A Fairygodboss member recently shared on a discussion board that she thinks she's being "mommy-tracked" at work.“It's incredibly frustrating," she wrote. "I'm two months back from maternity leave and putting in the same hours as I used to but I'm getting these subtle signs that I'm not taken as seriously -- ranging from not being asked about wanting to spearhead things to the stink eye when I walk out the door (at the same time I roughly used to leave the office). What should I do??” First of all, I want to assure you that you are not imagining this. The reality is that many women come back from maternity leave and have similar experiences. You’re not being paranoid! I interviewed a woman for my book, The Politics of Promotion, who shared her story of being marginalized when she returned from maternity leave. She took a short leave in an attempt to demonstrate her ongoing commitment to her job. But she also started to notice that things were different when she returned. She was considered a high potential employee before having a baby, but upon her return she not asked to be on the same high profile assignments. Because of her concern, she went to her HR manager and asked what was happening. The HR manager told her that they assumed she didn’t want to work that hard or travel since she had a baby. No one asked. They assumed! In fact, those assumptions were false. She had made arrangements for child care and her plan was to resume her work at the same pace as before her leave.
My suggestion is have a direct conversation with your manager. Perhaps, he/she is also making assumptions about your commitment to your job, and that can come from their own bias.
An underlying bias about working mothers still exists; that working mothers should stay home and take care of their babies; that it’s too much to manage a demanding job and a new baby. I know it sounds archaic, but it’s still out there. If women cut back their hours or take advantage of extended parental leave, they are often marginalized. They are not perceived as having the same potential and they are taken off the leadership track even if they still want to reach their full potential with their company. It’s important to be strategic about your maternity leave and it starts with the initial conversation with your boss to let them know you’re pregnant. Make sure you have a plan beforehand for when you are leaving as well as how your work will be covered in your absence. You make the decision if you want to call in regularly and meet with your team. Don’t give up total control.
What’s important is communicating your ongoing commitment to your job and the company, as well as your expectation of returning to your position with that same commitment. Set the expectation that you expect to remain on a leadership track and will return to work full time in order to continue to build your career with the company.
Being a mom does not detract from the value you bring to the organization. Make sure you understand that value and communicate and demonstrate it consistently to maintain your status.
Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed, is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker focused on women's advancement in the workplace. A former corporate executive and CEO, Bonnie is the author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, and co-author of Lost Leaders in the Pipeline: Capitalizing on Women's Ambition to Offset the Future Leadership Shortage.