Hi, I’m Carolina — and since 2012, I’ve had the pleasure of living the #agencylife in Vancouver. The variety, excitement, talent, and people this environment attracts are hard to beat. And all these factors constantly inspire me and help me enjoy the career path I chose.
So imagine my anxiety when I got pregnant (a joyous occasion) and read that the statistics show a 10% drop in female representation across marketing, media and tech companies in 2021.
Undoubtedly, the pandemic played a part in parental burnout, particularly for mothers. However, even before the pandemic, client and agency demands could make it hard to deliver quality work without compromising your personal life, mental health, and new role as a parent. Industry wages and mandatory time in-office also easily explain why so many new mothers go freelance or client-side when it’s time to return to the workforce.
All of the above reasons for leaving the industry make sense. But, after talking to some mothers in my field, there was another factor I didn’t anticipate – the need for change. When you embark on this new life journey, you experience many changes at home, in your relationships, with yourself, and with your priorities. As it has been described to me by others, returning to the same job with the same tasks can feel like a step backward. Suddenly, your job can feel like a part of your old life that doesn’t fit within your new one.
For those (such as myself) who enjoy the agency world, this poses a problem. Luckily, the industry has recognized its part in this mass exodus.
With the talent pool growing, more agencies are moving towards more flexible scheduling and hybrid office environments. I know this is nothing I have to worry about at Major Tom since we’re fully set up for remote work and our core operating hours (10am - 4pm) model keeps things flexible and makes an early or a late start or finish easy. Other companies have also gone as far as re-evaluating their benefits packages and pay gaps to remain competitive.
While these updates move us in the right direction, change can be slow. What’s more, they don’t necessarily address the need for personal change that other mothers expressed.
Luckily, we have the power to take some control of the situation. So, as I prepare for my maternity leave, here are some steps I’ve taken to reassure myself, set expectations, and prepare my team for the transition. If you’re anything like me, this can help ensure you have something exciting and challenging waiting for you upon your return:
In the past, it’s been easy to assume that if you do good work, a promotion will follow.
This scenario happens for some, but whether it follows your intended path is another story. For your career to follow the trajectory you want, you need to communicate. Sometimes you have to be very direct so that nothing gets lost in translation.
I’m lucky to have a fantastic Creative Director that challenged me (before my pregnancy announcement) to document my Career Plan for us to review together. This plan included the job titles I wanted, the job descriptions and responsibilities at each level, requirements for me to accomplish, a desired timeline, and any assistance that I anticipated needing from our leadership.
Of course, my pregnancy meant adjusting some start dates and deadlines, but I can rest easy knowing there is alignment with my director and that I have a roadmap for when I return.
Did you know that, technically, you don’t need to declare your maternity leave until a month before your last day? While this is true, I would highly recommend having a meeting with your HR and Accounting teams as early as you’re comfortable sharing your amazing news.
I like to think I’m a smart person, but there’s A LOT of information to take in when you’re pregnant. I’d be lying if I claimed to understand the complex nature of the Canada Revenue Agency or corporate insurance policies — and even if you’re fluent in legal boilerplate, it’s hard to know whether you’ve covered everything.
Thanks to Major Tom’s HR and Accounting departments, I felt supported and informed about our top-up policy (90% of your salary up to 6 weeks), plus the next steps I should take to ensure my record of employment was ready to apply for EI on my last day. On top of that, these teams can give you information about your company’s group benefits (and adding your new dependent), help you build a budget, and maybe even work to find the right daycare before your return.
Whatever you need, HR and Accounting offer a wealth of resources once you’ve looped them in.
In our industry, we are never done learning.
This tip pairs perfectly with the career plan because, in the busy periods of our day-to-day workload, we can put a lot of learning opportunities on the back burner. As work slowly transitions off your plate, you may have more time on your hands than you anticipated. Take advantage of this space to dive into a MasterClass, peruse LinkedIn Learning, or take a course offered at a post-secondary institution.
If you take a paid learning option, investigate what your company’s education budget can help you supplement. For instance, in the time leading up to my maternity leave, I’ve been able to take two BCIT courses and a brand MasterClass course — all with support from Major Tom.
Since I was upfront with the skills I wanted to improve as part of my career plan, Major Tom was happy to make that investment in me. They’ll benefit upon my return, and I can prioritize my other expenses.
I can’t take all the credit for this tip, since it was passed along to me by a colleague who’d gone on maternity leave. Still, everyone I’ve shared it with thinks it’s a smart move, especially for managing client expectations.
Naturally, your clients will want access to you until your very last day, but your team deserves the bulk of your attention to prepare transition plans.
So, I’ve given my team my final maternity leave date — and I’ve provided a different date for my clients. The client date is at least one week before my real date. This ensures I have uninterrupted time to wrap up my internal projects, so everyone (including my clients) is set up for success. This can help keep you from scrambling right before you leave.
Mental health has become more of a focus for organizations, particularly after the pandemic. Prior to this, many workers (especially mothers) may have found it difficult to ask for more compassion, leniency, and flexibility, whatever their work environment.
Being pregnant, there have been times throughout the past seven months when I have felt tired, distracted, or anxious about my next chapter. Sometimes it’s hard to feel like I’m performing at my best, and there have also been times I felt sidelined. Emotions and thoughts can run wild when you have a good imagination.
However, it’s important to consider no one understands this life-changing shift unless they’ve gone through it themselves. Like any relationship, it’s helpful to be upfront with your managers to let them know what you’re going through. Maybe even share the reasons behind certain decisions or transition plans.
A quick conversation can clear up so many imagined scenarios and alleviate anxiety.
Don’t ever forget that you are growing a human being! That takes a tremendous amount of energy, and while you may hear stories of nausea, brain fog, grasping for words, and nesting, everyone’s experience is different. The impact on your work is hard to predict.
In this field of work, chances are you are used to quick turnaround times, and back-to-back meetings. You’re probably highly detailed, have a good memory, and are used to performing at a high level — and often. So while this mantra is by no means an excuse, it’s a reminder from colleagues, friends, and family that has helped me personally when I started to feel a slowdown in my body and mind.
Trust that it’s natural, temporary and that you are doing the best that you can.
New mothers certainly aren’t alone in some of these struggles. Balancing your family plans and milestones with your career ambitions can be a challenge for anyone at any stage of their life.
I am surely no expert at the start of motherhood, but I do know what I want and what I enjoy doing today. That alone is motivation enough to create a plan to help the future I want come to fruition. I can’t predict if my ambitions and goals will stay the same 9 months from now. But as marketers and advertisers, we’re used to reassessing, pivoting, and testing. The results might be surprising — but just as often, they’re spectacular.
Why should this be any different?
Good things come in small packages.
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