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How to Tackle Assumptions as a Working Parent

Working Parents - Tackling Assumptions

Assumptions are an important part of the decision-making process. They allow us to make quick decisions without becoming bogged down with endless possibilities for any given scenario.

However, assumptions become problematic when they are driven by prejudice.  Left unchecked they can have serious and detrimental consequences for individuals and society in general as discussed by Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley in this fantastic video about implicit bias.

When it comes to working parents, we know all too well the impact that assumptions can have on career progression. One study found that an incredible 40% of those surveyed believed that women were less committed to work once they have a child (Fawcett Society, 2016).

So, as working parents, how do we tackle these assumptions positively and take back control over our career progression? This was the topic of a recent Leaders Plus Fellowship launch event. Here’s what the panel had to say.

Quality Over Quantity

Presenteeism is a huge issue in the UK. The CIPD’s 2018 Health and Wellbeing at Work study showed that people coming to work when they are ill had trebled in the years between 2010 and 2018 and that 86% of workers had observed presenteeism in their work place in the previous 12 months.

Yet, despite knowing the strains of presenteeism on wellbeing, productivity and the economy, we continue to prioritise ‘busyness’ as a marker of success. We hear time and again the impact this has on fellows who are either left reeling from the pressure of balancing unreasonable workloads with a demanding family life or feeling side-lined at work after maternity or paternity leave as they just aren’t as busy as they were before having children.

Panellist, Dr Maja Korica, Associate Professor of Management and Organisation at Warwick Business School, invited the fellows to challenge their own assumptions around what success looks like by examining this notion that the busier they are, the more successful they must be:

“One assumption that resonates is that I used to have to work as hard as I did before in order to demonstrate dedication, success and capability. The realisation that external validation of success is not true was very important.”

She suggests that by acknowledging your worth and setting boundaries around the type of work you’re willing to undertake you are able to prioritise work that has meaning and value for you and supports your long-term goals:

“Being a working parent puts huge constraints on your time – so you need to be strategic with whom you share your time. So, ask yourself if a request will serve you and not anyone else’s definition of success.”

If setting boundaries is something you find hard, take a look at our blog, How do you set boundaries at work?’.

Create Your Own ‘Personal Board Room’

Battling against assumptions can be exhausting. Panellist, Dr Funke Abimbola MBE, multi award-winning lawyer, C-suite advisor, diversity leader, and CEO at the Austen Bronte Consultancy, shone a light on the multiple layers of assumptions that she has faced throughout her career.

“As a black, single mother, I’ve had lots of assumptions made about me. As a junior it was very demoralising and I felt diminished”.

Her advice for anyone feeling the erosive effects of pervasive assumptions in the workplace is to bring together an intimate group of champions that know you well, who understand your strengths and who will challenge you constructively.

“I love the idea of a personal board room. That is gathering together a small group of friends and family, an army of ready support, to act as advocates when things get tough.”

Hear more from Dr Funke Abimbola on dealing with microaggressions on our Big Careers, Small Children podcast.

Be The Role Model You Want to See

What do we do when the organisation we work for is severely lacking in working-parent role models at a senior level? One fellow made the point that whilst she had made great strides in her career whilst raising a family, that successful working parents were not reflected at the most senior levels of her organisation – a common issue for many.

Panellist, Dominic Holmes, Partner and Head of Employment Law at Taylor Vinters, made the suggestion that, whilst it might seem challenging, she could see this as an opportunity to build on her proven track-record and become a role model for others:

“Why can’t that example be you? There’s an opportunity for you to grasp that and become the role model that is lacking in your organisation.”

And if you can’t find the inspiration you’re looking for within your current organisation, why not try looking outside to external networks, such as the Leaders Plus Fellowship, and individuals who reflect your own values? Lists, such as the Timewise Power List showcase exceptional senior leaders highlighting what can happen when we challenge the status quo. In reaching out you will gain confidence about what can be achieved whilst also expanding your professional network and potentially opening up opportunities for yourself. It really is a win-win!

Listen to Dominic Holmes talking to us about making smart career choices based on your values on our Big Careers, Small Children podcast.

Take Control of Your Situation

What happens when we’ve tried everything but the only option left is to walk away? Dr Maja Korica suggests re-framing the decision to leave an organisation from ‘giving up’ to a strategic step in finding a situation that works for you:

“If a situation is not working, then it’s ok to walk away. We put so much pressure on ourselves to make it work. If your organisation is not helping you then sometimes, we have to make changes in our work lives.”

Hear more from Dr Maja Korica on progressing your career.


For more information about the award-winning Leaders Plus Fellowship Programme, including information for employers and details of how you can register please click here.

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