Can women have a career after having a baby?

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about value lately, or more specifically knowing your own worth before, during or after becoming a mother. When we think of value we often think of things that are valuable or are value for money which implies value is directly related to money or external worth. But what about knowing your own intrinsic worth?

We’ve been brought up believing that feminine qualities are somehow less valuable in the workplace than those that are considered more masculine. Competition, confidence, being strong, being ruthless and/or independent are highly prized qualities at work. Whereas being nurturing, supportive, caring, dependable or collegiate are somehow less valuable.

I was raised by a strong woman and grew up in a house that was more clearly driven by feminine gender traits but I was taught to believe I could do anything, be anything and that being a strong, independent woman was a good thing. I was taught that you didn’t have to choose between being friendly and supportive and still getting ahead in your career

I believe we all have a little bit of both masculine and feminine traits in us, whether we’re male or female, and having balance between those traits inside and outside of work is the optimal situation. But when we live in a highly consumerist world which is driven by achieving more, meaning generally making more money, and in the context of more men being in senior management positions than women, there is little wonder that as a culture we believe being individualistic and competitive are better qualities to have.

I love the cut and thrust of business, I enjoy succeeding and achieving and I love competing but I prefer to compete as a team than stand on others just to get myself noticed. I’ll happily promote others contributions, even if it means I’m not in the lime light myself. I take pride from seeing others develop and shine. But if you work somewhere that does not attribute value to these qualities, how do you prove your worth? Do you behave more like everyone else or do you keep your integrity and stick to the values that you believe in?

The rise of mummy bloggers and supportive online communities such as the #It'sOk linky is testament to how women are preferring to take control of their own destinies and work together to help each other shine. I wish this could be translated into organisations as everyone would benefit this way.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately about my values, what I perceive as having worth and whether being competitive and ruthless is the only way to get recognition? Being a Business Psychologist I’ve done a lot of research into high performing businesses and sure, organisations that promote external benefits such as pay, bonuses and promotion can be successful but are employees happy?

Research tells us that when employees are motivated by intrinsic values, such as believing in what their organisation is trying to achieve, working together towards a common purpose and are supported and made to feel valued through regular feedback, they perform better than those who are only offered money in return. In fact, highly engaged employees are not only more motivated but that in turn has a benefit on the bottom line and actually makes the business more successful.

Knowing this, I still don’t understand why both masculine and feminine qualities are not equally prized. Is there a reason why by the age of 30 many women have either dropped out of the workplace or taken a step back in terms of responsibility? Yes this is also because women still take on most of the childcare responsibilities but then why are they still having to choose?

I have been in situations where it has been strongly inferred that to get promoted means making sacrifices in my personal life. To consider where I want to be in the future and whether I could balance my work alongside having a family. This only becomes more prevalent once you get married as assumptions are made that you'll be off soon anyway, which is dangerous given not everyone follows that path. I faced rampant pregnancy discrimination so I know what I'm talking about.

Instead of telling women they should choose between work and family life, society and organisations should have evolved to a point where the conversation is about helping women and men balance work and life.

Of course one way of doing business is all about working 16 hour days but I think there is a way for people to work smarter, not harder. How can you be sure that people are performing at their peak for those 16 hours a day? Or would they be better off having proper down time, pursuing their hobbies, spending time with their family? Perhaps they’ll be more motivated and productive employees if organisations help them balance work and life.

So back to the issue of value and worth. Is it right that someone else can determine your worth or is it just logical that you’re only worth what someone else is prepared to value you at? I suppose if we only measure worth based on one set of criteria, we’ll forever find that typically feminine values are less highly regarded and prized. People will be less inclined to work together, share in each other’s successes and celebrate differences.

I just also want to say here that this isn’t purely about gender, as some men lean towards caring, collaborative traits but organisational culture at the minute is very biased towards masculine traits, putting both men and women at a disadvantage. So we have a choice, we can either get on board, conform to the bias and act more masculine at work, or we can stand together, celebrate diversity and show that there is another way.

Over time I hope this is the way all organisations will see the world but for now we all have to know how to play the game in the world while still nudging things in the right direction.

So here are my top tips for demonstrating your worth in workplace:

First of all, know your value and don’t let anyone tell you’re worth less. Especially if you’re a woman in a heavily masculine culture. It can erode your self-esteem and makes you question your own worth. This is precisely what other people with fragile egos do to make them feel more important. Don’t let them.

Secondly, make sure you can prove your worth. People believe you cannot put numbers and targets on more intrinsic values like helpfulness and team work. This is untrue, it just requires a bit more creativity than looking at the bottom line of a spreadsheet. As well as ensuring your workplace measures some of these traits, you do also have to ensure you can also demonstrate your value in more traditional metrics such as income generated, ability to show initiative and even when working in a team, always know exactly what your individual contribution to the outcome was.

Thirdly, be seen. If you don’t think you are being valued, be bold and change the story about you. A typical feminine trait is being passive and modest, and humility is a great quality to retain, but being passive does not get you noticed. You’ve got to face this head on – network your ass off, make sure people know what you’re doing.

Use the adage 20% show pony and 80% work horse, which means spend most of your time finding projects that are a great match for your skills, work hard and deliver what you say you will. Then spend 20% of your time being your own awesome PR machine. Tell others about your achievements (in a nice way), use social media platforms such as Linked In, volunteer for new assignments and cultivate strong sponsor relationships where someone in a senior position will advocate for you.

Finally, try to move beyond the blockers. If you have a manager who is impeding you or undervaluing you at work, then try to find ways to work beyond them with other managers who will support you by volunteering for other projects. Take opportunities to hold them to account by putting on record in appraisals or one to one meetings that you would like more opportunity for visibility and ask them what they specifically can do to give you that opportunity. Be tenacious and follow up with them afterwards if they don’t fulfil their promises.

If all of the above doesn’t work and you still feel like you are not being shown the value you deserve then this is where it is so important to know and jealously guard your own worth. If your current employer refuses to show you the value you deserve, go somewhere where they will value you.

I’ve seen so many bright, talented people stay stuck in jobs that erode their confidence and keep them stuck in the same place for years, as if they were in an abusive relationship and sometimes this is the case. Their boss praises them one minute and then threatens that they might not have a job the next, being overly controlling and grabbing all of the glory for their successes. This is not a healthy place to be and if you find yourself here, run! Don’t let the pattern take hold as it is incredibly destructive to self-esteem.

Value is important, as perception is reality in the work world, but really knowing your own worth is so much more essential. So I believe you can have a career after having a baby but the research shows that the organisational culture you're in dictates how successful the arrangement will be. Sadly, things haven't moved on enough in some cultures to allow women to succeed at their careers at the same time as learning to be a new mother. However, there are many bosses and organisations that do highly prize the additional skill sets we learn as we become mothers. Organisation, compassion, multi tasking and the list goes on.

Have you experienced any of these things at work or anywhere else? What did you do to solve it?


  1. A brilliant post, this! So well written and detailed. And on such an important issue too. I guess this will always be a point of contention but I think it ultimately boils down to personal choice and what works best for your family. There is too much pressure on women to be everywhere all the time, and it's not fair. Thanks for mentioning the #itsok linky in the post:)

  2. I totally agree Nicole. We're sold an illusion of having it all and put ourselves under enormous pressure to achieve something that is not really sustainable. We can have it all but it comes at a price. Maybe we're better to prioritise our mental health over being seen as super women.


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