I recently had a conversation with a mum who was on maternity leave following the birth of her first child. She has a senior role in her team at work and in a traditionally male-dominated area, furthermore, she is a confident high performer and ambitious to progress.
Despite this, she said to me that she recognised her career had to slow down as she wanted to work 4 days per week while her child was young. She should not expect to progress to the next level whilst on reduced hours so her promotion would have to wait until she went back to 5 days a week.
These statements were presented in a matter-of-fact way as truths, yet, I suspect that some of you reading those statements will agree and some of you will be mentally yelling ‘no’ at your screen. We meet these types of statements a lot in our work. We call them limiting beliefs – beliefs that we hold true that in some way hold us back. The word ‘should’ is often a good clue to their presence. “I should not need to ask for help”, “I should be flexible to take calls on my non-working day”
In this situation, these limiting beliefs had impacted how the individual had talked about her career during her return to work meeting and she had expressed these views to the head of her team. The positive part of me would hope that her line manager would challenge her assumptions but my concern is that they could misread them as a change in her ambitions, that she was happy to wait.
What we experience in our lives to date shape our beliefs and we use them to make sense of the world around us. Once we recognise what they are, the next step is to look for the evidence to support them. It is true that in a male-dominated team there won’t have been many if any, role models who have progressed on reduced hours. However, for my maternity returner, I know she works in a large, progressive organisation where there are plenty of examples of others in different teams who have. The evidence to challenge those limiting beliefs does exist.
For all of us, it is worth considering the beliefs we carry around being a working parent and choosing to hold on to those that support us whilst ditching the ones that limit us.