I returned from maternity leave 13 months ago and can confidently say that I have had the best year of my career to date. I did bigger things, took on more responsibility and matured as a manager, senior client advisor and business leader. I was just promoted to EVP and have taken on a “big” new job managing our Digital account staff up and down the West Coast. In that time, I also provided senior counsel to key clients while smelling faintly of spit up, and discovered that Cheerios have an amazing capacity to nest in every nook and cranny of a work bag. On the plus side, I always bring snacks for everyone!
On the home front, I participated as fully as any working mom could in the first year and a half of my daughter Charlotte’s life. *Almost* every day I spend quality time with her: playing, having dinner, giving baths and reading stories. Would I have spent more time with her if I was a stay-at-home mom? Sure. Would that have been the best thing for my family, for me and ultimately for her? No.
I can say without hesitation that I do have it all: A fulfilling career that continues to challenge and inspire me plus the family I always wanted, and enough time to experience life with them.
So how did this happen? And why? This is what I have learned, and the best advice I have:
- Set Your Boundaries… Within Reason. Edelman/clients and colleagues aren’t going to manage your schedule for you to ensure you make it home to see your kid. The onus is on you to do that. This requires excellent judgment to know what meeting can really wait until the next morning vs. the 5 p.m. in-person client meeting that absolutely can’t be moved. Because sometimes that early evening meeting is critical. We are in the client business and that is the way it is. When I came back to work I set an “80/20” goal: meaning that I would be happy if I could get my schedule right 80 percent of the time, knowing that 20 percent of the time it just wouldn’t work given the business we are in. This has ended up being about right, and the 80/20 balance works for me.
- Maximize Your Impact. The truth is when you have a baby, you are going to spend fewer hours in the office than you used to. That means, in order to continue to advance your career, you need to be really smart about how you spend the time you do have. Focus on high profile, important work. Socialize your innovation (be it internal business innovation or great client wins) to the benefit of the agency and other teams. When you take on the big meetings/new business opportunities, go full tilt. You can’t do everything, so kill the things you do take on.
- Invest in Relationships. This is critical and ignored most often by returning moms in their rush to get the “work” done and get home. This is the reality: you can’t do this on your own. You need a bench of folks as invested in you as you are in them, at every level, all over the agency. The only way that happens is by earning respect and trust through good work and good behavior – over and over again. This takes time and effort, but it pays off in spades. Don’t ignore this one.
- Accept your Priorities. Everyone approaches motherhood and career differently based on what they are looking to get out of all the different aspects of their life. For me, work is my highest priority outside of my family. That is not the case for everyone, and the key is to accept your own priorities and be true to them.
- Be Happy. This may sound strange, but has been critical to my success at work and at home in the past year. Enjoy your colleagues, your clients, your spouse, a good laugh, a great glass of wine. It’s not always easy (it’s frequently not, actually), but this balancing act is so much easier if you decide you are going to enjoy it and take it in stride.
Finally, I would say that it really helps to be surrounded by people who get it and champion the ability for working moms to be successful in the workplace (Richard Edelman, Gail Becker, Cricket Wardein and the list goes on). A lot of companies say they have good environments for “working moms.” Edelman takes it a big step further – we have an environment that allows you to catapult your career (if you want!) without sacrificing your family to do it. And my little Charlotte, clapping and singing on the way to Montessori every morning and snuggling in for mommy hugs in the evening, is my living proof.
Mary Corcoran is an executive vice president and director of client services for Digital West, based in San Francisco. In that capacity, she looks after digital accounts and staff up and down the West Coast of the United States.