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How the definition of success changes after you have children – Part 1

Posted: June 27, 2019

Our KPMG colleague Helen, Director - Global Relationship Lead, was recently interviewed by Helen Cowan, from the ‘The Tall Wall’, as part of their series of “Fly on the Wall” interviews with professional working mums.

Helen is part of the leadership team in KPMG’s Technology, Media and Telecoms (TMT) sector.  She is responsible for key client relationships across the business and is also a qualified executive coach.  Helen is married with 2 children of 9 and 7 years old. Helen works a 90% working week, including half a day working from home.

She found that: “I think the definition of success changes. I was very career focused, I still am, but in a different way. I used to be all about the next promotion, but now for me success is more about the whole self.”

Tell us a little bit about your two maternity leaves and the impact they had on you and your career?

They were both very different experiences. My first maternity leave was difficult, it was a really tough time. My grand plans and goals for maternity leave went out of the window.

I returned to KPMG 4 days a week in my consulting role until I went off for my second maternity leave a year later, which was so much better. I had a lot more time to think about my role at work. I was fortunate enough to have maternity coaching which gave me the space to think about and get perspective on my career. Specifically, what I was truly interested in and wanted to do in the future. I looked at what I enjoyed, and was good at, both in and out of work. I also had a great mentor from KPMG, who just “got me”. Once I had defined what I wanted to do, it was much easier to look for it, and soon secured a change of role within KPMG that began my transition into the client role I have today.

Did your two maternity leaves have a negative impact on your career at all?

Unfortunately, because of the way the promotion rounds work in KPMG I probably lost some ground in terms of moving directly up the ladder, in the way I had previously. However, I remember a powerful moment working with my coach, who drew me a timeline from age 35 to 70. All of a sudden, I realised that I had a long time ahead of me. With that came a long career, in whichever direction I wanted to take it. Looking back, I was thankful for the pause and maternity leave, to give myself space to really focus on something that I wanted to focus on, not just what I had fallen into. I am alsolucky to have KPMG as an employer who have supported me through my career journey over the last 9 years, since having children.

What psychological barriers did you face when you came back to work?

I was keen and ready to come back to work on both occasions. I was nervous the second time round as I had made the mental shift to do something different but had not yet put my finger on what this was, so that was a challenge. I was open to new opportunities and so, as often happens when you start to open your eyes and ears, the right career opportunity appeared.

“I would love for working parents to know that they have it all in them to do what they need to do.”

Looking back on both my experiences of returning, I would love for working parents to know that they have it all in them, to do what they need to do. Often it is our own internal barriers rather than oth–er people’s that stand in our way during these transitions. Sometimes we think about barriers although they are not there and so we overthink and over worry. Again, coaching helped me to realise this.

What advice would you have for women who are coming back to work and perhaps don’t want to return to their old role?

Make the most of your maternity leave. Many organisations offer paid “Keeping In Touch” (KIT) .This is a key opportunity for you to extend your internal network (and clients, if you have them). Keep in touch with what is going on – don’t be afraid to be a bit selfish about this so that you find out the things that are important to you and your career.

Networking is critical. My number one wish for women, when they are networking, is to simply be themselves. I am naturally a very open person, and what I am seeing more in the workplace is the desire for authenticity. Talkabout what is happening to you – as a woman, as a working parent and don’t shy away from it. I’ve had many conversations with other senior women about the everyday stuff: packing the swim kit, the constant juggling and split of chores at home. It is important to keep it real, with both men and women. We are all humans, with a life outside of work. It is often a source of bonding in new relationships, before we get down to business.

This article was originally published in The Tall Wall, an executive coaching business that specialises in working with talented females in professional services and large corporates.

Learn more about Return to Work Programmes at KPMG.

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