Will Maternity Leave Hurt Your Career?

Last Updated Dec 22, 2009 9:43 AM EST

Dear Ron,
I'm about to be out of office on a five-month maternity leave. What should I do now and maybe while on leave to make sure I'm not "forgotten" or passed over for projects/assignments when I get back?
In general, what you want to do is lay out a plan, approved by your supervisors, for what will happen before you go away, while you're away, and when you return. You don't want to leave any surprises for anyone, and you want to demonstrate that you've thought everything through and have the interests of your company and colleagues squarely in mind.

Some employees at companies can point to women who have gone on maternity leave and then never came back, so you need to send conspicuous signals about your commitment to the job and your enthusiasm about returning. Now might be a good time to express your excitement about the results you hope to achieve in your job and the projects you hope to see through.

As part of your transition plans, you'll want to decide who'll be responsible for which duties of yours while you're away, how they should be taken care of, and who to speak to about any problems or questions. And while you're away, come up with a plan for staying in touch on some sort of regular basis. So after a month or so, you might plan to check in once or twice a week with your supervisor via phone or email. You obviously don't want to maintain a full schedule while you're out--you're out for a reason--but you do want to signal your continued interest and focus, and stay on top of how things are going in your absence. Don't leave anything up in the air that people could later complain about or point to as evidence of your lack of commitment.

As you get closer to coming back, you can increase your level of involvement and refine your plan for coming back. You'll want to decide what your priorities are and how much you can take on at first, realizing there will be an adjustment period as you plug back in and get back into playing shape. Upon your return, you'll want to meet with your supervisor and discuss what results have been achieved so far, what still needs to be done, and the best ways to get you back into the flow of your work.


I once had a client who was a senior associate at a law firm who was leaving to have a baby and crossed every 't' and dotted every 'i' before she left and while she was gone. She handed off all her cases to the right people, and made sure other people in her practice had an up-to-date briefing on all her clients. When she was out, she kept abreast of how her cases were going, but didn't try to take them over. And when she returned, her colleagues and supervisors were able to quickly brief her and work her back into her cases. She eventually became a partner there, and the story of how well she handled her maternity leave has been held up as an example to follow at her firm ever since.

The challenge here, which my client met in an exemplary fashion, was to manage her brand while she was away. With careful preparation and conscientiousness while you're away, you can do the same.

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  • Ron Brown

    Ronald B. Brown is a leading expert in the fields of leadership development and organizational change. He is the founder and president of Banks Brown, a management consulting firm that specializes in providing leading-edge skills to optimize the performance of leaders and organizations. He has served as a consultant to Fortune 100 corporations such as the Procter & Gamble Company, Avon Products, Inc., McDonald's Corporation, General Electric Plastics, Kaiser Permanente, Shell Oil Company, Eastman Kodak Company, General Mills Inc., and Motorola, Inc. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. and B.S. from Michigan State University.

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