The Parent Project: Embracing Maternal Leadership

Women who return to work after maternity leave can be more effective, more confident leaders.

by Jennifer Liston-Smith
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Is motherhood the source of all of women’s power, or our Achilles heel? Generally, we understand both these positions. But somehow we’ve focused recently on ‘supporting’ new mothers at work - rather than embracing their return as if from a prestigious, high-powered sabbatical. Whenever I try out the concept of Maternal Leadership, people recognise that the transition to motherhood can be viewed as a developmental step, bringing new capacities of value to employers. It’s not just a regrettable career break, or a challenging time that needs to be accommodated.

This shift in focus powerfully struck psychologist Margaret Chapman, author of the Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook. Margaret saw that while the women she observed spoke of a loss of confidence and (potentially) competence in their work roles, they also felt empowered as women - in a way that didn’t seem to have found its voice in their working presence. In our joint paper at the Equal Opportunities International Conference in July 2008, she observed: These findings suggest that motherhood (referred to by one woman as the black box) holds great potential and is an example of accelerated learning. As Liz Hall, editor of Coaching at Work, put it: Female leaders are discovering that the ‘mothering’ skills they acquire on maternity leave are also distinctly new talents critical to successful leadership.

So how do women balance this sense of empowerment with their need for renewed confidence as they return to work under new conditions? Here are three options... [CONTINUED]


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The Parent Project: Embracing Maternal Leadership

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