Jeanne Thompson on Re-Entering the Workforce After Having Children

Jeanne Thompson did what many new mothers struggle to do: continue an upward trajectory at work despite leaving the workforce for more than four years to start her family in the late ‘90s.

The senior vice president of thought leadership at financial services firm Fidelity says she was able to re-enter the workforce through strategy and leveraging her relationships in the workplace.

Slowly, she made a lateral move and was then able to take on more responsibilities and assert herself as a valuable employee. But it wasn’t easy, says the mother of two.

Returning moms should think about what they want out of their work, Thompson says. Do they want to work but focus more on their families, or establish and maintain a career?

“The first step is identifying which camp you fall into and then setting boundaries,” she says. “There’s no right or wrong answer.”

Thompson, who is based in Boston, says she reached back out to her company when she was ready to restart her career. Her new job offered her less hours than her former job, despite the fact that she was working — and not being compensated — for overtime.

From there, she negotiated a new role with proper compensation and hours. Thompson also says slowly re-entering the workforce assured her that she was still hungry for a career. 

Although Thompson says she successfully negotiated for job parameters similar to those she had before taking maternity leave, not all women are so lucky.

Returning moms who are unable to negotiate better salary requirements or full-time placement should make sure to ask the hiring manager if they can reevaluate in six months or every quarter.

“Take tangible steps to build your case,” Thompson says. “I wouldn’t give them any openings [to question my commitment]. I’m here and I want to have a career.”

Thompson says she didn’t talk about or bring in photos of her children at work, noting that she was all about business in the office.

It’s also important to find mentors or other working moms in the workplace, which can serve as a great sounding off board or making new moms feel less guilty about pursuing their careers instead of being home with the kids.

“If you’re saying yes to someone, you’re saying no to someone else,” Thompson says. “Women put so much pressure on ourselves. Don’t focus on short-term things.”

-- Amanda Eisenberg, She Spends Issue 44

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