I NEVER THOUGHT I’d be a working mom. My mom wasn’t a working mom and I loved that she stayed home. I wanted to be like her. (I still do.) But somewhere along the line, I found a career. And when I take something on, I don’t do it half way. So while I was “waiting” to start a family, I had a solid amount of time to build and refine something else—a skill set, a team, and, most importantly, a passion for what I do. Suddenly walking away from all of that didn’t seem like the right thing.
It wasn’t easy to go back work and I am still conflicted about it on a daily basis. Luckily, I know an amazing and talented group of women who have taken the same path as me. They work for law firms, design firms, consulting firms, hedge funds, banks, technology companies, hospitals, NGOs, and everything in between. Some work for large, established organizations and others for small start-up companies; several have started their own businesses. Suffice it to say: these women are overachievers across the board. So when it came to finding a way to “balance” being a mom and having a career, their starting point was not about compromising one for the sake of the other. Instead, it was about finding a way to make both work, and work well.
I asked them what tips they would give other working moms—not just to survive, but to thrive. A critical part of this was what advice they’d give employers about how to keep high-performing women in their workforce.
Herewith, our top 10.
Advice for working moms
1. Find a great nanny.
Without exception, all of the women I polled on this subject said that having a great nanny—or childcare solution—was a critical to their success in going back to work. This means finding someone you trust, someone who loves your child (or children), and perhaps most importantly, someone who you can easily communicate with.
2. Partner with your partner.
My husband encouraged me to go back to work. His initial support was crucial when I was on the fence. But more significantly, he has continued to demonstrate his support by making this an “us” thing. He maintains a degree of flexibility in his own job which means he can cover for me when I have an early morning conference call or when I can’t be home right at 6pm. He’s also taken on a more equal share of our “life admin”—errands, shopping, meal preparation, etc. I am not making this work, we are making this work.
3. Do what you love.
If you hate your job, it just won’t work. Being a full-time mom is a huge job; it is also hugely rewarding. That is not always the case for work in the office. If you can’t stand what you are doing and/or who you’re doing it with, then you’ll spend all day wishing you were with your child instead. So if you don’t love what you do and/or you don’t love who you work for, consider a change.
4. Set boundaries and respect them.
I leave work every day at 5pm in order to be home by 6pm. This doesn’t mean that I stop working at 5pm, but it does mean that with very few exceptions, I walk out of the office at 5 and that I am unavailable from that point until when my son goes to sleep. That time is sacred and I protect it. Set the boundaries that work for you. Explain to your colleagues why they are important. Put them in your calendar and then, most importantly: stick with them. If you don’t respect the boundaries you have set, don’t expect anyone else to respect them either.
5. Build a network of moms with kids the same age.
Before I went back to work, I joined a mothers’ group. We set-up a Facebook Group. Originally it was a way of planning our play dates without flooding each other’s inboxes, but it has become a tremendous resource—a repository for advice and information on everything from baby food recipes to non-toxic hardwood floor cleaners. This group got me through my first working mom breakdown with a laugh-out-loud funny comment thread on the trials and tribulations of pumping at work. They to be a constant resource and a support network even though I rarely (if ever) see them in person.
Advice for those who manage working moms
1. Remember that flexibility is a good thing (for everyone).
A large part of my “day job” is to advise organizations on how to enable their people to work more effectively. Enabling flexibility is critical to the strategies we develop. This advice is especially true for working moms. They may not be in the office as much as their other colleagues, but you can be sure that they are using the work time they do have very efficiently. Several of the moms I polled stressed this point above all others: they are committed to doing their jobs well. When their employers empower them to make their own decisions about when, where and how they work, they are more successful at balancing work and family.
2. Manage (and measure) performance by results.
If you manage and measure performance by “face time” you may want to reconsider your approach. Ultimately, what we all want is a high-quality output from our people. We have to get better about managing and rewarding people for their results rather than emphasizing the time they spent to get them.
3. Offer challenges.
People who feel challenged in their jobs enjoy them more. While I was on leave, my boss approached me about taking on a new role when I came back. Not only did this send a message that he wanted me back, but it also motivated me: I actually looked forward to having a new challenge. It may seem counter-intuitive, but think of maternity leave as an opportunity. Transitioning to my new role was actually easier when I came back from leave because I had already gone through the process of shifting the responsibilities of my former role to others for the time I was away.
4. Verbalize encouragement and offer appreciation.
This is an easy win. One of the best things I heard when I came back from maternity leave was “we’re so glad you’re back”. It is so simple, but it meant a lot. I am sacrificing something to be back at work. Knowing that other people appreciate my presence and my contribution makes a world of difference, especially on those days that I’d rather be at home.
5. Remember partners are part of the solution too.
Partners are critical. To that end, extending flexible work practices/policies to working dads/partners is key. And by this I don’t mean “have a paternity leave policy” (although those are good too). Instead I mean—recognize that most families today have two working parents, not one. Policies that support families, rather than just working moms, therefore benefit everyone.
I’m not sure anyone goes into this thinking: oh, wouldn’t it be nice to feel frequently conflicted; to consistently worry about missing something important (either at home or at work); to never get completely through another “to do” list again?
“Having it all” is unrealistic; something has to give. But having both a career and a family is achievable. Success requires flexibility, partnership, a sense of humor and a Facebook group.
Editor’s note: a different version of this article was originally published at Fortune.
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