• 28 April 2021
  • 8 min read

Navigating The Barriers To Nursing Career Progression Faced By Mothers

  • Maxine Obeng
    Assistant Director NHS Trust
    • Aubrey Hollebon
    • Richard Gill
    • Mat Martin
    • Julia Maina
  • 1
  • 360
"I hope my experience shows you how you can navigate some of these unintentional barriers mothers on maternity leave can face"

Assistant Director at her NHS Trust and qualified RMN, Maxine, shares her journey from second baby to promotion at work whilst on maternity leave.

I’ve been battling with this blog for some time now. I’ve been hesitant about sharing my story on this for various reasons.

Maternity leave is a precious and important time for a mother and baby. The idea of going for a promotion during this sacred time won’t be for everyone.

As working mums we feel enough guilt and pressure as it is without the added worry of trying to progress our careers whilst on maternity leave.

However, there may be some who could relate to my story.

Having experienced difficulties during my first pregnancy with painful fibroids and severe SPD (Symphysis pubis dysfunction) requiring crutches during my last few weeks of pregnancy, I was keen to have a second baby sooner than later.

So when I became pregnant with my second baby I felt the familiar feeling of relief, elation and pure joy.

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However, creeping in was a more unfamiliar feeling of worry and uncertainty about what impact this could have on my career ambitions.

Before I became pregnant, I felt I was at the height of my journey towards progressing up the career ladder. I was literally at the cusp of the promotion I had spent the previous year working towards. So much so that whilst heavily pregnant I felt I needed to hide not only that I was pregnant but also how far along I was. I even had some well-intended female friends and colleagues remarking ‘what bad timing’ when they found out I was pregnant.

It became apparent to me in those few months that most women, including myself, faced these battles as a result of the barriers society have placed on us.

The result is a society in which women who want to become pregnant soon or are pregnant feel they shouldn’t be trying to progress their careers, and a society which perpetuates this with discrimination as evident in the motherhood penalty.

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Do you have any questions about becoming a mum while nursing?

Ask Maxine questions below

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Obviously, no one in a recruiting position is going to outright tell you that you’ve not been appointed due to this, however the lived experiences of most women would be very opposite to what the law demands of companies / organisations.

When you are on maternity leave you may become indirectly disadvantaged in your career aspirations in a number of ways.

Your absence may mean you are no longer at the forefront of people’s minds when they are having conversations about who is next in line for a promotion, your absence means you can’t easily utilise those informal networking opportunities making you visible to the right people, your absence means you are no longer privy to those informal discussions and formal meetings giving you valuable insights into what the current priorities, trends and challenges are and the direction your organisation is heading towards.

Further, because you’re absent you’re not able to contribute to these discussions showcasing your unique perspective and ideas.

These can lead to mothers on maternity leave from the workplace becoming unintentionally disadvantaged in their career progression.

The responsibility remains with organisations and companies to ensure equity in access to career opportunities and to protect the rights of mothers in the workplace.

However the below is what I personally did to help maintain the momentum I had built up in the year prior to my maternity leave, helping me achieve my career goal and progressing from a Band 8A Operational manager to a Band 8C Assistant Director.

Use your keeping in touch days to help you stay connected

You can’t solely rely on the connections and reputation you had prior to going on maternity leave. Unfortunately sometimes out of sight can mean out of mind. Staying connected keeps you in people’s minds. It also helps you maintain those informal networking opportunities that are integral to career progression. Use your keeping in touch days to help you stay connected (you will find this in your organisation’s maternity leave policy). You can use these to attend specific events/meetings that will help you in your career development. You can use these to have regular catch ups with your line manager and use these as an opportunity to find out exactly what has been happening at work, what significant changes have been introduced and whether there are any new opportunities available or coming up.

Build Networks

Building networks will help provide you with another source of what’s trending within your organisation and importantly what’s happening in other areas. What you are doing here is gathering a portfolio of what’s current, and what’s really happening in your system. It’s also an opportunity to exchange information so you can showcase your unique perspective and ideas on specific issues. These networks will also help you keep informed with upcoming service developments that will help you navigate yourself in a favourable position for upcoming opportunities.

Social Media

Most people (if not everyone) now have a professional presence online via social media. Social media, when used well, can help you develop formal networks in an informal way. Social media also helps you keep a barometer on the political climate within your system, particularly their standpoint on certain matters. This also helps you maintain your exposure all whilst away from work. Both are useful and can help you navigate into a position of influence within your organisation. But remember your organisation will most likely have a social media usage policy, so if you are publicising your area of work, make sure you are familiar with this policy and following its guidelines.

Read Around Your Favourite Topics

Sometimes whilst at work we are so busy and pressured that we often don’t get the opportunity to pursue our own passions and interests. I found whilst on maternity leave that I had the opportunity to pursue and indulge in things I was passionate about. For me this meant I was able to spend more time reading current literature/policies and focusing on how these translate into how services are developed and attending relevant webinars on subjects that interest me. This meant I was able to keep well informed of the priorities in the delivery of mental health services and also specifically priorities of my service area. I was also able to reignite my passion for mentoring and blogging. Pursuing my interests helped me remain feeling like myself and kept my mind active.

Use Your New Perspective

Being on maternity leave doesn’t have to be a disadvantage to your career progression. Being out of a system can give you a unique perspective, it’s important to understand how to harness this and use it to your advantage. Being a mother also gives you an advantage in the workplace. Confidently communicate and showcase the strengths you bring to the table.

In those months before my maternity leave I had endless sleepless nights with fear of missing out, becoming no longer relevant and worrying about how this would impact my career goals.

Although I personally took these steps to ensure my success, I was fortunate that I was in an organisation which didn’t see my pregnancy and maternity leave as a disadvantage, instead my organisation supported me in the pursuit of my career ambitions, despite being on maternity leave for a year.

Sadly not every mother can say this about their place of work.

For those fretting (as I had been), about whether it is possible to be a mother and actively pursue your career goals, yes it is absolutely possible, and I hope my experience shows you how you too can navigate some of these unintentional barriers mothers on maternity leave can face.

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Do you have any questions about becoming a mum while nursing?

Ask Maxine questions below

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About the author

  • Maxine Obeng
    Assistant Director NHS Trust

I’m a registered Mental Health nurse, MSc, and Assistant Director at my NHS Trust. With over 10 years experience in mental health care, I’ve managed a variety of services including forensic mental health, and PICU. My passion is improving the representation of diversity in healthcare leadership. I have founded Niche Careers Consultancy to help BAME Nurses with targeted consulting on navigating career pathways and practical skills to achieve career progression success.

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  • Maxine Obeng
    Assistant Director NHS Trust

About the author

  • Maxine Obeng
    Assistant Director NHS Trust

I’m a registered Mental Health nurse, MSc, and Assistant Director at my NHS Trust. With over 10 years experience in mental health care, I’ve managed a variety of services including forensic mental health, and PICU. My passion is improving the representation of diversity in healthcare leadership. I have founded Niche Careers Consultancy to help BAME Nurses with targeted consulting on navigating career pathways and practical skills to achieve career progression success.

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    • Julia Maina 11 days ago
      Julia Maina
    • Julia Maina
      11 days ago

      That was great learning ,then dear