Maternity Leave – Time to See the Bigger Picture

Coaching for Maternity Leave

Recently I read a self-help book by Richard Wilkins[i], in which he makes the following sweeping statement: ‘Confidence and ability are not related’.  Think about that for a few moments; what could it mean for you?

My interpretation is that that people with great ability may not necessarily have confidence as a result of that ability, however much respect and recognition it gives them; and on the flip-side, people without any great ability may still have oodles of confidence.  So what’s this got to do with maternity leave?

Well, from our experience of delivering maternity coaching to law firms, we’ve realised that one of the biggest issues facing would-be and new mothers is … confidence.  Or lack of it. So where does all this confidence evaporate to?

Mumsnet CEO and Co-Founder Justine Roberts says: “In the UK we have the longest work hours in Europe coupled with the most expensive childcare, and we’re behind some other European countries such as Norway, who have addressed the glass ceiling issue directly through policies requiring 40% of every company’s board to be female.”  The first challenge in juggling motherhood and a career is there from the start – that of equality.

Yet, beyond this, for the new mum, we’ve come to understand that during the roller coaster of maternity, every subject that we normally coach, train, mentor and provide consultation for, becomes magnified. Time management, delegation, assertiveness, leadership, influence, conflict management – the list goes on – are all suddenly cast under a harsh spotlight. And very often, when this happens, if the employee doesn’t have the right tools and coping strategies, their confidence can be quickly eroded, and with it their self-esteem.

Understanding this helps us work closely with clients who are planning for and returning from maternity leave (and in some organisations re-connecting with work during the leave period).      With no shortage of advice available for would-be new mums, whether it’s through friends, family, support networks or the countless internet forums, we recognise the need to provide personal support for the individual, as everyone has their own set of concerns.

In all our coaching, we allow the process to be driven by the coachee – and not the coach. In addition to the matters of equality, diversity and inclusiveness, we focus on what will happen to the new mother’s career, typically delivering dedicated support in the following areas:

  • Time management and planning
  • Handing over clients and delegating to other people
  • Staying in touch with the workplace, whether this is socially, technically or politically
  • Maintaining profile within the organisation
  • Managing the void that an absence of paid work can leave
  • Review of career to date and assessment of opportunities for future development and personal growth

Returning to work brings other concerns:

  • Preparation
  • The guilt of leaving the baby
  • Clear career objectives
  • Work life balance – hours, priorities, commitments
  • Raising profile
  • Asserting oneself

Coaching, as opposed to training or advice, has enabled many professional mothers to make a really effective transition. And this is where I come back to the statement at the beginning.  It’s not the level of ability that defines success; it’s the level of preparedness.  Personal coaching can provide the tools to plan and prepare, which in turn leads to reassurance and ultimately confidence.  Setting career objectives (short, medium and long term), taking positive action and recognising that the support is there should it be needed, all help on what is undeniably a challenging journey.

Simon Bernstein, MD, Empathy

[i] The Yellow Book, 1998, Cantecia, Wilkins R.,