Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The final countdown

Today is my last day at work before my maternity leave. My company is surprisingly generous for Hong Kong and rather than the statutory minimum, which I believe is about 10 weeks, I get 15 weeks of leave to be with my new little bundle of screaming joy. HR mandate that I leave work at least 2 weeks before my due date because, although the bank are keen to develop the next generation of bankers I suspect the strategy does not extend to giving birth to them in the office. If Bump is on time then I will have 13 weeks to get to know her before I am back in the office.

Compared to my sister, who gets 6 months paid leave and then can take a further 6 months, this seems rather pathetic, but being out of the office for 15 weeks is still worrying me a bit.

I am not very good at not being at work. Since the age of 18 I have worked weekends and holidays. I didn't take a gap year and the longest break I have ever had between jobs was a 2 week rowing holiday. I blame the work ethic my parents instilled in me at an early age, along with the fact that I have always been rather blessed to do jobs I really quite enjoy. When we first moved to HK the Boy used to book our holidays to places where my phone wouldn't work so as to forcibly stop me engaging with the office, and when my Blackberry and phone worked on our recent trip to Vietnam I predictably spent a couple of hours one afternoon sitting by the pool sorting out some minor crisis back in Singapore. Although the team has cover while I am on maternity leave in the form of my counterpart in the US, I know I will end up taking a sneaky peak at emails and having to restrain myself from dealing with them.

My friend, L, has offered some very good advice in this regard. L is a good friend of mine and the archetypal working woman. She has a super senior job with one of the world's largest banks, which sees her with huge responsibility and lots of travel. Such was her work focus that when she went into labour 4 weeks early she said all she could think about on her way to the hospital was who would do the presentation she was due to give the next morning. For the first couple of weeks after her first son was born work continued to call her and she checked her Blackberry a couple of times a day in between feeds. She is not quite sure when her Damascene conversion occurred but one day she woke up, looked at her son and decided not to turn on the phone or Blackberry. She then spent the remainder of her maternity leave getting to know her son properly and enjoying the rare time to be with him, reasoning that work would always be there but she would only have this time with her son once. She let go of her job and became a Mum for those few weeks.

This is an example I need to listen to and start from the beginning. However, I can't help feeling that taking this time out will disadvantage me career-wise. I would like to think otherwise - I am lucky and have a supportive boss who has promised only to contact me on critical issues, the team will ensure they handle everything they can and only involve me on crucial decisions - however I will miss 3 months and it is going to take some time to get back up to speed after that.

Also, although L sets a fine example, her story also has a sting in the tail. She was, quite obviously and shamefully, passed over for a promotion that would have clearly been hers had she not been on maternity leave. Whether "out of sight, out of mind" or the incorrect assumption that Mums might be less committed than their male counterparts, it was a stark reminder of the choices we have to make.

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