Katrin Langenfeld about why having children can be a career-killer and why it didn’t stop her.
The Risk: Working for the wrong employer
No one has it as hard at work as an expectant mum. Except an expectant mum in a leadership position. While your belly gets bigger and bigger, you can watch your career slowly but surely biting the dust. You’re supposed to watch – gently and gratefully – as you’re suddenly no longer part of the planning. Your career stagnates whilst other (non-pregnant) colleagues make big leaps.
The boss no longer sees you as an important member of the management team, but as an incalculable risk; a ticking time bomb. Comments like “the best thing would have been to replace you as soon as possible, because pregnancy is unpredictable” are well-intentioned by mostly male superiors – and actually meant to ensure that you are incredibly grateful for being allowed to stay. But in reality, it causes spontaneous outbursts of anger and crying in the office toilet.
In short – from your pregnancy announcement on, you’re treated like a seriously ill person in many companies. The difference being that at least everyone feels sorry for the seriously ill and doesn’t expect them to float down corridors beaming with happiness.
The Turning Point: Changing employer
After my first pregnancy, my fears of a career break came true. An exciting leadership role with a lot of personnel responsibility suddenly turned into a lousy manager position. The classic comeback from them: “You should be able to manage this workload with your little one”. I could’ve handled the leading role – but what you think you can do on your own is usually not up for debate. “Just give it a try and you’ll see…”
But, just before the inevitable bore-out, I changed to my current employer. Instantly: more responsibility, better pay, more flexible working hours and no more culture of being present.
In retrospect, I couldn’t have asked for a more inspiring or motivating situation than a company that develops me and fits my requirements as a mother.
The Price: Time
I work hard for this flexibility. For the fact that I can pick up my child from daycare early to go to the Dinosour Museum. So that none of my colleagues side-eye me when I run out of an important meeting at 15:30 to drive my daughter to ballet. The price I pay is accessibility no matter where I am and often an extra hour in the evening in front of the notebook. The company without a culture of presence doesn’t care exactly when I do my work, the main thing is that I do it.
And I’m happy to do everything I can to avoid that lonely club of female managers who manoeuvre their prams between the bakery and the playground and shoot each other frustrated looks throughout the PEKiP course.
The Key: The right company
So the fairytale of combining motherhood and career can come true – but only if you’ve found the right company and are prepared to give a lot for it.
The key is the mindset of the company. What makes the boss tick? Does he mentally dismiss women as housewives after parental leave and watch the last brain cells of his former top employees atrophy? Or does he use his opportunity to bind qualified women to the company for the long term. Because at some point, all maternal leave must come to an end and female employees return. If he wants the good ones to stay, then he has to offer models that make career and family compatible.
The Here & Now: Security
Oops, I did it again! My second child is only nine weeks old and I’m more relaxed than ever – and that’s because I’m in the luxurious situation of not having to worry about whether I’ll keep my important leadership role. And, so I’m doing what I do best as the mum of a nine-week-old treasure; enjoying this precious time worry-free and to the fullest.