An HR leader encourages mothers to speak up and take all the time they need after giving birth
As a senior HR manager for PepsiCo and mother of three, Danielle understands maternity leave from both sides.
She had three very different experiences postpartum. For her first two children, she was able to take extended time off – 10 months and 3.5 years respectively. But when pregnant with her youngest child, she was newly hired and felt obligated to get back to work much faster.
She gave her new job a start date six weeks after her son’s due date, but he came a week late which intruded on the time she planned for healing and bonding. Instead of speaking up, Danielle started her new job five weeks later, something she still regrets until this day.
Looking back, Danielle said it was the right decision to spend more time bonding with her first children. When she did start working again, her mind was clear and she wasn’t stressed. After her third child, she felt overwhelmed and wished she didn’t rush back to work.
Over her 14 years as a mother, Danielle has seen parental leave policies evolve. She initially saw these benefits take a back seat for years.
More recently, she’s seen growing acknowledgment of the importance of strong parental leave policies and watched companies increase their offerings by four to as many as 10 weeks. She’s also seen paternity leave added.
Her advice for other HR leaders who want to use their influence to enhance their parental leave policies, benefits and employee support is to learn how to leverage relationships with the people that have the authority to change things.
“Build trust, gain buy-in, know the business and how you can speak to the needs of the business from an HR perspective,” she says. “Watch for trends and let your data speak for you.”
Read Danielle’s full Q&A below to learn more about her journey through motherhood as an HR professional.
Please share a brief professional summary that provides context about your work situation immediately preceding having children through today.
“I started my career right when I was pregnant with my daughter. I also was pursuing my academic career. I left the workforce to focus on motherhood and to spend all the time I wanted with my daughter. After three-and-a-half years, I was finally ready to return to work. I continued to advance in my career and took time off to pursue my graduate degree. I also had my son during this time. Additionally, I moved closer to my family and started looking for work again. I contracted until I had my second son and found a permanent job. From that moment, I continued to advance in my career.”
What mistakes did you make with your parental leave? Are there things you wish you had done differently before, during or after?
“Absolutely, the biggest mistake was taking on a new job without informing them I was pregnant. My boss at the time did not even notice I was pregnant. When I delivered my son a week later, I wish I had informed my job so I could have pushed back my start date. Looking back, I would have liked to have given myself and my son another week to recover and bond.”
What worked really well in your re-onboarding experiences? What helped you feel good and up to speed faster?
“Taking the time I needed to bond with my daughter is what helped most because my mind was clear, I was not stressed and I was ready. It was too soon when I returned after having my youngest son and I was very overwhelmed.”
What did your manager or company do that was really helpful to your success transitioning back to work?
“They all ensured I had the space I needed while breastfeeding my son.”
Is there anything specific you wish they did differently?
“I do wish they asked how I was feeling. I would have liked it if there were check-ins to discuss my feelings. I think there could have been more support in this area.”
What is one professional achievement that you’re most proud of since becoming a parent, and why?
“I don’t have one specific achievement, but it’s the simple fact that I have been able to balance my career and parent as a single mother. Not only have I been able to balance my career, but I have also continued to advance in my career.”
If you had to name one thing (something you do, something you buy, something you have) that has had the greatest impact on your ability to manage working parenthood, what would it be?
“Having solid child care, but this is tough as I went through various child care providers to find the best care for my children. When your children cannot speak, it’s hard to gauge the quality of care. It’s best when you know people that recommend a place. I have found that at-home childcare worked best for my children. Creating a village is necessary if you find yourself in a place where you cannot afford it.”
Many parents say that once they had children, their “bar” became higher. They no longer tolerated wasteful work, unproductive meetings, etc. What else would you say changed as it relates to your career or work style once you had kids?
“Failure is not an option. Having three lives depending on me has instilled that in me. I will not give up, and I will not quit.”
As your children have gotten older, how has that changed your perspective on how to balance parenthood with career (if at all)?
“It just continues to confirm how important work-life balance truly is.”
What boundaries do you maintain as it relates to work/home? How have these boundaries shifted over time?
“Work ends at 5. After that, that time belongs to my children. Work cannot compete with their time, so everyone must wait until the morning.”
If you could give another parent [in a similar position as you] one piece of advice leading up to their parental leave, what would it be?
“Take all the time you need to be with your child. Do not rush back to work.”
You posted that your kids are your “why” and that really resonates with us. Can you elaborate on what that means to you as a working parent?
“My children are why I work as hard as I do, why I am as successful as I am, why I will never quit, why I get up in the morning and continue to grind, why I give my all every day, etc. They are the reason for it all.”
As an HR professional, you likely hear all about what benefits and support are most important to employees and job seekers. Based on your experience, where does parental leave support stack up against other benefits?
“In my profession, I have seen it take the back seat for years. In recent years, more emphasis has been placed on it, and I have seen an increase of four to 10 weeks. I have also seen paternity leave added.”
What is the biggest challenge or concern you hear most frequently from expecting or new parent employees?
“Not being eligible for benefits because they are a new hire. This pains me because it adds another layer of stress for an employee that can be avoided.”
What ways do you believe employers can best support working parents through parental leave? What can they do to ensure they return engaged and productive?
“Just like new hires go through orientation when they get hired, there should be something similar for parental leave. The experience and feelings should be similar. When the employee returns, there should be scheduled weekly check-ins. You never know what a person may be feeling, and having a safe place to discuss their feelings and how they are adjusting is so vital.”
What advice do you have for other HR leaders who want to use their influence to enhance their parental leave policies, benefits and employee support?
“Learn how to leverage your relationships with the people who have the authority to change things. Build trust, gain buy-in, know the business and how you can speak to the needs of the business from an HR perspective. Watch for trends and let your data speak for you.”
Anything else you want to add about your experience as a working parent?“To my mothers, do not ever forget who you are. We tend to lose our own identity when we become mothers. Know that it is OK to take breaks away from your children. You cannot pour anything into your children if your vessel is empty. Self-care is key!”
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