Welcoming back Michelle from adoption leave

At our Faculty Forum in October 2020, I announced that I’d shortly be taking adoption leave. I was overwhelmed with the kind messages of support I received from many of you, and I’ve been asked to reflect on my leave since returning to the University a few weeks ago. 

I’m pleased to report that our little girl is doing really well, and becoming a parent via adoption has been a very joyful experience. Of course, adoption is a complex process, and as first time parents we’ve had a lot to learn. But, I’m pleased to say we’ve received great professional support and it’s wonderful to see how settled and happy she seems to be. Many of you will know that I have a real passion for lifelong learning and development, and I’ve certainly learned a lot about parenting, adoption, and personal resilience in the last six months.  

Becoming a parent myself has also given me cause to reflect on the importance of parental leave. I knew that becoming a parent would be intense, and yet the relentlessness of it in the early months still came as a surprise. Knowing that I had the time to focus my energy and attention on parenting, without worrying about work, was invaluable. We know from our work on Athena Swan that getting the right support before, during and after parental leave makes a huge difference. I was fortunate that my role was expertly covered by Kevin Corke and Nicola Donohoe in their capacity as Deputy FDOs and keeping in touch (KIT) meetings gave me a good sense of what I was coming back to. KIT meetings don’t have to be formal (the term covers any contact with work during parental leave), and this contact helped me to retain a sense of my professional identify. That was important to me, and I know from conversations with friends and colleagues that it can be important for many other people as they adjust to the demands of being parents. 

I’m also really pleased to have taken advantage of the Shared Parental Leave scheme. This is a government scheme offered by the University, which allows both parents to take periods of parental leave consecutively or even at the same time. Take-up of the scheme remains low (nationally and at the University), but I would highly recommend it. It’s allowed us to spend time with Layla equally, and feels like it will set us up well to share parenting responsibilities in the years ahead. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and it wouldn’t be right for everyone, but it’s great that this is now an option. 

So, for me, parental leave has been a very positive experience, and it’s made me determined to work even harder to be a good manager and advocate for people with caring responsibilities. We know that the challenge of managing family responsibilities is a key contributor to the “leaky pipeline” of talented female staff and we need to ensure that we do all we can to get this right.