Women in Business: My maternity leave experience

Hanna Drew, Head of Project Delivery at Chorus, shares her thoughts on the challenges of maternity leave and what companies can do to encourage and support women throughout the process.

As the ‘Women in Tech’ champion on Chorus’ ED&I committee, I’m always thinking about the challenges I have faced during my career and what companies can do to encourage a more equal workplace. As I approach my second period of maternity leave, I think it’s important to reflect on the challenges this raises and what companies can do to encourage and support women before, during & after such a life changing transition.

Maternity leave anxieties

Going on maternity leave is a nerve-wracking prospect. For a first-time mum like me, I wondered; what is the baby going to be like? Am I going to be a good mother? And what is this going to do to my career?

Before going, there’s no doubt that I was anxious. I’d always wanted to be a mother, but my career was going really well and I was nervous that all the hard work I’d put in over the last few years would be wiped away in one swift move. I often thought “my replacement will be much better than me”, “they won’t want me to come back”, “this is the time they’ll expose me for the imposter that I am”, “there are plenty of people that can do what I do, better, quicker and to a higher standard, my mat cover will get my job and that’ll be game over”.

None of these thoughts were substantiated. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive team. Don’t get me wrong, I was told in jest several times that my timing could’ve been better, but it always came from a place of warmth and an acknowledgement that I would be missed.

During maternity leave, I was allowed to be as involved or uninvolved as I wanted. I brought my daughter to work for a few meetings, I dialled into the monthly company update to keep abreast of what was going on. All because I wanted to. Not because there was an expectation to.

Being away was a challenge. I’d come in for a KIT day to find that my replacements were doing really well. Fantastic for the company which I want to be successful but more ammunition for the anxieties already in my mind. Secretly, I wanted the feedback to be “we can’t do this without you”.

Returning to work

I always knew that I wanted to come back to work fulltime. It’s important to me that I have my own life, that my daughter has a role model to look up to who can demonstrate that it’s possible to be a mum and have a fulfilling career. I’m lucky that I came back to a promotion and that I work for a company that encourage me to put family first. I changed my working hours so I can pick up my daughter from nursery and when I need to stay at home, I can. Many calls have been had with Mr Tumbles blaring in the background.

Don’t get me wrong, returning to work wasn’t easy. I was still filled with doubt. Having previously been the person who got to work early and left late, I thought my colleagues would judge me for changing my patterns. Again, I couldn’t be more wrong. So many of my team members have children; leaving early for school pick up, popping out for sports day, needing to stay home to look after a poorly child. Never questioned. Never judged. My return to work was made easier by frequent KIT days in the lead up to coming back, the option of a phased return and a clear plan of what I’d be doing when I came back. It was up to me whether to ease myself back into it, or whether to jump in at the deep end. I chose the latter. Not because there was pressure to, but because that’s what worked for me.

Takeaways for the second time around

Despite the benefit of hindsight, as I prepare to go on maternity leave again; the same thoughts darken my mind. “will this be the time that they realise I’m not needed?” “surely, this time they will find someone better than me”, “my colleagues must begrudge me for the disruption I am causing”, “all the hard work I’ve put in will be forgotten”, “they’ll forget me when I’m gone and this will ruin my chances of progression” and it’s difficult to keep those thoughts at bay.
Again though, I know I will be supported from the day I announced my pregnancy, to the day I eventually come back to work. How?

  • My manager and I immediately started working on plans for my maternity cover so I didn’t have to worry that I was leaving anyone or anything in the lurch
  • We’ve discussed what I want to do with my career long term so the business can take it into consideration as it develops when I’m away. This shows me that the company is just as committed to me as I am to it.
  • I can be as involved or uninvolved as I want to during my leave. I can join company updates if I want to, I can bring my future son to meetings, if I want to. There’s no expectation to join, or judgement if I don’t but I know that if do join, I will be warmly welcomed by colleagues and leaders alike.
  • I know that if I need to change my hours again to accommodate two children instead of one, that’s a discussion that my bosses are willing to have.

This time around, I’m taking fewer months off, choosing instead to share parental leave with my husband. I struggled to stay at home for so long last time and I think it’s important that as parents, that’s ok to say. I cherish my daughter more than anything, but I needed more stimulation, challenge, time with other adults and routine than I expected. Again, showing my daughter & soon to be born son that it’s possible to have a fulfilling & exciting career whilst also being a mum is important to me but that can only happen by working for an employer that encourages & supports me along the way and I’m lucky to have one.


Having been through this process twice, there are a few things I would encourage those who are going on maternity leave to do;

  • Be honest with your employer about what you want for the future
  • Be open to changing your mind; having a baby changes everything, what worked before might not work again
  • Accept that what works for someone else might not work for you and that’s ok
  • Speak to your employer about how involved you want to be when you’re at home
  • Put a plan in place for how your role will be delivered when you’re away

By being open with my employer, no matter how daunting, I feel more prepared and reassured going into this round of maternity leave. All I have left to do now is wait for the baby’s arrival and enjoy the time I have at home.

#championthetruth, #enjoythejourney, #embracethefuture