Returning from Maternity Leave by Lydia Thorne

Lydia Torne speaks about her thoughts on her approach to returning from maternity leave.

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I joined Simmons & Simmons in 2008 as a trainee and I am now a managing associate in the IP practice. I can describe my life as a working mum in one word: busy. I’m extremely fortunate that my husband has put his career on hold to be a stay at home dad, so that I can pursue mine at full force. However, it means my days are non-stop as I juggle spending time with my son and making sure clients and the team have my full attention. Mornings are important for me as I can get up early to look after our child before coming into the office when my husband takes over.

“When a woman returns to work after maternity leave there can be a perception that they are less committed.”

Returning to work after maternity leave was challenging as I had no idea what to expect. When a woman returns to work after maternity leave there can be a perception that they are less committed, or that their “priorities have changed”. For any woman returning to work and choosing to spend time away from her family (whether on a full time or part time basis) – work is a priority. The only way to dispel this misconception is by demonstrating your commitment to your career. This in itself can be challenging: tackling the actual or perceived stigma around leaving ‘early’; adjusting to a new way of working; learning to “switch” between mother and associate, at the same time as balancing your child’s and your work’s needs. I made the decision early on to try to work fluidly and flexibly. My work arrangements are driven by my clients’ and team’s needs. Depending on my work load this means leaving work at 17:15 some evenings to log on later from home, and staying in the office until late on others. I do try and work from home occasionally, particularly if I’m drafting documents. Working from home right now means working from a neighbour’s house as my husband and son are often at home and I need some quiet time to get through my work load. However, if I’m reviewing documents, marking up work, or have a meeting-heavy day I’ll make sure I’m in the office with the team.

To other women going on maternity leave and wanting to come back to work, my own advice is, be kind to yourselves. Allow yourself to enjoy the time away with your baby, take the time to reflect on what you want to achieve from your career and how you want to do it. During maternity leave I didn’t completely disconnect from work which stopped me feeling alienated when I returned. When you do return to work, try not to worry about how your new circumstances will fit with your previous approach to your career. Everything and nothing has changed, all at once, and it will take time to figure out how to proceed. Of course, it may be difficult to imagine leaving your new family and coming back to the office, but if you’re driven and enjoy what you do, your motivation to push on may come naturally.

To other women going on maternity leave …be kind to yourselves… everything and nothing has changed, all at once, and it will take time to figure out how to proceed.”

To those of you who have colleagues preparing for maternity leave, your support is vital. Reassurance that it’s ok to go on leave, that you know this doesn’t make your female colleague any less capable or focussed and that their career will be here when they return, is important. Equally, reminding female colleagues on their return that they can still achieve their own career goals (and supporting them to do so) is also key for retaining top talent.

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