s networking events can help, too. Networking while pregnant may not be easy, but it is certainly an ice-breaker in a conversation when you’re in a room full of other women!
You’ll find that the more you’re open to telling people about yourself and your experience, the more likely they are to open up. Simply making a connection about pregnancy, work, hobbies and everyday things actually makes building your network pretty simple—just don’t forget names (and always have your card)! Having the opportunity to network with women whom you can connect with on one level but have diverse experiences and backgrounds on other levels is priceless.
Professional networking is important at every stage of a career. However, certain life events can be a focal point for seeking out community. The connections you make with other women during pregnancy and maternity leave can be some of the most authentic and fulfilling relationships you build in your professional life.
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