By Hima Bindu
Most millennial women professionals worry that having a child will put an end to their career. Marriage is still okay, but motherhood is something they would like to delay. Besides the additional expense, they are concerned about the health implications of pregnancy, and whether or not they have the support system needed to keep the child healthy and secure after they go back to work. And the fear of losing one’s job or taking a long break is very real and can truly be a setback in one’s career.
All these worries are valid, but even though having a baby in the early or mid stages of one’s career can be a struggle, I still believe it is worth it at the end.
Let me share my journey. I joined the HR department at IBM in 2005 as a young graduate (and I have been with IBM since).
Marriage followed and a year into marriage, I conceived. The company’s maternity policy allowed only three months of leave, and I had to plan the last working day clearly and hand over to my colleague in advance.
I decided to work till the very last day till my water broke and I was admitted to the hospital for delivery. It was a stressful time but, in retrospect, I believe it kept me independent and happy.
Once I got back to work after my maternity leave, I consciously moved into a challenging role without compromise. The role also involved travel to the UK and managing a team of over 40 engineers.
This shift from HR to IT delivery was an extremely difficult one. I had to leave my four-month-old baby and spend long hours at the office to adapt myself to my new domain with limited guidance. I had to balance work shifts and a demanding job with all my physical, mental and emotional changes as a new mother.
Being on-call for technical support late at night while feeding my baby at the same time was definitely not easy. And let’s not underplay the fact that, as a woman, your male counterparts and peers do test your competence and challenge you in numerous ways, be it during boardroom discussions or in performance.
But now, several years later, I see maternity as the turning point of my life. It was only post-maternity that I took up the most challenging roles that carved my career growth in areas many women would not think to take up.
I travelled for the first time on a work trip to the UK when my son was just nine months old and I was a single mother by then. Though there was pressure to earn a living and to balance my work with my parenting, it was not impossible.
Changes are inevitable, and life took me on a new adventure of being a single mother. I became my own competition. What worked for me was clear planning of finances and career path; having discussions with my managers and mentors; having a growth mindset, and being willing to learn new domains; taking a calculated risk in changing roles; creating a sustainable support ecosystem for my child and myself; and working in a women-friendly organisation.
I did take on some contributing or backend roles for few years when the need arose, but I constantly upskilled myself with relevant learnings and technologies to make up for that gap.
Looking back, I like to call my journey unconventional rather than a ‘struggle’. I believe we need not delay the natural process of life, and certain blessings need not be questioned. Being mothers, we must be an example to a new generation of young achievers and leaders.
My word of advice to millennial women facing similar dilemmas is to never resist having a child for the sake of a career, and to never give up on your ambition for the sake of motherhood either. It may be difficult but this journey will transform you.
Hima Bindu is a Global Enablement Leader at IBM Global, Bengaluru. She is an award-winning champion of women’s empowerment and inclusion.
First published in eShe’s January 2021 issue