There are various laws protecting mums from discrimination at work, including upon their return from parental leave. But the law says very little about what employers should do to transition parents back into their job.
As a 2014 report conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission found, more than one in three women experienced discrimination on their return from parental leave.
I have heard countless stories of mums who have been ostracised, curtailed in their ability to do their job or left unsupported by their colleagues and managers.
Many end up leaving or being made redundant. These women have been senior executives, lawyers and managers with promising careers prior to having a baby.
Without devolving responsibility from employers, there are steps that you can take to ease your return to work. Here are my top five tips.
In the words of Sheryl Sandberg, lean in, not out. If you have pregnancy related health issues, speak to your doctor and manager about what adjustments you may require. But don’t “check out” till you actually walk out. Kick as many goals as you can and make your achievements known, to your boss and the team.
Don’t assume you can’t ask for a pay rise whilst pregnant. If you wait until you return you are likely to have only a limited period back in the workplace. Get on the front foot and negotiate while your achievements are still fresh in your manager’s mind.
2. Keep in touch
Although there is no obligation, you might consider keeping in touch with your workplace while on leave. It doesn’t have to be onerous, or involve working. Go in and show off the baby – it’s great for team bonding! Your presence can serve as a powerful visual reminder that you’re coming back and keep you up to date with any major workplace change, such as a restructure or change in strategic direction of the business.
3. Talk to your manager
Have discussions with your manager at the start of your return. Did they backfill your role? How is the handover going to work? Will you be job sharing? What goals and measurable targets will they impose? How are you performing against those targets?
Tell your manager what you want, whether it be that you just want to focus on your core duties, be promoted in 12 months’ time and/or be considered for large projects and travel opportunities.
Have a conversation, set realistic steps and expectations and arrange regular meetings for feedback.
4. Organise a support network
Everyone will have different levels of support. A supportive and hands on partner can be crucial. Share the daycare pickups and drop offs, this includes allowing at least one night a week that you can stay back to get on top of things. Be prepared for daycare illnesses.
Share the sick days between you, your partner, family and even friends.
And while not everyone will be able to afford a nanny or a cleaner, go through your family budget and consider what you can outsource to make your life easier.
Get yourself a mentor. If there is no formal mentor program at work, seek out other [parents] and tap into their knowledge and experience. You’ll know you’re not alone and can learn invaluable tips!
5. Be kind to yourself
Give yourself time to adjust to the “juggle” and back yourself.
As a [parent] you will bring a whole new range of skills to your role: time management, efficiency and prioritisation.
You will have good days and bad days. Some days you will wonder why you are even bothering.
Other days you will kick goals at work and your baby will achieve a significant milestone that you get to witness. Embrace those days and remember that things will and do get easier!
Emma Starkey is a senior associate in the employment law section at Maurice Blackburn, and a mother. She returned to work in February 2016 after nine months of parental leave.
This article was originally published on Women’s Agenda.