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How to Position Yourself for Promotion as a Working Parent

Position for Promotion as Working Parent - Top Tips

Practical Tips On Positioning Yourself for Promotion as a Working Parent From Leaders Plus Fellows

In 2016 The Fawcett Society released research which showed that 40% of people surveyed believed women are less committed to work after having children. In the same year, a study by Bain & Company showed that working fathers’ careers suffered when they asked for flexible working or parental leave. The barriers to career progression for working parents go far beyond the logistics of childcare.

This is the very reason the Leaders Plus Fellowship exists.

Happily, 100% of our graduates reported that they “feel more confident about developing their career as a parent” because of their time on the Fellowship. And, of our last cohort, 30% have been promoted within 12 months of completing the programme.

So, what’s their secret to overcoming these barriers and what have they done to position themselves for promotion?

We discussed this very topic in our recent panel event where we were joined by an impressive line-up of Fellowship Alumni who had all recently been promoted at work. You can watch a replay of the full panel discussion here.

This is what they had to say.

Challenge Your Own Assumptions

In our recent blog on tackling assumptions, we discussed how unfounded beliefs in the workplace can be a huge barrier to career progression for working parents.

But what if the assumption is held by the working parent themselves?

Zarlashta Behzadi, Content Strategy Manager at Citizens Advice admitted that an assumption she held was that career progression was only possible once children had become more self-sufficient, a common belief we see on our Fellowship:

“I thought you had to have older children in order to give yourself capacity for focussing on promotion”

However, as Leader Plus Founder, Verena Hefti, highlighted, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to forging a successful career:

“There are so many ways to progress your career. Just because you haven’t seen someone do it the way you want or need, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t or can’t do it.”

The trick is to look around you for inspiration from people who are succeeding, but ultimately to find the right solution for your own situation.

Highlight Your Ambition… and Achievements!

Without exception, all our panellists discussed the importance of being direct with line managers about goals and ambitions, even if you’re not 100% sure what that might look like for you yet. In doing so, you will position yourself in your employer’s mind as being open to development opportunities rather than being overlooked whilst on parental leave.

For Zarlashta, however, being forward about your achievements was also key:

“As well as being clear about your career ambitions, also be very clear about your achievements. Don’t be afraid to foreground what you’ve done and the results you’ve achieved.”

In practical terms, this meant taking the brave step to present at cross-organisational team meetings as well as casting your net in external networks such as LinkedIn. Could you try something similar in your organisation?

For more tips on this, listen to our Big Careers Small Children podcast with Lauren Currie OBE on ‘How to Increase Your Visibility at Work’

Communicate Your Needs

As a widow and a single parent, Melissa Hillier, Chief Executive Officer of RICE Dementia Research and Care, faced huge challenges when it came to career progression. However, learning to work smarter and flex within the hours available, and importantly, being honest about her needs for working have been integral to her success:

“I’ve been upfront about what I can do and what I can achieve within the hours I have. And I’m now about to move to my next role as a CEO for another charity”.

If your situation means that you have specific needs to do a job to the best of your abilities – whether that’s needing flexible working to fit around your family or expanding your team to lighten your workload – try being open about these rather than suffering in silence and potentially compromising your quality of work, time with your family or your mental and physical health.

Ultimately, if that particular position or organisation cannot accommodate your needs, then you need to ask yourself if it’s the right fit for you.

Knocking on Closed Doors?

So, what if you have the ambition to progress but the biggest barrier is an unsupportive line manager or working culture? Lucy Duszczak, Senior Online Sales and Digital Manager for YHA, suggests that “in this case, it’s crucial to find yourself a sponsor to advocate and open more doors for you.”

Zarlashta agreed that, for her, senior sponsorship was vital:

“Being a woman, and a woman of colour, I learned the benefit of gaining the support of a senior sponsor. I did this by being very direct about wanting sponsorship”.

Ultimately though, as Melissa suggests, there’s no point in fighting a losing battle and that it’s ok to take your experience to an organisation with a better cultural fit:

“If you’re stuck in a culture that doesn’t support your needs, then look at opportunities to gain what you need in order to move on – that could be training and development or making connections with people to help take that next step.”

Sponsorship is a core topic on the Leaders Plus Fellowship. Listen to our Big Careers Small Children podcast on ‘How to Find a Sponsor for Career Growth with Fellowship Mentors, Fiona Jackson and Radhika Bajaj.

Take Care of Yourself

One of the big topics discussed on the panel was how important it is to take care of yourself, physically and mentally, when you’re an ambitious working parent. The temptation to work longer hours to prove your worth, or just simply to stay on top of workload, is a typical issue for working parents.

Louise Elizabeth Walton, Director of Internal Communications, Global Finance and Specialist Functions at HSBC, admitted that in her 2nd year of her senior role, she pushed herself to the point of physical illness and was left needing serious hospital treatment. Whilst she didn’t blame her employer for what happened, she did realise that it was up to her to set – and stick to – boundaries for her own health:

“I’ve learned that companies will always take more if you offer it. You have to think about yourself and your well-being. Set boundaries, be conscious of when you’re at your best, and check-in with your family”.

Download our ‘Setting Boundaries’ workbook for more practical advice on how to do this.

Find out more about the award-winning Leaders Plus Fellowship and how it can support the career progression of working parents.


Cristy Garratt CNBC - Leaders Plus Fellowship



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