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Setting Yourself and Your Team Up For Maternity Leave In An Empowering Way

Mar 23, 2021

Over the past several months I have been gearing up for maternity leave. To start, I am incredibly grateful for the peers that I have within The Women in Fitness Association (WIFA.) I was able to freely share my pregnancy journey with them and feel supported from the very beginning. We are a small team and organization who prior to now did not have an official parental leave policy. So, this gave us the opportunity to create something that we feel is inclusive and prioritizes the family. 

While doing research on how other organizations structure their parental leave, the policies in place, and the plan, I was truly surprised by the lack of support companies offer when it comes to this specific topic. From articles surrounding how to tell your employer you're pregnant to what your out of office response should be, the underlying tone was, downplay, downplay, downplay. First thing that came to mind was WOW, it’s 2021, we are still talking like this? So in turn, here is how WIFA is doing it, in an empowering way.

First things first, tell your employer sooner rather than later

We must normalize this. Yes, it makes sense that you want to protect yourself or your partner by waiting until that 12 week mark, when you’re “in the clear.” And those first 12 weeks are usually the hardest of all 40. Even if you are not the one carrying the child. It is very real that your work may be affected during this time and your employer deserves to know that and you deserve the support. *Disclaimer: Do your research on how you are protected legally if anything were to go awry in this initial conversation.

Okay, time to make a plan

There are three parts to this. Pre-leave, on leave, and post leave plan. 

Pre-leave: Look at your employee documents or ask your employer what their parental leave policies are. If they do not have something already in place this is an opportunity for you to help your employer create it. If they do have a plan and policies in place, dissect it and see if it works for you. Are there holes? Are there things that you feel will not ultimately help you be successful throughout this process? Is there an option to modify it? At WIFA we believe in shaking things up. We encourage our team to create a plan that works for them and their family dynamic and then see if it can be adapted to WIFA’s work culture. 

On Leave- If your company does not already have something in place, put together a document that shares what your roles and responsibilities are, and how they can be managed while you are on leave. This creates clear expectations for your team and puts your mind at ease, that they are supported while on leave. As things get closer to the final days before your leave, create a document that gives daily updates on where things are at.This way your team knows where to pick things up. The more detail you can provide the better. CC’ing teammates on communications also helps the whole process go more smoothly. Next, set your out of office and direct a teammate to set it up for you if for any reason you have to go on leave before you had planned. Get creative with your out of office. My research on OOO responses was one that surprised me most. This is a time for celebration not a time to downplay what is happening in your life to those you work with. These two are ones that I came up with that feel better than what I found online. 

Thank you for your email! I am out on maternity leave until I can get this baby sleeping through the night (around mid June, we hope!) ;)

Until then, please reach out to my fantastic colleague, (insert name and email)  I will not be checking email, but if you miss me, my Instagram (insert handle), will be full of cute baby pictures.

Looking forward to connecting when I am back!

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Thank you for your email! I am currently supporting my family as we have welcomed our new edition.

I will return on (date.) Between now and then you can reach out to my colleague, (name and email) See you on the other side! 

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Post-Leave- Although, I am not in my post leave phase quite yet, having conversations with your employer beforehand about what “post-leave” will look like is always going to be beneficial. Once you have welcomed a child to your family your life doesn't just go back to pre-baby life. It has shifted entirely. Talking to your organization about how you would like to re-integrate is just as important as everything leading up. One thing I plan to do in particular is put blocks on my calendar of when I will not be available due to parental duties. Things like taking children to school, breastfeeding, picking up from school, etc. These are all important things to again, normalize in order to nurture a culture that supports you, so you can support it. At WIFA we believe in working blocks. 9-5 is not for everyone. If it makes sense to structure your day so you can start at 11am and then work for a few hours after 7pm, that is more than okay at WIFA. You may be surprised by how many companies will also give you the freedom to create your own 8 hour schedule. 

These are just a few examples of what is currently being done here at WIFA, so what’s to say it can’t be done at your organization, too. Sharing your journey open and honestly, communicating and creating your plan, and feeling empowered doing so. This is a monumental time in your life, use it to make a difference and change the narrative. The more we have these conversations the less we will have to have them in the future. Check back in about 12 weeks when I can share more of my full experience of navigating maternity leave.

Author:  Morgan Hills-Adetoye