AIG Life underwriting & claims strategy manager shares her story
It is odd to think that in 2019 women still have to consider if they can ‘have it all' and have a family and a career when they are thinking of starting a family. Yet that is still the reality for lots of women in our industry, as it was for me a few years ago. I therefore wanted to share my story of the atypical decision my partner and I made to take shared parental leave and how we think it may have enhanced our careers.
I strongly believe that a more even distribution of parenting responsibilities, and flexible working for both parents becoming the norm, is really important if we are achieve to true equality.
Part of the solution for my husband and I when we looked at how I might return to work after being on maternity leave was to consider shared parental leave. Yet I did not know anyone who had used shared parental leave (it is still very underutilised, by only 2% of couples ) and I could tell some people thought it strange for us to even consider it. I therefore could not predict what the impact would be on myself and my husband, who also works in financial services.
When Rose was born in 2016, I spent five months with her on maternity leave, which I absolutely loved. I soon settled in to my Mum routine. Then after five months, I came back to work and my husband took on the next lot of parental leave. I will admit it was not easy leaving Rose at first. However, seeing my husband spend the type of precious time with her that most dads do not typically get, made it easier, and we soon shifted into our new normal. Sharing the parental leave meant we shared the parenting responsibilities physically, mentally and financially. I really could not recommend it strongly enough.
Being a full time working Mum with a very young baby is not without challenge. I have found it pays to be honest and flexible about what you need from your family to be who you are, and what help you might need from your employer. For example, breastfeeding my baby was important to me and at five months, I was still feeding regularly but I had to ask, ‘How the heck was I going to do that in an office?'
AIG Life was great when I spoke to them about it. I was able to use meeting rooms to pump and store my milk in a fridge, which meant I could be everything I wanted to be for both my baby and my job. All it took was for me to be brave, and have an open and honest conversation with my employer.
Balancing family life
To make it work as a family, we also had to be organised about life. Though it helps that my husband and I are both lucky enough to work for forward-thinking companies who embrace flexible working. I know if I have something important to do for my family, I can leave work early to collect Rose and then log back on after she is in bed to finish what I need to. I have to be very open about what I can and cannot do.
And if I'm honest, I did worry that having a child might halt my own and my husband's career progression but this hasn't been the case. If anything, I believe it has helped us progress as we've both become so organised in life that it's allowed us to show how driven we are.
Instead of a child hampering our careers, since returning to work we have both been promoted. I now manage AIG Life's underwriting & claims strategy team, and it was an incredibly proud moment for me when I was named AIG Life's ‘Employee of the Year' last year. What might be of interest to the men reading is that my husband has also had two promotions since his stint of parental leave. So while there is a genuine concern among some dads that their career would be impacted if they take shared parental leave - as it's still the expectation that it's women who take the leave and work flexibly - our story shows this is far from the case.
The most important thing for us is that Rose is an awesome kid. She is happy and confident (and cheeky) and loves being at nursery full-time. Of course, there is the occasional ‘mum guilt' if I'm late to pick her up. But when I speak to other mums I find that's the norm no matter how you parent. Rose knows mummy and daddy both work and I hope this inspires her to see that she can be whoever and whatever she wants to be when she grows up.
If you were to ask me, I would say ‘Yes, you can have it all' should you choose to have a family, providing you are willing to put in a lot of hard work. I know I am lucky to work for a company with lots of strong role models who enjoy both work and family life. I never thought my gender could be a factor in my own career progression until I considered having a baby. And I'm really glad it isn't and I hope with shared parental leave this becomes the norm for more women.
Helen Croft is underwriting & claims strategy manager for AIG Life
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