From PR pro to working mum: reflections on the maternity leave experience

Holly Pither, associate director at Bottle and new mother, has spoken to PRWeek about her experience of maternity leave, returning to her agency early and what the industry should be doing to support women.

Holly Pither with baby Amelia has just returned from maternity leave at agency Bottle
Holly Pither with baby Amelia has just returned from maternity leave at agency Bottle

Pither last year wrote in PRWeek to express her anxiety about leaving her job to go on maternity leave, and thinks the industry does not do enough to reassure women about the change.

She told PRWeek this week: "I don’t think it does; however, I don’t think this is just limited to our industry. As a whole, we aren’t set up to reassure women who go off on maternity leave – and even less so men who take extended paternal leave."

Asked what she thinks could be done differently to ensure that new parents feel comfortable with taking maternity or paternity leave, she suggested: "I think we could go some way to changing this by offering career coaching specifically before, but also during and after, maternity or extended paternity, or adoption leave to help them through this transition."

Pither said she was lucky to have received coaching like this at work and to have an understanding boss, who is also a mother; both of which helped her through the process of maternity leave.

Elsewhere, a constant support for Pither has been the blog which she started – PitterPatterPither, which she has not only found therapeutic, but which has also opened her up to a community of like-minded working parents.

She said: "I guess the people I have met though my blog are more open about being working parents and recognise their vulnerabilities. I don’t think the same can be said at work, where we tend to be quite stoic in our attitudes, never letting our guard down for fear of being judged."

In particular, Pither identified another paternity blogger, Neil Sinclair, as someone who she has learnt from throughout the year.

Sinclair runs the ‘Commando Dad’ blog, which he started to share tips for new dads.

His advice helped Pither realise that she didn’t need to be as concerned about making mistakes in parenthood because everyone is learning on the job.

She said: "I’ve always been a perfectionist, but Neil reassured me that I shouldn’t always strive for perfection. It’s unworkable. He reminded me that often good is ‘good enough’ and it’s ok to make occasional mistakes."

This new attitude is not the only thing that Pither hopes to take back to work and she said she has also learned a lot about digital PR through running her own blog and creating her own brand.

"I know what makes bloggers tick and also how to infuriate them because, I too, have felt it first-hand," she said. "I am excited to bring this expertise back to Bottle and share my knowledge with my colleagues. Hopefully being on this side of the fence will make me a better comms professional."

Pither recently made the decision to return to work two months earlier than planned for the good of herself and the agency she works for; a difficult decision that she said made her feel guilty.

Despite that, Pitther said: "There really is nothing wrong with loving your career if you’re a mum. It doesn’t make you a bad mother – quite the opposite. I believe this kind of passion should be celebrated."

Reflecting on her experience of maternity leave, Pither said she had considered the positive impact of her career on her daughter Amelia.

She concluded: "I know I go back to my job as a far more rounded individual, having learnt so much and most importantly ready to get stuck in and prove to my daughter that she too can do it all... what a great life lesson to teach her."

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