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The topic of family has long since ceased to be purely a women’s issue. And yet: it is often the women who initially put their careers on hold after the birth of the child and take care of the offspring. Once a childcare place has been found, many quickly return to work. But re-entering the workforce is often fraught with challenges. Ulrike Dobelstein-Lüthe, Head of Continuing Education at the Hamburg Media School (HMS), and Anna van Koetsveld, Head of the BRIGITTE Academy, answer why parental leave is exactly the right time to think about one’s professional future and what hurdles women face back at work.
The birth and the first months together with your own child are beautiful, exciting and challenging at the same time. For the time being, the thought of a job and returning to work are a distant memory. But only for a short time! Because it is precisely this new, special time that offers a good opportunity to take a critical look at one’s own career. “Parental leave is perfect for thinking about your professional future,” says Ulrike, who is a strong advocate for diversity and women in general at HMS and beyond. The explanation follows promptly: “Parental leave is not only a professional break, but above all a private one. Everything in life changes. From then on, you are no longer responsible only for yourself and have to think carefully about what goals you are pursuing and how much energy and work you are putting into them. It’s a good time to consider what your future career path should look like.”
Women do not want to have to choose between family and career
The BRIGITTE study “My life, my job, and me” clearly shows that making a career is just as important to women today as it is to men, and equality is more desired than ever. What sounds like a matter of course is nevertheless difficult for many women: organizing their return to work after parental leave in such a way that they can easily combine family and career. “It is often self-doubt that makes it difficult for women to return to work. They ask themselves: What can I still do after my career break? Will I fall into the part-time trap? How often will I be absent? Do my colleagues still think I can do everything,” explains Ulrike. “In addition, the world of work is turning faster due to digitalization and you have to keep learning. That often comes up short during parental leave, and the feeling of being left behind quickly creeps in.” In order to support women in making a successful return to work, HMS and the BRIGITTE Academy have launched the “New Work – New Choices” seminar. “In the seminar, we provide participants* with the necessary know-how for the areas of new work, strengths management and negotiation skills,” says Ulrike. “But also the knowledge of legal options and the use of modern technology. Also, the courage to reposition oneself professionally and to realize what one is worth to the job market.”
The onus is on companies to do more
But if their own employer doesn’t play along, women can still plan and demand as much as they want and continue their education during parental leave. “There are still many companies that do not pay enough attention to the topic of re-entry – while it is important to integrate and pick up women and men prepared in the company,” says Anna. “The topic of flexibility in particular plays a key role in returning: whether it’s part-time work, home office, or returning with reduced hours during parental leave – these are all ways to make coming back more suitable. The bottom line, however, is that companies and returners enter into exchange and communicate with each other.”
Digitization as an opportunity for more flexibility on the job
Digitization plays an important role here: the technical prerequisites have long been in place in most companies to enable more flexibility on the job. This is an enormous advantage when it comes to reconciling job and family when returning to work. “Digitalization allows for more flexibility and therefore new working time models, such as home office options and different meeting cultures,” Anna says. But she also warns against the associated constant accessibility, which can lead to health problems, and sees analog exchange as indispensable, even with all digital working methods.
Those who don’t make demands fall by the wayside – at least in most cases. But what can women do to prepare themselves well for returning to work while they are still on parental leave? “Keep in touch with your team and colleagues,” advises Ulrike. “I’m always very happy when colleagues drop by on their parental leave and we can exchange ideas. If you can somehow, you should also participate in industry networking events or go to company parties once in a while.”
Anna van Koetsveld heads the BRIGITTE Academy, a continuing education platform that aims to encourage and support women. She started her career first as a project assistant at the Henri Nannen Prize, followed by the position as project manager of socio-political campaigns and projects at STERN. This was followed by a position as Publishing Manager in the FOOD publishing group, before she then moved to the WOMEN publishing group, where she was not only responsible for brand management of the BRIGITTE titles, but also launched new magazines, such as BARBARA. Since August 2017, she has headed the BRIGITTE Academy, where she creates networking opportunities for women, for example in the form of the large BRIGITTE Job Symposium.
Ulrike Dobelstein-Lüthe is head of continuing education at the Hamburg Media School. Here she is responsible for the creation and further development of new seminars and corporate programs, their market launch and the support of participants. Prior to that, she was the site and study director of an undergraduate educational institution in Hamburg for 12 years. She worked in the media industry for many years before taking on the challenges of a higher education institution.
Kristina Kaba is a freelance copywriter for content marketing & PR. As a freelance copywriter, she works mainly for companies and on behalf of agencies.
More articles on the topic of re-entry: Career woman, mother, looking for work? – 6 tips for the professional re-entry!