I was having a casual chat with a colleague the other day on the much discussed (yet nevertheless thought-provoking ) topic of the under representation of females across some levels of big corporates and what the unseen barriers may be. (Disclaimer: This was in general and not specific to a company).
We talked about the usual suspects:
1. Part-time opportunities not always explored for mothers returning to workforce.
2. Young females commonly associated with starting families.
3. Men in management creating social circles that is difficult for women to infiltrate.
He then raised a point which I had not considered before . He said:
Most of the time people do not recognise the skill sets and experience that mothers bring into their professional roles
When I decided to take two intermittent years off to spend time with my babies, I have always regarded that as somewhat of a temporary career sacrifice. I accepted that because of my decision, I would return to the workforce professionally “behind” colleagues who used to be in comparable levels. Not for once have I thought that perhaps, what I lacked in actual years of professional experience may be compensated by other types of experience that I gained in motherhood which would still be valued in a work environment.
So I pondered. Could this be true? And here is my conclusion.
I agree. Here are a couple of skill sets that I believe I have either acquired or improved on since motherhood.
Firstly, the ability to prioritise. Whilst this skill has always been incorporated in my work, I noticed a marked improvement in how I execute it. The thing is, with only three days a week in the office, plus a strict start and home time, this is one skill that I (and millions of other mothers) had no choice but to improve on. The more time-poor I become, the better I get at prioritising critical and important tasks and either delaying or eliminating ones which I deem low impact, not required or can be delegated.
Secondly, assertiveness. I have always seen myself as a compromiser, very flexible to accommodate people and situations (which can be a plus when trying to advance one’s career). However, since becoming a mother, I find it more of a necessity that I start drawing boundaries and non-compromisable positions for the sake of my children, from things like safety, napping routines, diets, to others like making sure I can leave work in time to pick them up. All these require discipline and daily negotiations with people in your social web – husband, extended families, work, others involved (e.g. clinic, daycare) and the kids themselves(!). Whilst some may see these boundaries possibly detrimental to work, I see it as a plus. My ability to communicate my needs in a clear, concise, actionable manner translates into my ability at work to communicate my thoughts and positions in the same manner. And also, in the long-run, it keeps things sustainable.
So to me, yes, I believe being a mother and its circumstances has made me a more efficient worker. If I think long enough, I am sure there are others that will spring to mind, but for now, because I need to keep an eye on two monkeys who have opened all the drawers in my kitchen, it’s time for me to sign out.