How you decide to approach your career after you become a parent is entirely dependent on what you want and what your budget allows. Although some high-profile women, like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, have chosen to return to work weeks after giving birth, others, like Brenda Barnes, the first female CEO of PepsiCo, have made headlines for stepping down from their roles entirely, deciding to wait to rejoin the workforce until their children are older.
These two choices are extremes, and they are dependent on a number of factors: affordable childcare options, the presence of nannies/caretakers at home, or a partner who can financially support the household.
They also aren’t necessarily representative of you. What we know for sure about women in the workforce is that a lot of us don’t return immediately after becoming parents. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mothers with children under the age of 6 are much less likely to be part of the workforce than mothers with children under 18, coming in at 65.1 percent and 71.5 percent respectively; women with children under 6 also worked part-time roles at a higher rate than women with older children.
That’s likely because it’s hard, both mentally and financially, to balance a full-time job with the “life” side of “work-life balance,” but it doesn’t mean it’s either one or the other. With a growing number of companies offering flexible or work-from-home options and more women striking out on their own, you’re not necessarily stuck in a traditional 9-to-5 box.
For Christy Coleman, the first woman and first African-American CEO of the American Civil War Museum, neither the quit-my-job or die-trying option were what she wanted in the late 2000s, so she created her own balance.
After her first pregnancy, she kept her role as CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit. She took her son on the road with her and adjusted her hours to spend more time with him. But her second pregnancy was more difficult and having two children left her making trade-offs she didn’t want to make.
“I could not keep up the pace, and I did not want to feel like I was not fulfilling my duties,” she said in an interview with Forbes earlier this year.
She stepped down from her role as CEO and spent several years doing consulting work that gave her the time she wanted to devote to motherhood while continuing to do work she found fulfilling. She is now the CEO of the American Civil War Museum.
And still other women, like Annie Dean and Anna Auerbach, choose to resign from their high-stress roles in corporate America to start their own business. While on maternity leave with her second child, Dean realized her job as an attorney was not compatible with her life outside work. A mutual friend connected her with Auerbach who was struggling to balance her career with having an 18-month-old child.
The result of this phone call was Werk, a startup dedicated to showing executives how flexibility in the workplace can not only help companies thrive, but can also retain a talented workforce.
That’s something InHerSight works toward, too. In a recent survey of 7,500 working mothers, InHerSight found that of the top-five things working moms want, three of them are related to time out of the office. Data like this, in addition to employee-given ratings, helps InHerSight support companies’ efforts to become more inclusive and female-friendly.
As these women show, that’s a tough road to navigate. There is no one right way for women in the workforce to take on the role of mom—you can ask for flexible hours, make a career change, or talk to your partner (if you have one) about dividing up chores at home. It’s all about finding what works best.