Real Women Talk: What Brought Us Back to Work After Leave

Back to work after leave
Leaders in all industries are grappling with the same retention issue - women. From medicine to business, the numbers of working women are simply not keeping pace with their numbers in school. Many are leaving at what a business school dean calls the "Mid-Career Marathon" of jobs and children. And it's costing organizations in talent and knowledge.

There's a lot of soul searching going on. But the answers may be more straight-forward than you think. I asked some working women what got them back to work after leave.

Here's what they said made the difference:

The right supervisor

"When I told my supervisor I was pregnant, she congratulated me and said one thing: let's discuss how we can ensure you can build up to your leave successfully, remain engaged while gone, and then re-enter successfully. She made all the difference."

Ownership of the process

"My manager held me accountable for my on-ramping and my off-ramping strategy.  I put together an entire document that she reviewed and supported and asked me to share with my stakeholders openly.  I came back and picked up right where I left off.  There was something about writing that document that made me feel like I really owned and drove this part of my career."


"My review was not pushed out due to my leave, and about three months after coming back, my manager gave me a promotion that I had been on track to receive.  I didn't feel like I had to prove myself all over again."


"I've always had truly flexible work hours that I took for granted. But now that I have a child, I realize how fortunate I am and that I couldn't work without that."

Supportive team

 "I accepted a job that wasn't the highest paying because I really liked my team and the culture and I knew that they would be supportive of me as a working mom. That was huge."

Willingness to roll

 "My manager really worked with me to get my schedule right. We changed it a few times before everything fell into place. She told me I was worth it. It made me more invested."

Stated value

"Before I went out, my manager made it clear he wanted me to come back."

Demonstrated interest

"My boss had gone on leave herself, so she didn't talk about it like a vacation. She checked in with me just enough so I felt I was still part of the team, but never sent me work...and never asked me to come back early."

On-site child care

"Child care was really it for me - having the center right there so I could see my daughter. I also knew the child care my company offered was better than any socialization I could give her."

A buffer zone

"I was able to use some extra days of child care before I went back to work. That time to myself really helped me find the mental space to be completely ready to dive back in - and it also got me used to being away from my son."

The ability to shift

"My career will last forever but my children are only young once. My company was willing to let me adapt my career as my priorities changed with my family."

Genuine flexibility

"It's impossible to know exactly what your days will look like before you're living them. I was able to pump when I needed to, and go see my daughter when I needed to, no questions asked."


"I've heard about people in companies that just left it to chance. That made everybody resentful - the people who had to cover while mom was gone; and the mom who felt completely benched when she came back. That was the complete opposite of my experience."

Most moms echoed our Modern Family Index findings, saying they were excited to come back to work after leave. "I was happy about it," said one mom. "I knew I wasn't stay-at-home-mom material. But did that mean I wasn't worried about how I was going to manage it all? Absolutely not. My company helped me with that. If not, I might have left."
Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
Back to work after leave

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