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Second Shift

How To Negotiate A Raise (or Bonus) After Returning From Maternity Leave

Returning to work after leave might be the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your worth.

How To Negotiate A Raise (or Bonus) After Returning From Maternity Leave
[Photo: Flickr user Thomas]

You just had a baby and your employer just accommodated your maternity leave.

As you head back to work, you feel grateful for your job, and committed to this next chapter in your professional life. But don’t let new motherhood leave you vulnerable; instead, let the responsibility of parenthood inspire you to get what you really deserve at work.

Too many women stop negotiating for what they’re worth after they have a baby because they don’t want to rock the boat. "My employer gave me paid leave, or time off," a new mom might tell herself, "so this is not the time to ask for a raise, or more flexibility to work from home."


Here are four ways to get what you deserve at work, even in the midst of new motherhood:

1. Recognize And Overcome The Motherhood Penalty

The motherhood penalty is real. There is often a perception that working moms are less committed to their jobs than before (meanwhile, fathers are seen as more committed). This false impression can lead to consequences ranging from subtle acts of discrimination to dramatically lower pay. One study shows that new moms are offered $11,000 less per year in salary than childless women—just when women could use extra pay to cover the exorbitant cost of child care.

You can also start to overcome the assumption that you’re less committed to work now that you’re a mom by consistently sending messages like saying, "When I return from maternity leave. . ." or "when we are at that conference later this year." Each helps to remind your team that you’re in it for the long haul and are making plans for the future together.

Doing so can help to proactively overcome the bias too many people have about working moms.

2. Don't Downplay What You're Worth

Remember that having a baby doesn’t mean you haven’t done your job.

"I only worked nine months last year, so I shouldn’t get my full bonus," a woman might tell herself post-leave. But if you met your sales goals for the year—or helped set up your replacement to thrive during your absence—women should not expect to be penalized.

Getting the flexibility to work from home a few days a week doesn’t mean you’re less committed; it means you have to spend fewer hours commuting and can spend more time on key drivers of your business.

Instead of being grateful for any concession made by your employer, ask for what you are actually worth to your company, rather than merely what you are offered. If you met 100% of a goal for the year, but only worked 75% time, ask for the full bonus. If you get more time to work from home, but that frees you up to get more done, express that. It shows you’re results-oriented, incredibly efficient, and commitment to your job.

3. Don't Shy Away From Taking On More Responsibilities

Women tend to undervalue themselves, or think, "I’m not going to be in the office as much, so I shouldn’t ask for a raise right now." They might fret that if they ask for a raise, the bar is going to be set higher. It’s not necessarily surprising that, under the pressures of new motherhood, some women start to shirk from any additional responsibility at work.

But additional pay or higher level responsibilities can actually have positive consequences for new mothers. You might be able to afford more household (such as a housekeeper) freeing more time for family and work. You might perform higher-level management tasks with greater autonomy—giving you the power to set your own hours or work more when baby sleeps. And greater responsibility might actually boost your confidence—helping you to feel more in control of your day-to-day life.

4. Keep Track Of Your Accomplishments

In a course I teach on finding your working mom superpowers at Motherly, I invite women to spend time each week tracking their many accomplishments. Each Friday, I recommend women take 15 minutes to write down what they achieved in any given week, which is not only a good way of building a case for a raise or promotion, but also in giving them confidence and pride in their work.

Making a really strong case for yourself, by carefully noting and celebrating your achievements, is one of the most important aspects of any negotiation. You’ll have talking points that not only will impress your boss—but should also inspire you.

It’s a fact that working mothers are some of the most effective and committed employees out there—but now it’s time to show employers who’s boss.

Allyson Downey is the founder of and the author of Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood. To learn more strategies for excelling in your professional life while raising a family, check out her course, "Work It: Your Inspired Guide to Rock Working Motherhood."

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