Saturday, November 21, 2015

Week 25: My Experience with "Leaning In"

A lot of people are surprised to learn that I knew I was pregnant when I chose to switch jobs (and companies). It definitely wasn't an easy decision - leaving my old job meant giving up a job with great benefits at a large, stable company. It was especially hard to walk away from their very generous maternity leave and FMLA protection at that point (new moms that have been working at their companies for less than a year don't have the job protection of FMLA).

On the flip side, even before getting pregnant, I was already looking for a new challenge. I had been at my company for four years and I was ready to learn something new. I also wasn't sure I believed in the company's new direction. It didn't help that lots of people at the company had been there for decades. A lot of them didn't take the opportunity to leave earlier on in their tenure when they had the chance, so they ended up staying at the company for their entire careers. While that worked out well for those who climbed the corporate ladder up to the top, some got stuck in an awkward in-between position with nowhere to go. A lot of those colleagues confessed that it was hard for them to convince other employers that they could be a good fit for their cultures, since they spent so much time at one company. So they ended up staying, but really due to lack of choice.

My new company is much smaller, with fewer corporate benefits like bonuses, retirement contributions, and generous maternity leaves. However, I'm learning and doing so much more because the company is smaller and more agile. Plus, it's in a different industry so I'm learning about marketing a whole new type of product. We're also growing at a tremendous rate across all metrics, which is exciting to see and not something I had ever experienced at my former Fortune 500 employer. By the time I joined, they had already passed that phase of phenomenal growth so I never had the chance to see or experience that for myself.

Of course, there are a lot of risks with my new position. My new company might not be able to sustain its growth. They don't even have to guarantee me a job after I give birth. (On a sidenote, legislators really need to rethink the restrictions on FMLA because it really limits women's career opportunities in their child bearing years.) Maybe the risk will be on me - it's possible I won't want to come back to work after becoming a mom. I may not always agree with the principles of Lean In but in this case, I do agree wholeheartedly with Sheryl Sandberg. In her book, she talks about how women start checking out of their jobs months or even years before they start having children. She argues that we should be leaning more into our careers at this pre-children stage, because we're more likely to go back to our careers if we're doing meaningful, interesting work.

In my case, this is particularly true because I knew that staying at my old job meant that I was likely to quit after becoming a mom. That would be great if it's what I truly wanted, but less great if it's only because I wasn't that enthusiastic about going back to my job. Now that I'm in a new job (with stock options that incentivize me to extend my tenure), I'm much more likely to return to work after my maternity leave. And even if I don't end up back at the job, at least I spent the last few months gaining new skills in a new company and industry. That way, if and when I am ready to go back to work, I'll have more to show for on my resume.

Does that mean that I definitely made the right choice? It's too early for me to say at this point but so far so good. And if it doesn't turn out to be my glorious Lean In moment? Then I'll figure out what the next move should be and go from there. In the meantime, I'll just take life a day at a time.

Santorini, Greece, July 2011

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