You will have seen in previous blogs that we love to use the marathon as a metaphor for the working parenthood journey, and after the physical and emotional challenges and triumphs of the annual London event last weekend, now seems like a particularly apt time to revisit it. Welcome to the working parenthood marathon.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
Those thousands of inspirational runners we watched pounding the streets of London on Sunday put in months of physical and mental preparation to ready themselves for that ultimate endurance challenge. The marathon is tough and attempting it without having done extensive training would almost guarantee exhaustion, injury, burnout or perhaps even failure. A friend of mine once decided she would be able to ‘do’ the London Marathon without training beforehand because she went to aerobics every week and felt she was fit enough. Needless to say, after limping through 26 gruelling miles, she spent the whole of the following week in bed recovering, unable to even walk down the stairs!
The working parenthood marathon
The working parenthood journey has many parallels. It is an emotionally and physically demanding feat of endurance. Many women who have spontaneously attempted to juggle top level careers with having children without having planned and prepared themselves beforehand, have found themselves unable to cope and their careers have derailed. However, with thorough prior preparation, balancing a high level career and family life can be an achievable and enjoyable experience. You can avoid exhaustion, burnout and anxiety if you anticipate the myriad forthcoming challenges, and prepare strategies for dealing with them – BEFORE they arise.
In this blog, we are going to examine how we go about preparing to build strong foundations for a successful career and family life balance – the most important stage of the working parenthood marathon. This is a summary of ‘PREPARE’, module 2 of the Babyproof Your Career Programme and forthcoming online course:
Understand your why. Our last two blogs have looked at this issue. It is only when you have worked out your true motivations in life that you can set achievable goals. It is not enough to know WHAT you want – you need to understand WHY you want it. What really matters to you as an individual? You can only find contentment when you are being authentic and true to yourself. Working our what makes you tick is the first step to preparing sustainable strategies to support your career and family ambitions. We provide tips here for doing this through self-reflection and finding suitable role models.
Build your support network. Everyone needs the support that good relationships bring – and even more so when they become working parents. However strong and capable you are, you literally can’t ‘do it all’. You will need people on your side both at work and at home, and you need to spend time and effort cultivating this before you have children.
- Create a professional networking strategy
Internal Network: Start in your own back yard. Do people like you? Are you nice to work with? How do you treat other people at all levels of your organisation? Would they go out of their way to help you? Understand the structure of your company. Aim to connect with senior influencers and decision makers and find people who could sponsor or mentor you. Take advantage of any HR initiatives such as mentoring programmes or training sessions, and attend internal talks and events.
External Network: This can be particularly important in the face of the discriminatory practises of some organisations when mothers are marginalised or penalised on returning to work after maternity leave. If your company or manager is proving unsupportive or sabotaging your career as a working parent, having a solid network of industry professionals and clients to fall back on can prove a lifeline and provide you with alternative job options. Research the big players in your industry – rekindle old friendships that might be beneficial. Identify a good external networking group and attend an event. Consider joining if you think it looks promising. Use Linkedin. Make sure your profile is up to date and professional. Join Linkedin industry groups and contribute to (and start) discussions. Many recruitment professionals and headhunters use Linkedin so your presence on this platform is important. We’ll be sharing tips on how to cultivate and nurture good professional relationships further in next week’s blog.
- Get your partner on-side. Having a supportive relationship with your partner is hugely important for making the career/children balance work. If you share similar values about work and family and understand what each other’s hopes and ambitions are, you will be in a much better position to weather the storms of working parenthood. You will need your partner to share household and childrearing responsibilities and to support you in your career. You will need to have equality, good communication and respect for each other’s values and independence. You will need to be on the same page in terms of your ideas about parenting. The best way to achieve this is to discuss and prepare extensively. Talk to your partner well BEFORE you have children. I offer tips for having ‘the conversation’ here.
Build your career capital. When you are outstanding in your work you make yourself indispensable to your organisation or industry. If you make yourself an indispensable asset you will reduce the risks of falling victim to career discrimination or lack of confidence when you return to work after having children. The time to begin striving for excellence is before you have children, when you have the time and energy to put in the effort required. This may sound like a lot, but it is not “extra” work to do on top of your day job. If you are ambitious about your career you may already be doing some of this anyway. Or at the very least you will most likely be aware that networking, speaking up, leaning in and building your profile are what’s required if you want to get ahead. The only difference, and it’s a powerful one, is that if you’re babyproofing, this isn’t just about getting ahead so you can have a bigger salary or a fancier title. It’s an investment in your future happiness and fulfilment because its going to give you more options and better choices about where and how you work when the time comes.
- Raise your profile. Make yourself highly visible. The more visible you are, the more people in your industry will know who you are and the less likely your organisation is to discriminate against you.
Look the part – think about how you present yourself and dress to reflect the ethos of your organisation and the impression you want to create.
Perfect your personal pitch – have a clear statement about who you are and what you do and practise delivering it confidently.
Blow your own trumpet. This doesn’t mean bragging, but make sure you and your work get noticed. Take advantage of speaking opportunities – put yourself forward to give talks and presentations. Find a way to contribute written pieces to internal communications – get your name out there and seen by everyone in your organisation. Keep a record of your achievements and send a regular summary to the influencers in your workplace.
Use Social Media platforms such as Linkedin and Twitter to build your personal brand and raise your online profile. Use the platforms as a way of positioning yourself as a thought-leader in your field, promote your experience and build your reputation.
- Build trust and credibility in your organisation (credit in the bank). Make sure you have a solid track record and have earned the trust and respect of your employers. Contribute in the currency your organisation values – perhaps by making a valuable contribution to a prestigious project, making yourself very popular with important clients or by being reliable and dependable in difficult times. Your value could be rewarded at a later date when you most need the support.
- Climb the leadership ladder.
Develop habits to distinguish yourself as leadership material. Organisations want to hold on to their leaders – the rest of the workforce is replaceable. As a leader you will be able to influence the decisions that affect you.
Dress for the role you want rather than the one you have.
Talk like a leader. Don’t use qualifiers or apologise for your opinions. Be direct and to the point.
Develop a broader understanding of your organisation. What drives management decisions and what problems does it face? How can you contribute?
Get clients to love you. Understand their needs and earn their respect. You will become a major asset to your organisation if you are indispensable to their paying clients.
Learn how to delegate. Leaders don’t do everything. Be clear in your instructions and make sure you stay abreast of developments.
- Assert your unique value. What makes you stand out from your peers? Think about your life and experiences. How can you describe them in a way that makes you memorable? Do you have a special skill or talent? Find a way to distinguish yourself and promote this through your Linkedin profile.
If you begin following these strategies before the time comes to start a family, you will be in a much stronger position and your career will be more resilient to the challenges of the working parenthood marathon. Give yourself the best chance possible of making a success of the career and family balancing act. Take ownership of your career NOW and it will pay dividends for your future.
Register your interest for our forthcoming online Babyproof course.
Are you currently trying to build strong career foundations? What are your experiences? Join our Linkedin Group and contribute to the discussion.