Amanda*, a client reengagement specialist in the travel sector, began 2020 thinking about how she was going to juggle work and motherhood, having moved from Hong Kong to the UK two years earlier for her role as a travel designer.

Amanda was pregnant at the time and concerned about how motherhood would impact the career she was passionate about and had worked so hard to build. She was living in York, commuting to London and frequently travelling abroad for work, so was constantly on the go.

The situation was complicated by the fact that her husband and close family were living in Hong Kong, and two days after giving birth to her daughter the UK went into a national lockdown. As if that wasn’t already a recipe for stress, loneliness and uncertainty, a couple of months later the company she worked for went into administration; owing her a significant amount of pay.

With a new baby, uncertainty over her job, and close family thousands of miles away, if ever there were a time she needed an independent person to talk through these worries, offer support, and help to navigate the next six months, it was now.

'Ever since I got pregnant the question I had which bothered me, was how could I continue my career when I had my baby? If I wasn’t travelling around the world I was commuting from York to London. And everyone kept telling me that when I had a child I wasn’t going to be going anywhere for a long time. So the whole idea of motherhood was suddenly very scary,' Amanda explains.

Amanda came across the charity 'Pregnant Then Screwed' and noticed they were holding an event in York in March, a week or so before she was due. She planned to ask all the questions she had regarding balancing motherhood and work, so she could prepare before being occupied with a baby.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the events were cancelled. 'I was devastated because I was really hoping to find those answers and feel like I was more settled and ready for motherhood,' Amanda recalls. In a communication from the charity, she found out about the CIPD’s Steps Ahead programme and applied for a mentor.

'I was hoping to be matched with someone who had been a long-distance commuter and understood what it was like, and who could help me with my questions about juggling motherhood and career,' Amanda said.

She was paired in April with Dorothy Tande, a freelance HR development consultant Chartered FCIPD) and executive coach, whom she calls 'the perfect match'.

Changing expectations

When she first sought a mentor, Amanda wanted advice and support to help her combined work and parenthood journey. As she says: 'I wanted to protect myself. I wanted to make sure that being pregnant or being a mother would not jeopardise my job opportunities. Then the other side was dealing with the change I may have to make in the way I approached work, especially the way I used to travel.' She thought it would be good to prepare for situations she might encounter, such as a role not being flexible or the need to look for a different job.

Then everything changed. Commuting was no longer an issue as everyone was working from home. More drastically, while just a few days earlier Amanda and her boss had been optimistic that their employer would survive the pandemic, almost overnight it went into administration. There were at least three months where they didn't know whether this would mean the end of the company or if jobs would survive, and what would that look like for those who were rehired.

Amanda says: 'I was really sad because I was so passionate about the job. I believe in that company so much, it wasn’t just about having a job. It's like a part of me felt as if it was dying.'

Having a new life to support brought great happiness to the situation, but the legal and financial ramifications of her employer entering administration put a strain on Amanda and her husband, who was now with her in York. With her extensive HR experience, Dorothy was able to point her to the right places, such as ACAS, understanding employment tribunals and potential ways in which Amanda could recoup the financial loss.

'I really needed somebody to talk through things. There was the whole HR bit but also it became a personal issue for me as well. If the company arose from the ashes and I were offered a job, what do I expect? Do I put all this behind me? Or how do I use this as something that's to my advantage to negotiate an offer? I worked with Dorothy on all of these.'

The mentoring sessions were conducted by phone, with at least an hour for each one. Amanda describes each session as 'a full-on conversation'.

'I always felt that whatever it was we had to discuss that day, Dorothy would not only give me the time and listen to what I had to say, but she would prompt me with questions to take home. She's the kind of mentor who doesn't want to give me answers but help me to work it out on my own. There was always a summary at the end, so every session felt complete.'

During this time, the travel brand Amanda worked for was acquired and she was offered a part-time role. Despite her previous experience, her love for the job and sector meant she accepted it. To some people close to Amanda, it seemed a strange decision to give 100% effort and loyalty back to an organisation that had let her down. Here again, having a supportive mentoring relationship proved invaluable.

'It is a professional mentorship and Dorothy is not there as a counsellor. But having her to listen to my side of the story really helps. It makes me feel less lonely because I am in a lonely situation. Just being listened to was really important and she understood the emotional side of things.'

'It would have been easy to walk away but in the current climate and being a new mum, starting a new job would be very challenging. I now work two days a week, and in the last session I had with Dorothy we talked about the challenge of being a part-timer. You often end up working over the hours you're paid for. So I've made a conscious decision that I will not overwork any more for now. I am the kind of person who wants growth but given the circumstances this is in my comfort zone and buys me time. I also believe in what I do, I believe in my boss and the company and it’s the first time in my life I have been given a second chance, so I want to see what I can do with it.'

The top three reasons to become a CIPD parent returner mentee

The main benefit Amanda cites from going through the CIPD mentoring scheme is knowing you have someone supporting you.

'I know it sounds like a boring answer, but just simply having someone there to listen was the greatest help. I can talk about issues with my husband but it's not the same as having somebody who would put herself in my shoes and respond accordingly, but also be a little bit more objective and give me a wider perspective,' she explains.

Building confidence through helping you to work through your questions and challenges yourself and come to decisions on the back of this is also a big benefit, says Amanda.

'Dorothy helped me understand what working meant to me and what working for this company and in this role still means for me. I’ve come away with clarity that I know I want this job and the reasons why. Purpose is important to me.'

'I don't understand why anyone wouldn’t get a mentor. But you have to put your own effort and time in. It's not a teacher-student classroom situation. If you’re coming into mentorship expecting the mentors to get a job for you, don’t bother. But if you want to grow and be that person in work or in life you want to be, this is for you.'

Finally, Amanda points to the fact that, as a parent returner, it is difficult to get back into the workforce. Having a programme like this to help you grow and access the resources you need is worth its weight in gold, and she says the CIPD scheme exceeded her expectations.

'Throughout the mentorship there was always somebody from the CIPD checking in on how things were going. I'm really impressed. I don't think my health visitor did more checking on me! And just knowing you can develop yourself and stay relevant in a workforce, which helps society in a larger sense, is so positive. Last time I received this sort of resource or help was in college. Having a resource like this outside of a school environment is very important. Where else can you get that help?'

*Name changed for confidentiality purposes