How I Eased Back into My Leadership Role After My Maternity Leave

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Photo Courtesy of 3M.

Photo Courtesy of 3M.

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April 15, 2024 at 9:39PM UTC

Career-minded women shouldn’t have to choose between starting a family and maintaining a successful career. Luckily, new working mother, Reilly Goodwin, hasn’t had to.

As the global sustainability customer and stakeholder engagement manager at 3M, Goodwin is dedicated to managing the execution of the company’s sustainability strategies. She’s also dedicated to being fully present for her son, which she’s been able to do because of 3M’s generous parental policies. 

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Not only does the company offer “parental leave, flexible work arrangements, good benefits and career opportunities,” according to Goodwin, but it also provides lactation rooms for working mothers and will “pay for the shipment of breast milk should you have business travel.” Needless to say, this support has allowed Goodwin to maintain a thoughtful balance between leadership and motherhood.

But just as important as starting a family of her own is the impact of her work at the manufacturing company. As a manager in sustainability, her priorities are to “develop and support strategic partnerships, lead some of our work around positioning and advocacy on sustainability issues, and serve as sustainability subject matter expert in collaborations with other teams across the company.” 

We recently spoke to Goodwin who shared the company’s sustainability commitments in more detail, its support before, during and after her leave, and some valuable advice for mothers returning to work.

Tell us about your job. What are your main priorities at work?

I lead customer and stakeholder engagement, and positioning on 3M’s sustainability team. This means I manage some of our strategic partnerships, work on employee engagement and education and develop tools and strategies for embedding our sustainability approach across the enterprise. I also lead some of our work around positioning and advocacy on sustainability issues, developing our responses to important global issues and events and serve as a subject matter expert in collaborations with other teams across the company.

What drew you to work at your current company?

I was drawn to work at 3M because of its reputation, global footprint and the company’s potential to drive sustainable change across industries. 3M is a leader in innovation and applying science in impactful ways; it has a long-standing commitment to sustainability from our  Pollution Prevention Pays program  (which began more than forty years ago) to our 2025 Sustainability Goals, and our recently introduced Strategic Sustainability Framework that focuses on three priority areas: Science for Circular, Science for Climate, and Science for Community.

How did you prepare for maternity leave and what advice can you offer to other moms who are expecting their first child?

When I was preparing to go on leave, I built a massive spreadsheet outlining every project, job responsibility and item I was working on including its status, goals, key contacts, pain points, who would be taking it over while I was out, where files were saved, etc. And here’s what I learned: when you are out, people will figure things out and the work will continue. Things will stay afloat, and while stuff may change while you’re gone, there are also many ways in which they will stay the same.  My advice as you plan for leave is to communicate with your team, support them in transitioning your work and provide as much information as you can in advance.  

My other piece of advice is when you’re on leave, truly be on leave. You and your baby have earned that time, and it may be one of the few moments in life that you and your baby will truly have time together without the pulls of a career, bosses, email, etc. Stay in touch with your team via lunches or coffee dates and visits as you are comfortable, but if it works for you, don’t allow yourself or others to expect that you’ll be following along via email etc., because as I said, you and baby have earned this time. Be present with yourself and your baby as you heal and grow together. It’ll pay off big time when the day comes to fully return to work.

How long were you on maternity leave and what was it like to return to work? 

I was on leave for 26 weeks. Returning to work felt a bit surreal. I am eternally grateful to my manager and my team who gave me the space and flexibility to return in a way that worked for me and my family. I recognize how lucky I was to have that. 

Being on leave for so long meant I had some logistical challenges with my email and work phone among a few other things, so it took some time to get that all figured out.

The first month was hard — there were a lot of tears. But it gets easier, and for me it got better the more I was able to flex the creative and strategic muscles that my job requires, the parts of my brain that had been dormant for a bit.  

What type of programs does 3M offer to new and expectant mothers? 

3M has lactation rooms and a flexible work arrangement program. They’ll also pay for the shipment of breast milk should you have business travel.

How has your morning routine changed since becoming a mom?

Gone are the days of 6am yoga and quiet, early mornings in the office. My morning now includes preparing bottles, pumping and making sure I have pump supplies to get me through the day (since I’m still breastfeeding). We feed and walk the dog, get everyone dressed, make sure there is an adequate supply of milk, purees and food options in the fridge for our son.  

We have an au pair for childcare so we don’t so much have the daycare pick-up/drop-off dynamic but my husband and I both have roles with dynamic schedules and sometimes early or late conference calls with global teams so we usually are trading off morning and bedtime duties.

When I can, I try to plan my outfits out the night before, and have my pump bag packed, but more often than not those things don’t come together as easily as one would hope so it does end up being a bit of a scramble. 

Why do you think your company is a particularly great place to be a working mom? 

3M is a great place to work because of its parental leave, remote work options, good benefits and career opportunities.   

But more importantly, for me, 3M is a place where I can work to have a positive impact on real global challenges, with the hope of creating a better future for all our children. I get to come to work everyday and think about how we can use 3M science to help improve health outcomes and air quality, address inadequate food supplies and rapid urbanization and create real solutions to the global climate crisis. It’s the company’s contributions to the greater good and the bigger picture that make 3M the place for me as a working mom.

How has your role as a new mom made you a better employee? 

Motherhood has changed my perspective and my priorities. I feel a bit more centered and grounded — things that previously may have stressed me out don’t as much because my priorities are different. That’s not saying I don’t care as much, but it means that I know at the end of the day I will have a smiling toddler greeting me at the door.  

What’s your go-to stress-relief activity or routine? 

Yoga and walking the dog. Frankly, self-care doesn’t happen as often as it should for me. But I try to take little moments here and there.  

What kinds of boundaries do you set (if any) to separate work and family time?

I keep my work phone and personal phone separate. If I have work to do after work hours, I don’t bring my computer out until after I have put my son to bed so he has my full and undivided attention for the couple of hours I get to see him each night. On the weekends, I’ll sign on if needed during his nap times. I try to work as efficiently as possible during the day (which sometimes means shortening meetings to 30-45 minutes and saying no to meetings that can be easily accomplished via email) to maximize my working hours.

What’s your #1 tip for new moms who are navigating the delicate balance of working and mothering?  

First of all, the idea of balance is a falsehood. I don’t think we will ever feel like we are totally in balance. You will always want to spend more time at home while simultaneously feeling like you do not have enough hours in the day during work.  

Secondly, be patient with yourself. It takes time to figure this out, and just when you feel like you get into a rhythm your little one will throw you for a loop, or something at work will come up. So, be patient with yourself and others.  

And three, ask for help from your networks and support system. We were not meant to do this alone, so where you can rely on others, do so. (I guess that’s more than one tip!)


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