At the present time most organisations hold the upper hand - we are very much talking here about what Holly might be able to negotiate with her firm. Her full maternity leave period is a given but on her return she wants to resume her career and, at the right time, be considered for promotion. She doesn't want her future career prospects impacted by spending time with her baby now. This situation, and Lady Judge's comments, presuppose that the current system of careers and employment continues as it has done previously. There is a growing sense however, and we see this in our work, that expectations about combining work and careers with parenthood is changing - at least in professional and knowledge-based roles. Increasingly, new mums and dads are seeking greater balance and opportunities to combine time for work and family life.
The current 'system' - and the one most of us are still locked into with our thinking - is based on the thinking that you can spend your time in one (your career) OR the other (your family), but not both if you want to reach your potential. And those people, mainly women, striving to achieve both in our current system, do so often with great struggle and much compromise. Having a nanny makes things easier for those who can afford it but that is based upon not having time with your baby. Seen in that context Lady Judge's comments and the views of many others make sense. However, increasingly more mums and dads are choosing another way - they are saying that both are important and they will give time to and engage successfully in both. For them, working arrangements need to shift.
Those employers who are sufficiently agile and go-ahead to accommodate, and even lead that, will be those who reap the rewards. What does that mean/look like? Welcome to the world of job-sharing, truly flexible working, changing expectations (e.g. making up time when you have to leave early because the nursery has called to say your son has fallen and bumped his head), fast learning, and so on.
Occasionally we run transition programmes for those approaching retirement, and their perspectives lend an interesting alternative angle to this: In the wider picture when those coming to the end of their careers look back they often say that on reflection a matter of months away from work wouldn't really have made that much difference to their career progression and success. Not one participant has ever yet said that they regretted spending more time with their family...
Career vs. Family?
It isn't for us (or anyone else) to favour or promote one choice over another - each parent must do what works for their situation. But having to choose one or the other is fast becoming an outdated and unnecessary situation to be in, and not a happy one.
Is it time to think again? What do you think needs to change? We'd love to hear your views.