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Maternity buddy program eases transition back to work

A year away from the office to welcome your baby into this world seems like heaven, right? But for women with demanding careers, that year away can bring concerns that all the advancements you have made may unravel while you are away. Many decide not to take a full year. But, regardless of how much time you decide to take, there are simple things you can do to ease your transition away from and back into your workplace. 

As the mother of five children, I can empathize with the challenges faced when going on maternity leave. I was concerned with managing both my career, which I love, and my home life. Others are concerned with making sure they aren’t put on the “mommy track.” Recognizing these challenges, McCarthy Tétrault, where I am a lawyer, decided to figure out what we could do as a firm to provide support, both when women go on leave and return to work.
It became clear to the firm that, by taking some straightforward inexpensive measures at work, women can make the maternity leave process less daunting, and put themselves in a place where they feel confident moving forward in their careers, as soon as they return to the workplace.

The key for the mother-to-be is to find a workplace maternity buddy.

A maternity buddy’s main role is to keep the mother in the loop and aware of changes in office personnel, as well as, any developments that would affect her work. A mother should choose a colleague – preferably in her department – whom she trusts and with whom she has a good rapport.

It sounds simple, but the impact of staying in close contact with someone in the thick of things is substantial. It means feeling connected to the office and knowing what to expect when it’s time to return to the workplace, through things like knowing about new employees, updates on work with new clients. Buddies are also a great source of advice on how to adjust to managing both your commitments to your new baby and your work.

McCarthy Tétrault formalized these ideas and created the Maternity Buddy program in 2008. The mothers and buddies at the office who have been part of the program have noted the effect it has made on their maternity leave experiences and to the overall culture of the firm.
Tara Piurko, a partner at McCarthy Tétrault, who went on maternity leave in 2008 with her first child and again in 2010 with her second child, recalls how her maternity buddy was at times essential to facilitating her transition from home and back to work. “Phil helped me feel connected to the office during both my leaves – with what was happening with my clients and the news around the office. His support helped smooth my transition so I could hit the ground running, rather than feeling like it was my first day on the job. For us it meant phone calls every few weeks and occasional lunches. But each pairing finds a system for staying in touch that works for them.”

If your office doesn’t have any kind of formal program for helping mothers feel connected while on maternity leave, you can talk to your managers about it. But it’s also something you can do informally with a colleague to take some of the worries out of maternity leave, and make you feel that when that time away is over, you’re more than ready to confidently move forward with your career.

Lisa Vogt is a partner in McCarthy Tétrault’s Vancouver office, National Practice Group Leader of the Real Property and Planning Group, and Chair of the firm’s national Diversity Task Force.