Mothers in the business world
Shani Bishop shares her views on balancing work and motherhood.
Text: Shani Bishop
Once you have a child, succeeding at work becomes a different matter. Whereas before, you had lots of time and energy, these are in short supply after the little ones arrive. The time you have for your career development needs to be spent carefully and ruthlessly. Here are some ideas and strategies that have worked for me.
Seeing women who are mothers in senior roles is a great motivator and can show women who aspire that they can continue to grow their careers. Look through your company website to identify these women, and if possible, ask for a mentor and list these women as your favourites.
Leadership can be taught. We can all learn skills that will benefit our careers, but we must invest the time to develop ourselves.
When I was younger, I saw men and women promoted and weren’t sure what they had done to achieve this. It seemed that this success came from nowhere. After attending a leadership course for women, I learnt some excellent skills and learnt to do the same. I learnt how to influence different situations, and when a restructuring came along got promoted.
This first step of understanding yourself is essential because you must develop a leadership style that suits you. Adopting one that you think will work but is not ‘you’ will be exhausting and unsuccessful over the long term. Women must lead in a way which is authentic to themselves. Sometimes senior women become more aggressive and act like men, which is damaging to the women themselves. Women need to develop leadership styles which suit their personalities.
What do you want?
You will progress much faster if you understand this and can communicate it to others who can help you. Of course, people want to help, but you do need to let them. This is all part of understanding yourself, so spend the time to work it out.
"Seeing women who are mothers in senior roles is a great motivator and can show women who aspire that they can continue to grow their careers."
Often women have excellent networks and contacts. If you work out where you want to go and share this with your manager and contacts in related areas, then in my experience, people are very ready to help. If you are attending an event, look through the contact list before arriving and determine who could help you. If you research them through Linkedin and find a common interest, this is a good conversation starter.
Companies organise themselves in different ways. If you have a choice to work in one which uses PM or agile to organise tasks, jump at it. By allocating work in this way, women can contribute visibly, and their contribution is seen more quickly.
When important decisions are made, the time to influence that decision is in the many weeks before the meeting. First, seek out and talk to the relevant people and point out the value of your stance and how it can benefit them. Then, work out the alliances and influence them. When restructuring occurs, people often feel despondent. Restructures usually change vertical businesses into horizontal structures or vice versa. When this happens, it creates new roles. In this situation, you need to see where your strengths lie and where they would fit in the new structure, then approach the new director of the newly created section early.
When I started befriending senior staff, I was surprised to realise something. Just by virtue of knowing me, the senior staff member would assume I was good at my job and ready for promotion. Luckily for them, I was good at my job, but I could have been terrible! Nevertheless, it meant I was at the forefront of their thoughts when opportunities arose. Good luck!