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Returning to work and shared parental leave

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I’m a senior product owner at DWP Digital and I’ve just returned to work after the birth of my second child. She is five and a half months old. My husband and I are sharing our parental leave and taking it in turns to look after our daughter for six months.

I took a year of maternity leave when our first child was born. I have a wonderful bond with my daughter and saw all her ‘firsts’. However in that year I missed out on promotion opportunities and my team disbanded when the project they were working on moved to London, which was a bit disorientating when I returned. I also missed work; it’s something I really enjoy and a big part of who I am.

Rachel Woods, product owner, DWP Digital speaking at a conference in front of a laptop
Rachel Woods, senior product owner

Arranging shared leave

Arranging shared leave was relatively straightforward. A few of our HR forms are still geared predominantly towards maternity leave and bizarrely our guidance didn’t actually describe the scenario of the mother as a civil servant. However, I feel very lucky to work in an environment that means that I had no qualms about requesting shared leave.

My husband works in the private sector and we were a bit more uncertain about how his request would be greeted. In fact everything has gone really smoothly and quite a few of his colleagues have shown an interest in how he’s getting on and it’s now something they are willing to consider.

I’m a big believer in the fact that parents are a partnership and it doesn’t seem right to me that one parent should be able to have the monopoly on time spent with a child. I also think that if we want equality between genders at work we need to normalise the behaviour that a parent, not a mother, will take time off for caring responsibilities from time to time.

Returning to work

Some things have changed while I’ve been on maternity leave, but the way our teams work make the process of returning to work or joining the organisation a lot easier. As an agile team, we work in the open so everything we do is displayed, managed and worked on by the team on the walls in the area where we sit. It isn’t difficult to find information or to catch up.

Our work is prioritised so we’re always clear about what’s the next most important thing to do. It’s also a highly collaborative environment so you don’t work in isolation. This means your colleagues have a vested interest in making sure you understand what’s going on and how your support is needed. Because of all this, after a few days it felt like I’d never been away.

Rachel Woods with colleagues.
Rachel Woods with colleagues.

Working in the Civil Service

I feel very lucky to work in the Civil Service. I was pregnant when I applied for and got my last promotion. I know women working in other sectors can have quite different experiences. I am hoping that as more and more people take advantage of shared parental leave employers won’t be able to make assumptions about whether someone will take time off work or not, as either parent will be equally likely to.

That’s also why I want to encourage more women to share leave with their partner. Not only is it good for equality at work but it’s also good for equality at home. Many women find themselves acting as a primary carer for children even when they are back at work. Sharing your leave enables each parent to learn how to care for and comfort their child.

There’s more to do on gender equality

There is still more to do. My husband is still in the minority and constantly asked for my details at local centres because records are based on the birth mother’s records. He can choose from multiple ‘mother and baby’ groups to attend and always has to double check that the baby-changing facilities are not just in the ladies’ loo. However we both recognise how wonderful this time is, how lucky we are as a family to have this experience and I am so proud that my daughters will see their mummy and daddy working together as a team.

Find out more about the benefits of a career at DWP Digital by visiting our careers site.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Chris Lamb posted on

    Thanks for sharing your story Rachel. I hope it inspires others to do the same. All the best