I gave birth to my second child a few days to the deadline for a reporting grant application I was working on. I had budget and planning spreadsheets to complete. And so like many female business owners before me, I found myself working on the application just hours after giving birth. I remember sending an email to my team (journalists Paul Bradshaw and Ogechi Okeanyawu) to remind them of various deliverables. In the PS I wrote “baby came early this morning”. To which Paul replied “and you’re working on spreadsheets?”
This is unfortunately the reality for many female business owners, whether your business is just starting off, or a successful business, taking time off for maternity can seem impossible. When the success of the business relies on you being there, being away can seem like business suicide. It’s even worse for small businesses and start ups with not enough capital to operate not to talk of paying for a maternity cover in your absence. You never really go on maternity leave when you own your own business, and this is an aspect of maternity law that definite needs reconsidering.
In the meantime, it is important to take sometime off when you have a baby, apart from giving your body time to heal and recover, your little bundle of joy needs your undivided attention.
So how do you take maternity when you own your own business?
Here are my top tips:
1- Delegate, delegate, delegate. OK, admittedly it is not so easy when you are the sole person working on the business, but consider outsourcing some of the aspects of your work that are most time consuming. Have you ever tried getting a virtual assistant?
2- Be systematic in your approach to monitoring your business. Set aside time each week when you will check in. Now, it’s important you are aware of the provision for ‘keeping in touch’ time allowed under the maternity law of your country so your maternity allowance doesn’t stop.
3- Plan ahead…goes without saying that baby doesn’t always come on the EDD, so having a plan in place just in case baby comes early, like mine did, is important. If it’s possible, get as much work done as possible in the four weeks leading to your due date (by this stage though all you want to do is put your feet up), that at least gives you some cushion in case your little one comes early.
4- Design your own maternity leave. The good thing about being your own boss is just that…you’re your own boss. This means you can work from where you want, when you want and how you want. But ultimately, it is important for you to take sometime off and make maternity work for you and your new addition.
The reporting grant application was successful. It was great news, but terrible timing. How do I deliver on an investigative project with a 2 months old baby? One of the methods we used in the investigation was a Hackday. On the day my team and I led a room full of researchers, coders, analysts, designers from 9-6pm. My husband looked after the baby, and every three hours we met at a middle point between home and the venue of the Hackday. Luckily baby was still sleeping a lot and in between feeds she spent most of the day doing just that. I still felt guilty though!
Not everyone has the same support system as I did in that situation, and it unfortunately means for a lot of women having to let go of the perfect opportunity.
When we won the CNN African Journalist Award 2016 (Sports Reporting) for the investigation, I dedicated the award to all African women in the media, particularly those who understand the challenge of keeping a foot in the door of their career while bringing up a young family.