Many years ago in my BC days (Before Children), I had a gold nugget moment with a good friend. We were discussing the inevitable shift that comes with being a stay-at-home parent. Flying around were phrases like ‘career suicide’ and ‘bottom of the ladder’. How we laughed at the folly of those who stopped scaling the corporate heights and went off-piste into the nursery.
Ultimately, we decided that you don’t actually deliver your brain with your baby. But years later, as one moves back into the workforce after an extended period ‘out of the office’, it seems that your potential new colleagues appear to believe you did just that!
As a society we talk a lot about gender equality and support for working parents. We have many services for outsourcing the kiddies, as well as in-house employment programs such as part-time roles, job sharing and flexible hours. This is a good thing – for those who want to get back into the swing promptly.
However, there is a cohort that just doesn’t fit this profile – those who decide that sacrificing one income indefinitely is actually manageable. They want to enjoy being at home for longer - wearing clothes crusted over with banana, watching Playschool, going to baby yoga at the community centre.
They leave their blossoming career for that other kind of labour, the kind that’s paid only in love. They do it because they want to. And they have no regrets.
What happens to this cohort when they are ready to re-enter the workplace? Do they risk their professional credibility by taking a longer gap in service? Is there a fallout in their capacity to keep up with industry trends and technical developments? Has their career been sucked up the tubes like so much stray Lego?
Unfortunately, being proficient at domestic duties isn’t a skill most employers are looking for. What happens time and again is a return to a junior role, and having to prove one’s worth on the job – all over again.
So here are a few strategies to fit in between Kinder Gym and Kids’ Cooking Class – things you can do while ‘off the job’ which can look really favourable when you want to jump back in.
#1 - PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIP
When you’re in the thick of a career, you may not have the need or the inclination to join an industry body. Or maybe you do because it’s subsidised by your employer? Don’t hesitate to join an institute when you’re ‘out of the office’ and if you’re already a member, don’t even think about letting your membership lapse! Most Institutions offer discounted training seminars, events and regular magazines. Keep an eye out for the occasional course that you can fit into your schedule, or an article that takes you on a nice journey. Stay open to professional development during this time.
#2 - SOCIAL MEDIA
I don’t mean posting images of your deliciously creamy latte or status updates from the park - these are important but best left for your personal account. Be smart, choose a platform and open a professional account. There you can follow chosen intellectuals, read interesting updates and re-post them to gain followers and fellowship. Set aside 5 minutes a day to check in or 1 hour a week to focus on your profile. It’s manageable, intellectually stimulating and best of all, free!
#3 - LINKEDIN
The platform for staying connected. Keep abreast of any movements and changes in your industry. Congratulate your connections when they are promoted or make a move. Make a point of reading posted articles. Take the time to perfect your profile and keep it updated with any of those industry courses you’ve fitted in. Years down the track you will thank your clever self for staying current in this way.
#4 - NETWORKING GROUPS
Yes, you can forge new connections outside of playgroup. Networking is a great way to do this and keep your skills relevant. If you can’t find a network specific to your industry in your local area, join a general business group that meets quarterly or biannually. That’s not hard to fit into a busy parenting schedule – and it will pay dividends. Sure, you won’t be representing an actual business, but keeping in touch and even offering valuable advice and recommendations to new business contacts keeps your mind engaged, and can be just as rewarding!
In short, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, and don’t throw the brains or the career out with the baby either!