I remember driving out to get some lunch one afternoon with a close colleague when she excitedly announced that she was expecting another little one. I was thrilled for her, we hugged and gossiped about all things pregnancy until we got to the subject of how she would break the news to the boss. Our boss was a female full time working mother with young children of her own but with strong views about bringing our personal lives and 'problems' into work. The company we worked for echoed this culture. As she already had small children, and been 'commented on' when she had to take time off for 'mum' duties, I knew that this would not be easy for her. When she did break the news all the right things were said but by the very culture of the organisation we both knew that this wasn't genuine and the reality was that she would probably be over looked for any opportunities to further her career or develop.
Being younger and early-ish in my career I didn't really have anything else to compare this experience to, so I assumed that this is how it would be in any company! Looking back I can't help but ask myself how much of an impact this had on how long I left it to settle down and start a family of my own. Did I delay becoming a mum until I felt valuable enough in my career? I would be lying if I said I didn't.
Luckily, I now work for an organisation that sees things differently and actively promotes a sense of wellbeing amongst all employees. It's not just about the fruit in the office and running clubs that many businesses now adopt. It's beyond that, it's an environment where you don't have to sneak away to attend a sports day or an NCT class and it's refreshing to see that school pickups are in the diaries of even our directors. I now work for a business that understands the need for people to be fulfilled in both work and family in order to be at their best.
My role as HR Engagement Manager means that I am fortunate enough to be able to influence and be part of the wellbeing initiatives and also see first-hand the impact that this has on employees. The wellbeing work at Twinings UK&I started five years ago and now forms part of the overall strategy.
So what does this mean for mums in the workplace? Our engagement results tell us overall engagement for parents with younger children has increased over the last five years with them describing it as an overall 'great place to work' from 80% (2011) to 100% (2015) and specifically around feeling that they are given the opportunity to develop professionally which increased from 60% (2011) to 87% (2015).
What's made the shift? Well when I look around I can witness the various opportunities that mums to be and new mums are provided with. Things like maternity coaching to help with the transition in and out of work, making sure that before they go off on maternity the have the opportunity to have a valuable conversation about their aspirations, what the future could look like and closing off any development actions. Most importantly that it is made clear that if their aspirations or view on the world changes, then guess what... that's ok!
Then once the time comes and baby has arrived, new mum has the choice of being as involved or updated as she would like 'zilcho correspondence for nine months or weekly updates if you wanted it' is how one of the ladies described it to me. Things like this with the added benefit of 20 weeks full pay (with no tie ins) whilst off on mat is what helps provide that security to ladies.
Then it's the transition back into work, the 're-induction into the business' is important as is the enormous amount of flexibility around working hours and office vs home working. Speaking to a colleague who has recently returned from leave she was thrilled that the business shaped her role collaboratively so it met her needs as well adding value to the business. For another, she appreciates that her manager shows interest in her 'motherhood' and checks on work life balance at every 1:1.
So now, I look forward to the birth of my first child feeling safe in the knowledge that the business I work in will allow me to continue to fulfil my aspirations at work as well be a hands on mummy. For me there seems to be one fundamental thing that makes me feel that way and it comes down to trust.
My first trimester wasn't easy so pretending to be fine at work was really hard. I had the trust to be able to confide in my line manager and was met with support and comfort. As I progress through my pregnancy I have already had conversations about my short term development. It's great to be surrounded by working parents who are happy to share their experiences. I trust this business will support me to be a hands on mum and give me the flexibility that I require, before and after my leave (especially as I don't have family nearby). I trust that whilst I am off I will still feel part of the business (as much or little as I want to be) and I trust that when I am ready to return, it will be done with care and consideration and that there will be a role waiting for me which will provide me with the space to be brilliant.
All I need to do now is concentrate on bugaboos, names that my husband and I both find acceptable and our near future of routine and chaos. We are able to look forward to starting our own family with no concerns in the back of our mind (apart from the sleep deprivation).
Raj will be speaking at the Wellbeing at Work event on 15 October, 2015