Has motherhood squashed your professional ambition? Or do you feel like you are now more motivated to keep pushing toward your goals?

A recent study that I shared on Facebook this past week, surveyed women – moms and those without children – to test their ambition levels. The result: 70% of moms aspire to reach senior leadership positions versus 67% of their female colleagues without children.

So, more ambitious, right?

Yet, employers and managers, at least if you go by the numbers, believe moms to be less reliable. It’s one of the many biases of the maternal wall that hold mothers back at work. And, it’s why 51% of moms claim that progressing their careers is harder than before they had children.

With that in mind, I spoke with several managers to learn what employees – specifically women and moms – can do to advance their careers. Here are three of the key themes that came up.

Be transparent

As I say above, becoming a mother changes how others perceive you at work. A mother who is out of the office is assumed to be gone caring for her children, while a childless woman (or any absent male, for that matter) is presumed to be off on business. To ward off these assumptions, you have to get ahead of it.

That starts with openly communicating with those who matter.

Get into the habit of sharing your plans. If you’ll be out of the office, explain why you’ll be gone. If it’s not work related, follow-up with your plans on how you’ll get work done. One manager I interviewed shared an example of a dad on his team who leaves the office at 4:30pm to pick up his son at daycare. Many of the company’s employees don’t leave until at least an hour later.

By knowing his schedule, this manager has defended the dad’s absence should anyone question him when he’s not there. Plus, he knows this dad picks up work later in the evening and has confidence that the work is getting done.

In a perfect world, we’d be trusted to just get our work done as we did before we had children. Sadly, most of us don’t work under such utopian circumstances. You need to build trust and you can only do that by being completely transparent and then following up with real action each and every time. 

Trust takes time to build – sometimes a really long time. The key will be to focus on those who matter. Your manager, perhaps teammates that depend on you, as well as any others who may influence your progress. For the rest, you’ll just have to do your best to block out their snide remarks and questioning looks.

What can I do to move to the next level?

Just as you have to communicate your schedule and plans. You’ll need to tell your manager that you want to progress your career. Be clear and direct in what it is you want or where you want to take your career next.

If you don’t take this basic step, how else will they know? 

But that’s not enough. You have to show you mean it. So, you’ll have to follow-up your statement with a version of this question: What can I do to get there?

A rather simple question, it will speak volumes about you and your intentions. It says you’re serious about advancement and you want to take action. Plus, as one manager I interviewed says of the employee who asks this very question about once a quarter: she forces me to keep her top of mind when opportunities come up.  

Remind them of your accomplishments

Any actions you take on the above will need to be reported back to your manager. Sharing your progress, let’s them know you value their input while also reconfirming your commitment. 

In the same vein, you’ll want to regularly share your on-the-job accomplishments.

Your manager – even the very best ones – are busy and can’t know everything you’re working on. Sure, they’ll know if you miss deadlines. What they likely won’t know is the progress you’re making during the project timeline. They also may not be aware if you’ve collaborated with colleagues or had to overcome any obstacles to get the job done, or how your efforts led to a more successful outcome. 

Your eligibility to progress your career isn’t simply about doing your job well. It’s about excelling in many other areas – leadership, negotiating, problem-solving and many others. So, by sharing such details about your efforts, you can help your manager get a broader view of your capabilities.

One word of caution: when sharing your accomplishments, don’t focus on the list of activities you’ve completed. It doesn’t always matter that you made 10 phone calls in a week. What matters are results. So, be sure to focus your successes in terms of benefits to the project, your team, the client or your company. Similarly, if your work generates metrics of any kind, be sure to report them to your manager. Again, don’t just share the numbers, but the impact of those numbers in relation to any stated goals for your project, your team or your company.

None of these three tips are once and done conversations. Nor should they be reserved for your annual performance discussion. Find a way to engage in a regular, open dialogue with your manager. As busy as you both are, a check in every couple of weeks will serve you well in the long run.

If you have any tested strategies that have helped you advance your career, please share them in the comments below.

xx,

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