Yes, we all know that becoming a mother is akin to being thrown in at the deep end at the world’s most hardcore bootcamp for multi-tasking. But how else can becoming a mother actually help you in your career? Career Expert, Kath Sloggett from Runneth London highlights three less obvious benefits of motherhood.
Any mother will probably recognize the insane amount of multi-tasking required to get through the day, or even just one meal time.
“Make 3 different meals for dinner (don’t forget some veggies!), whilst brainstorming tomorrow’s impromptu Winter-themed fancy dress outfit for oldest kid, and simultaneously confirming a baby playdate and the class parents’ night out via WhatsApp, safely amuse an overtired, hangry*, knife-crazed toddler, all while feeding a wriggling baby.” That is your basic level mum multi-tasking lesson. Then, for a bit of fun, let’s throw in a phone call from your partner, who will not only not be collecting the urgently needed milk/formula/wine on his/her way home, but he/she is going out for work drinks and won’t be back at all. Argh!!!!!
So yeah, after becoming a mother, multi-tasking at work may seems like child’s play – sitting in a neat office that someone else vacuums, where people aren’t likely to choke/fall/drown unless watched like a hawk, where you can go to the toilet unaccompanied (bliss!), and where you just – might just – finish a cuppa while it’s still warm. Ok, some colleagues do whinge, but you’ve seen toddler-grade whinging now and you know this isn’t the real deal – plus you have honed your distraction techniques so you know you can soon snap your colleague out of it. You’ve fought much harder battles in the aisles of various supermarkets, toy shops, and gift shops. Am I right?
I am not saying that work is easy or not stressful. Yes, you may have a load of difficult competing tasks, all of which require your attention RIGHT NOW, but you also know that – unlike at home – these are not life and death scenarios. Someone can wait, someone else can help, and no one will actually die if something gets delayed. We have a helpful new sense of perspective.
But how else can becoming a mother actually help in your career?
Often quoted benefits include developing patience and becoming more efficient, and I heartily agree with both of these. I have regularly employed mothers in my own businesses over the past seven years and recruited mums into roles at many other companies, and from everything I have witnessed, I truly believe that we excel at these things too.
But what else? How about something you might not have considered?
Your New Networks
If you have a child, whether you are currently working or not, you will be on the edge of new networks of people. I’m talking about the NCT parents, the nursery parents, the school parents, baby music or kids’ sports parents, the local Facebook parents’ group, and more. Hundreds, if not thousands, of new parents that you have at least one thing in common with – an understanding of this life stage.
How will this help you in your career? These people all have their own networks and extended networks that can help you. Firstly, you can let people know what role you would like next, and your networks can help you to find opportunities. Secondly, you can ask people for help with researching a topic or subject, and they may direct you to new resources or contacts. And thirdly, you can help someone in your new network and benefit from the mood and confidence boost that doing so brings to you, the giver. It’s a win-win.
Let me give you an example – a school gate mum that you only ever talk to about egg-free recipes and 7+ exams was a Magic Circle lawyer and now advises startups, her partner runs a charity, her brother runs his own business, and her best friend is a journalist. Yet, if you are like most of us mums, you probably didn’t know any of that – you possibly didn’t even know that your school gate friend was a lawyer.
We all have a tendency to focus on child-centered conversations around child activities, but our working self is still there, as a key part of our identity, even if we are not currently working. And our network still exists even if we, ourselves, are not working. I’m sorry to say that this is one thing that dads are just naturally better at, as their conversations neatly flow from football into work, and they become LinkedIn connections before the birthday candles are blown out.
So I encourage mums to talk about work. What they used to do, what they do now, what they want to do in the future. Open up about your own work self, and you will be helping people to get to know you better, and you will get to know your fellow mums better too. Like I said, it is a true win-win.
The Working Parent’s Club
Do you remember your first job, where perhaps you were one of a group of young people, all starting out together, laughing at each other’s newbie mistakes, and supporting each other through difficult times with clients or bosses? There was something unspoken and sort of magical about having your own work gang who had so much in common with you.
Well becoming a parent opens you up to join another such gang. Of course, not everyone wants to join this gang when they become a parent – some people hide their parenthood at work, preferring not to refer it at all, beyond perhaps the regulation family photo on their desk. Others may brandish their parenthood like a trophy but not actually enter into the spirit of it – “yes, I’m a high flying City mother of 6 but I leave the nannies to deal with all the weaning/potty training/disciplining”. Neither of these types of parent will welcome you opening up about your sleepless nights or your funny I-forgot-the-tooth-fairy-was-supposed-to-come-last-night stories. So don’t.
But there will be other parents out there, those who are happy to share anecdotes, to commiserate over tantrums and accidents, to laugh at your school sports day mothers’ race failure. And these people will have that sort of magical understanding that only another parent can truly have. This bond, this shared perspective, can be another way to really connect with people – to make friends out of colleagues and to level the organizational hierarchy because a parent is a parent no matter if they are the CEO or the office cleaner. Pick your allies, pick your moments, and find your new work gang.
Negotiating More Successfully
The last of our surprising upsides of motherhood for careers is on the topic of negotiating. Admittedly women still do not negotiate often enough or hard enough. We all need to negotiate more – for pay rises, for promotions, for development opportunities that will lead to better roles, for working patterns that we want (condensed hours, working at home or part-time), etc. Most women fall into the old “don’t ask, don’t get” trap.
But when we do negotiate, experts have shown that women negotiate better when we negotiate on someone else’s behalf.
For example, in research published by Emily Amanatullah of the University of Texas at Austin and Michael Morris of Columbia University, they calculated that women who were negotiating their own pay rise started with an initial counter-offer which was on average $7,000 less than if they were negotiating on someone else’s behalf. Men did not show any such difference regardless of whether they were negotiating on their own behalf or for someone else.
As a parent, we have the ultimate ‘other person’ to fight for – our child, or children, or our family.
If you can go into battle well armed with your arguments, but also with the upsides for your children in mind – for example, “this pay rise would let us move to a house with a garden for my children” – research shows that we are more likely to open the negotiation and more successful in negotiating our position.
When negotiating, you should not directly refer to your internal motivation, but instead – as informed by further research – reframe the negotiation in terms of a collective benefit and reframe your request from a personal “I’ to a communal “we”. Good luck!