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Planning for a smooth executive maternity leave

By Rob Starr, Content Manager

Getting and staying ahead of the curve has always been an excellent recipe for success for any top performing executives. For those women who have reached the apex of their careers, understanding what needs to be done before, during and after they have a child is an extra ingredient that has the potential to jog their career trajectory without the right preparation.

Suz Graf O’Donnell understands this unique pressure better than most. As a mid-career mother herself, this certified executive coach, personal branding strategist, corporate change leader and long-time management consultant has come to leverage her personal and professional experiences to help female leaders planning a family to not only maintain their seat at the table, but enhance their career before and after maternity leave.


Suz Graf O’Donnell

“This has become a new service line in my executive coaching business,” she says. “Basically, it came out of me having children later in my life.”

Established Career  

She also points out her new path isn’t on a completely untraveled road—that in fact while there are many services for women who have taken time off with their children and are trying to reenter the workforce, there’s not a lot of choices for women who want to take a leave of absence to have a baby without affecting an established career.

O’Donnell, who has ten years of experience with Big4 consulting firms including stops at Accenture and EY, says the kind of proactive planning needed is often left too late.

“A lot of women who want to maintain a profession and just take a six week, three month or six month leave of absence when they have a baby and continue their career trajectory wait too long to think about it,” she says adding that exercises like career branding are most effective when they are done up front to prevent fostering the impression becoming a mother is a voluntary step back from the business world.

Career Brand

“You want to make sure that your career brand is that you’re a leader and you plan to get promoted or launch that new division of your company this year,” she says.

Being proactive and delegating responsibilities before you leave to have a baby is another important exercise to prevent what O’Donnell calls “decision gaps” where there have been no clear instructions left on who makes important choices. Quite often women leaders find this kind of delegation was long overdue.

“I had one woman who was preparing for maternity leave tell me that she identified things she should have delegated years ago and she planned on keeping them delegated to focus on higher priority items upon her return ,” O’Donnell says.

Learn more about Suz Graf O’Donnell’s company Thrivatize here.

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