Yahoo’s Chief Executive Marissa Mayer, who was hired by the Web giant three months ago (quick math means she was six months pregnant at the time), welcomed a healthy baby boy over the weekend.
In earning the coveted (and stressful!) position, the 37-year-old defied conventional wisdom that says women in the workplace are forced to choose between a high-powered career and motherhood.
But what about the rest of us…those of us who don’t have degrees from Stanford, husbands with flexible schedules, and an entourage of nannies and other assistants?
How do we decide when the time is right to have a child and still maintain our credibility and power in the workplace?
In this, the first of a four-part series on careers and parenthood, we’ll take a look at how to choose a good time to start a family, career wise.
In upcoming weeks, we’ll explore:
- Preparing Your Workplace for Your Exodus
- Managing a Smooth Maternity (and Paternity!) Leave
- Juggling Work and Kids – Without Breaking Either
First, though, how do you decide when the time is right in your career to add parenting?
Well, the answer is…there’s no universal right time! Sorry, but, admit it…you knew that was coming.
The truth is, the right time is when you are ready…and the planets align for a pregnancy to happen.
But, if you are considering some “planning,” here are some potential “right times” and pros and cons of each.
When You Are Just Starting Out
Pros: You will never have less responsibility, which means that leaving at 5 p.m. can be feasible. Although people are still counting on you to do your job, the typical entry level or support person can keep normal hours. And, if your colleagues have never known you as anything but a mom, they have different expectations than if you start your career on the fast track and have to downshift.
Cons: You haven’t yet shown your stuff, and the truth is your schedule – and thus your ability to go “above and beyond” – will be hampered by your family. It’s quite possible that you will stay in a support position, at least for a while, and you will have to work harder to show your work ethic and drive. But that’s ok! When others are starting their families, later than yours, you will have moved on to a stage where it’s possible to start putting in the hours again.
When You Have Seniority at a Company
Pros: You’ve put in the time and proven yourself. Now is the time to reap the rewards by requesting a flexible schedule, or a less demanding position. Your superiors trust that you will continue to deliver quality results. Face time might be less important.
Cons: Expectations are higher. As a valued employee, your team has come to depend on you to go above and beyond, and the transition can be rocky when you want to scale back.
When You Have Just Received a Promotion
Pros: Even though it seems counter intuitive, this can actually combine the best of the scenarios above. Think about it: You are a proven commodity, in that management sees you as integral to the company and primed for a new role. But, you are starting with a new team, one which doesn’t yet have expectations of your working style. This is an opportunity to create a “new normal.”
Cons: Even though no one would ever say this out loud (at least they BETTER not!) it’s quite possible that “some people” might be, um, let’s say “less than happy” with your upcoming blessed event. They have their own agenda and plans and quotas, and it’s only natural.
When You’re Ready to Segue Out of the Workplace and Go Part-Time, Freelance, or Some Other Alternative Work Arrangement
Pros: Hey, why not change everything at once? As you are adjusting to your new parental status, you can adjust to a new work schedule also. Many find that a part time or consulting scenario can often be the perfect segue. You are not taking yourself “out” permanently, but you are exploring a different relationship with your career and company, while leaving the door open to return in an expanded capacity when the time is right.
Cons: While flexibility sounds fantastic, some arrangements end up being less than ideal. Sometimes you end up working full time for part time pay. Sometimes you have a manager or colleagues who resent your part time status and throw up roadblocks that can impede your work. As a consultant, there comes the day when you realize there is no one on the “team” who can pitch in and offer support ….and that can make for long days if there’s a deadline-oriented project!
As you can see, this quartet of scenarios illustrates that while there is no “best” time, there is also no “worst time.” I doubt the selection team said “Yahoo!” when they realized that Marissa Mayer was pregnant. But I bet she is going to make it work…and help pave the way for other savvy, upwardly mobile women to no longer worry so much about “perfect timing.”
Because the truth is, whatever works for your family is what works best.
~ ~ ~
Series on Parental Leave
- Part 1: Yahoo! Baby in the Boardroom: Parental Leave, the Basics
- Part 2: Leaving for Your Parental Leave in Good Terms: Five Tips For Making Your Workplace Exodus Easy and Smooth
- Part 3: Are Babies Work? Or Is Your Work a Baby? – Taking Care of Your Child While Staying in Touch with the Office
- Part 4: “A Day in the Life” – Finding Ways to Juggle Work and Family More Efficiently
by Cathie Ericson