Why you need to take control of your parental leave journey

Why you need to take control of your parental leave journey

You need to take control of your parental leave journey… Because no one else will! Because you are your biggest advocate! Because roles and organisations change!

While ultimately you can’t control what sort of birth you’ll have (or what sort of baby!) one thing you can take charge of is your parental leave journey.

This is about me taking control the third time around.

The first time I found out I was pregnant was one of the most thrilling moments in my life. It took my husband and I longer than expected, so to see those two lines on the pregnancy test was a complete miracle. My career was the last thing on my mind and I left for parental leave with no plan or expectation except to have a job to return to in 12 months’ time.

The second time, I resigned from my job in Singapore to return to Australia to have my gorgeous baby girl. Once again, there was no return to work plan and my sole focus was on my expanding family.

Things are definitely a lot different the third time round. Why? Because I’m in a role that challenges me, I work for an organisation I want to continue working for, and more importantly, I can see opportunities for personal and professional growth and fulfilment. I’ve reached 15 years in the financial services, which is a critical time for key leadership roles and an opportunity to make a difference.

That means for this parental leave, I’ve designed a set of individual strategies to make sure I have a smooth transition leading into my leave, before and after, and to maintain my career momentum and make sure I’m in the best possible position on my return.

So what have I done differently this time?

1. Manage expectations: I’ve had more honest and authentic conversations than ever with key stakeholders about aspirations, potential opportunities and ways to keep in touch. In previous pregnancies, I was very hesitant to discuss my career as I felt parental leave was a ‘stopping’ block in my career and no time to be discussing future plans. It’s actually a great time to initiate career conversations and develop robust strategies for during and after.

2. Have that performance conversation now! Fortunately, my parental leave is coinciding with my end-of-year performance review so it’s been completed well ahead of time. This has allowed me and my manager to manage expectations, but also keep my progression front of mind. It has also allowed me to discuss potential pay reviews, bonus potential and promotions whilst I am away.

3. Have a thorough handover. I‘ve begun scheduling handover sessions to discuss key accounts with my team and critical pieces of information that will assist them during my leave to keep my clients well looked after.

4. Have a plan during parental leave. The main difference this time around has been putting in place a parental leave plan. This non-legally binding document is a great summary of my plans during parental leave. It doesn’t need to be sophisticated, but gives clarity to me and my manager. Details include:

  • My leave commencement and end date.
  • How I want to be paid i.e. lump sum payment, 50 per cent fortnightly.
  • How I want to be communicated with i.e. email, phone, text and how often.
  • If I want to be included in team events, conferences etc.

5. The importance of connections. Being on parental leave can be lonely at times. I am a huge supporter of platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook to ensure I stay connected and maintain my networks. Having a mentor and/or sponsor during this period is also critical. They can be a great sounding board for how you are feeling and support you during your leave.

6. Help is out there. Resources such as Circle In are great initiatives to help women not only prepare for parental leave, but assist in the transition back into the workplace after a baby break. I only wish such resources were available to me during my first two pregnancies!

For me, the third round of parental leave has highlighted the need and importance of keeping in touch, keeping up to date with my industry and organisation, and setting the right expectations from the very beginning. I’m completely organised and have a clear support framework, which means I can go on parental leave with a focus on the most important aspect of my life—my family.

Written by Ashika Chand

NAB banker Ashika Chand, 36, has three children: sons Nikhil, 5, and Aiden, born in August 2017, and daughter Annika, 3.

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