IWD2017: Replacement or Stop-Gap? It’s all about perception


I’m looking forward to episode 2 of The Replacement, which airs tonight.   This psychological drama set against the backdrop of a woman’s transition to motherhood at work provides a very rare opportunity to combine my love of psychological thrillers with what I do for a living.

The reviews of the show were mixed, as were the comments from viewers: some felt the whole thing was ‘far-fetched’ or ‘ridiculous’, others proclaimed that it’s not worth getting so upset, it’s just a job, many really related to it and/or enjoyed the dramatic tension.

 I enjoyed reading their opinions; it reinforced my experiences of coaching mothers at work for the past 8 years. My conclusion? It’s really complicated and personal and that is sometimes a nightmare for organisations to manage and for the women who are going through it. That’s not to say however that it’s not manageable.

The first 60-minute episode covered every single issue that a prospective mother at work can feel or encounter. Yes it was extreme and some might say fantastical. In my years of coaching mothers I’ve never come across a single woman who has had the experiences the lead character went through all at once.   I could, however, suspend belief because it’s a telly show and not real life.

What is true, in my experience, is that some women have reported experiencing the following:

  • The sense of losing your personal space as colleagues reach out to ‘touch the bump’
  • The slick efficiency with which everyone seems to get on with finding your replacement
  • The meetings around the time you’re going on maternity leave that you are excluded from
  • The sense that you are invisible and unheard

All perceptions and all valid – from the mothers point of view

What about her company/colleagues I hear you cry? Well they probably see it very differently. My research concluded that colleagues usually bear the woman no malice. So this is how they might see things:

  • They are showing interest and support when they ‘touch the bump’
  • Finding a great maternity cover will reassure you that your work will be managed to the same standard while you’re away
  • You don’t need to be bothered with projects you won’t be involved in, so we’ll let you rest at your desk rather than attend a boring meeting
  • We’re moving on, you won’t be around in a few weeks. We’re interested in your ideas but we know that once the baby arrives you won’t care much

All perceptions and all valid – from the colleagues point of view. It’s no wonder that it’s very easy for misunderstandings to occur.

Many companies have reviewed and improved their management of this transition: coaching for mothers, KIT days, better communication, clearer policies.   All of these things can mediate for the moments when things get difficult.

So, in this week of International Women’s Day, I am asking all of you to take a moment and think about the other party.

If you are working with an expectant mother then think about how she might be feeling and (if she is willing) keep her involved in new projects. She may have some great ideas you could use. Ask if you want to touch her bump, and how she’s coping with what is a huge physical and mental change.

If you are expecting a baby then look at the facts in front of you. Try to get another person’s perspective. Challenge your feelings before you respond

It’s the simple things that make all the difference. We often stick to the facts rather than considering how we’re all feeling. Reintroduce the human element and see if perceptions change.

#bemorebird #beboldforchange