When corporate consultant Janice Yeo came back from her first parental leave with her daughter Kate, it would only be a few short months before her second leave with her son Chris. In the course of figuring out how to manage these two back-to-back leaves within the context of a high-flying corporate role and career, Janice learned a thing or two about making working parenthood truly work. We’re grateful that she has shared her thoughts with us here.
During my career at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), I’ve attended countless client meetings. But there’s one in particular that I won’t soon forget: the time a lunch companion tossed her meal all over the office floor and erupted into tears, all over a misplaced cup of water.
This wasn’t a tough-to-please client but rather my daughter Kate, who, at 8-months old, had accompanied me on a client get-together while I was on parental leave. Since then, I’ve mastered the art of juggling the needs of a fussy toddler with the high demands of work. But like any challenging project, there have been some triumphs – and tricky situations – along the way.
I had started with BCG in Singapore office in 2008, fresh out of university, and later transferred to Toronto, Canada as part of an associate abroad program. I now call the charming – yet chilly – Canadian city home. I became pregnant with Kate, and spent a year on parental leave. But here’s where my story differs from most: when I returned back to work in June of 2018, I was already expecting my second child.
Sharing the news of my first pregnancy was a cinch. I had worked for BCG for many years, boasted an excellent track record, and was on an enviable career path. But my confidence waned when I learned I was having a boy in January, only a few short months after returning from leave. It’s hard enough integrating back into the workplace as a new working mom. But as a pregnant new working mom leaving yet again in another few months?
As I navigated this tricky situation, I discovered a number of strategies that I believe can improve how we talk about pregnancy in the workplace and the way we view working parents.
My first instinct was to apologize for my second pregnancy. As women, I think we’re conditioned to feel bad about inconveniencing others.
Resist the urge to say sorry. My first instinct was to apologize for my second pregnancy. As women, I think we’re conditioned to feel bad about inconveniencing others. But the truth is, I love my job, I love how I’ve planned my life, and I’m excited about having a second child. By staying positive, and not apologizing, I’ve encouraged my BCG family to share in my happiness and support the next stage of my life and career. Similarly, I’ve learnt to stop apologizing for having to leave the office earlier to be home for dinner with Kate. My co-workers can still count on me to deliver the work even if I’m not in the office.
Seek out other women for advice. I turned to a female BCG career counselor and a couple of female colleagues who have had been on multiple parental leaves for advice. They helped me see my situation in a different light: one clear benefit of me completing my family in quick succession (I only plan to have two children), was that I’d return to the workplace permanently – a perspective I wouldn’t have gained if not for meaningful conversations with respected confidantes.
When regularly scheduled 9AM meetings with the client became too difficult to accommodate, I spoke with my male client counterpart and asked if we could shift our morning meetings to 9:30. Turns out, he also handles daycare drop-offs and happily agreed.
State your limitations. My default setting is to quietly acquiesce to any request as I didn’t previously think twice about putting in an extra hour of work. But that’s changing as I grow into motherhood – an extra hour of work means an extra less hour I get with Kate. I set “office hours” with my teams, providing them visibility into my commitments, so they know when to expect me in the office. I find open communication is key. For example, I’m responsible for dropping off Kate at daycare. So when regularly scheduled 9AM meetings with the client became too difficult to accommodate, I spoke with my male client counterpart and asked if we could shift our morning meetings to 9:30. Turns out, he also handles daycare drop-offs and happily agreed. I never would have known if I hadn’t communicated my needs.
It seems the less flexible my life becomes as a mother, the more laser-focused I am as a consultant.
Embrace being a working mom. Motherhood, in turn, has made me a better consultant and manager. Three o’clock in the morning feedings, on-the-fly diaper changes, and poorly timed tantrums can teach even the most experienced consultant a thing or two about workflows. Case in point: I’m now more efficient than ever. Email responses are perfectly timed, my calendar is determined weeks in advance, and I can complete a presentation deck in a fraction of the time it used to take me. It seems the less flexible my life becomes as a mother, the more laser-focused I am as a consultant. Another upside: I’m no longer reluctant to delegate tasks. This not only allows me to get home at a decent time, but it provides my team members with new learning opportunities. A hectic schedule has also curbed my tendency to micromanage, granting colleagues the freedom to make their own decisions.
Certainly, not everyone can relate to having two children in two years. But I hope my story can help change the mindset and messaging of working parents. These days, I wake up excited to make breakfast for my daughter. But I also wake up eager to work on some really compelling projects with people I respect and admire. It’s not always easy. And having my second child, Chris, will bring a whole new set of challenges. But by talking openly about pregnancy, delegating responsibilities for better work-life balance, and not being afraid to set boundaries, you’d be surprised by how many people are willing to move mountains to make things work. Even if it means having the odd messy client lunch.
#MindrMama Janice Yeo is a Principal in BCG’s Toronto office. She first joined the firm as an associate in the Singapore office in the fall of 2008, and spent a year in the Toronto office as part of the BCG Associate Abroad program. Her project experience covers telecommunications and retail sectors across Southeast Asia, The U.S. and Canada. Prior to rejoining BCG in the Toronto office, Janice spent two years with Starwood Hotels & Resorts, leading up their specialty select brands in Asia Pacific. Janice holds a double degree in Economics and Business Management from the Singapore Management University. Outside the office, Janice enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter and cooking.