"Having children was a much bigger change to my life than I expected," commented a corporate lawyer, after attending the Corporate Mothers' Network inaugural event recently. She will be re-entering the workforce soon.
Easing back into paid work after maternity leave is often a challenge for the most confident of working women, and returning to the usual amount of networking that goes with a corporate job tends to go on the backburner when there are young children to come home to.
With this in mind, two corporate high flyers and mothers, Rebecca Armour, a director at KPMG NZ and Kate Davies, a senior lawyer for BNP Paribas in London now back in New Zealand, have established a network to support corporate mothers who are on maternity leave or back at work and juggling their careers with family life.
"Having a family often constrains a working mother's ability to network outside of office hours, impeding their ability to develop key relationships, which are vital to success in business," said Armour, who now works part time as a director at KPMG.
"We have found that this issue resonates with a number of other highly skilled and talented women across the city, and it is for that reason that we decided to establish a network specifically for mothers.
"In our experience, mothers face additional challenges in the path to success in the workplace. Time out to concentrate on a family can often leave women feeling left behind or out of the loop whether it is for six months or a number of years."
Davies said they approached HR departments of several organisations, including Westpac and KPMG as well as law firms such as Chapman Tripp, Bell Gully and Russell McVeagh, to tell them about the Corporate Mothers' Network.
"We had a really great response. Senior business people were very excited about it," she said.
As well as keeping women up to date on corporate and business developments, the Corporate Mothers' Network has been created to help facilitate business relationships and support mothers on their return to work.
The aim is to provide a regular forum for meeting with other like-minded women, giving them the opportunity to hear from inspirational people, make useful connections and keep abreast of current commercial issues and initiatives.
The first event, held in Birkenhead in late August, featured a talk by Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens, father of a young family himself.
The events will alternate between being in the suburbs and the city. The Birkenhead meeting had nannies from KiwiOz Nannies to take care of the children.
"The events are all complimentary - we are looking to find some corporate sponsors. KPMG has sponsored the first two events," said Davies.
RSVPs were coming from women in city banks and law firms, she said.
"These people know how important it is to network, but they are so busy."
Feedback from the first event had been very good.
"A lot of people said to us, 'It's a big hole in the networking arena, it's filling a niche'. Quite a few people who attended the first event now want to join the committee and suggest speakers."
Some of the women who have joined the network previously held high-powered jobs overseas and have returned home to bring up their children in New Zealand. They are having to think laterally on what careers they can pick up in the local market.
Davies, who has two small children, was formerly head of legal structuring and wrapping solutions, at BNP Paribas, the corporate and investment bank in London.
"My work in London was specialised and that sort of work isn't done in New Zealand.
"We came home for family and lifestyle reasons so I need to think outside the box and find a new career."
Many of the women attending the first event are in, or want, part-time jobs in their field of specialty.
Margot Gatland, a lawyer who formerly worked at Meredith Connell and is a mother of three, is intending to return to the workforce.
"I thought the Corporate Mothers Network event would be a good chance to get back out there meeting people."
She enjoyed Stephens' talk.
"For me it was great. That evening my husband and I had a discussion about what the economist said - we talked about things other than the children!"
She also saw quite a few people she knew from her former life.
Gatland went back to work after her first two children, but has had close to two years at home with her third child.
"I want to and need to work long term, but don't want to rush into something," she said.
"I guess you lose your confidence - for me I love the law but it's demanding timewise."
She would need a law firm that was open to discussing a part-time position; a corporate inhouse legal team was another possibility.
Another working mother at the first event was Liz Byers, who had been back at full-time work for only five weeks after 12 months maternity leave from her senior marketing position at Westpac.
Byers, Westpac's senior brand manager for marketing and brand experience, relished the opportunity to meet other women in her position.
"I don't feel that I have got any time during the week to network. I arrive just before nine and like to leave not long after five," she said.
"During my time at work, I find I am very focused. I will work through lunch and at meetings, I don't spend too much time with chit chat."
Byers admits she is still adjusting to returning to her corporate life - and the door is open for her to reduce her days if she finds working full time too much.
"I feel that the choice is mine," she said.
On Thursday, October 24, with the support of KPMG, the Corporate Mothers' Network has invited Professionelle co-founder Galia Barhava-Monteith and Altris executive coach Jayne Muller to share their 10 top tips for working successfully after maternity leave.
The forum will be held at Birkenhead Point, from 10am until 11.30am at the Rawene Centre.