“Are You Coming Back?”

Guest Blog By Claudia Bruce-Quartey

There are some questions that just shouldn’t be asked – and if you were male, they categorically wouldn’t be asked. Here’s a salutary tale of how to successfully take control and show a winning hand when awkward conversations arise in the workplace.

I was born in Germany and when I was younger, I never thought I’d work on anything related to technology or numbers – to me they were just for boys! Now I’m a Key Account Manager for a major Software company – in other words I sell (numbers) IT (technical).

The industry is fast-paced and innovation is disruptive. This is what fascinates me. When it comes to women in IT however, there are still visible disparities of internal and external opportunities and they show within the companies.

When I started working in Switzerland in the IT industry back in 2015, I was the first woman in Sales at my company. The first Black woman ever to be employed by that company and the first female sales person to fall pregnant within an all-male field sales organisation.

What a gift!

I remember announcing my pregnancy and noticing the unease in my boss’s eyes.

Needless to say, there were few detailed plans on my re-integration and similarly no thorough discussions about general well-being during pregnancy.

As the pregnancy progressed, we finally had a one-to-one conversation on what would happen next.

“Are you coming back?” my manager asked.

I felt uneasy, I thought, “Well if you believed we had everything in order then you wouldn’t be asking me this question, would you?”

Despite great efforts, gendered differences in employment and pay gaps persist in most European countries, especially due to childbirth. For context, Swiss maternity leave is regulated to 14 weeks, but companies may decide to offer more paid leave.

My company didn’t have any such plans, so leaving the job after 14 weeks would mean a career interruption which just wouldn’t have been feasible at that point in my life. I wanted to balance childcare, work and my professional career because I saw more than just being a working mum. My title was proof: I was an Account Manager.

My responsibilities as a mum didn’t mean I needed a pay cut – what I needed was flexibility to do my job just as professionally as before having kids.

 

I decided to take matters into my own hands and planned what I needed from my company using these five steps:

  1. Understand what you need as a woman: Everybody is different but for me it was the flexibility to schedule my own time without guilt and excuse.
  2. Make your requests clear: After identifying my needs, I decided to let internal and external team members and partners understand how, moving forward, we could continue to work with each other.
  3. Be there to get the job done, not to be seen: When I needed to visit clients or give a presentation/close a deal, I identified beforehand what was needed for successful execution. I asked myself the following questions: Is my presence needed or can anyone on my team execute?
  4. Make a succession plan: Pregnancy is a beautiful journey, but babies will have their way and signal to your body what is needed. This means somebody has to jump in sooner or later. Have a joint succession plan session with your manager and your stand-in colleague to manage open tasks and business continuity.
  5. Things can change – be open and honest with yourself: You might decide to get back to the workplace as quickly as possible – which could be great – but also remain open to possibilities. Do you want to go back to the same role/function and within the same capacity? For me, the answer to all these questions was “yes”. But I knew I wanted to see my young child grow up, so working from home and phone calls became my default.

 

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list as there were several micro steps and adjustments that either preceded or followed these steps. However, taking these actions helped me to gain peace of mind and clarity for me and my team, as well as being good for my mental health after my maternity leave. I was able to enjoy my new-found joy as well as balance my career, which really helped my confidence and so much more.

 

Claudia Bruce-Quartey is a Key Account Manager at Red Hat Switzerland,

Co-founder of Iconic Women and Children’s Author (My Hair, My Choice. Due to be published in September 2021).

You can connect with her on

LinkedIn

Instagram

Gmail claudiabruceq@gmail.com

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