In 1992 I was enjoying a successful career at P&G in Brazil when my boss asked if I would entertain a transfer to our Mexico office. It was a great professional move for me, and also a personal opportunity to learn a new language and culture. I was very excited about the prospect, but needed to talk with my husband Bruce, who is an amazing supporter and my partner in life. About a week into the discussion, I found out I was pregnant, despite being told I was unlikely to have children. Now I had an international move, a pregnancy and a promotion to consider. Bruce and I talked through our strategy and came to some conclusions about how we could make the opportunity work for our (now) growing family.
When I went back to my boss, I had two messages for him: My husband was willing to go (assuming he found a suitable role) and also, I was pregnant.Compounding this was my desire to take a four-month maternity leave (standard for Brazil). I waited for him to say that transferring a pregnant manager was probably not what the Mexico office had in mind. Amazingly, he did the opposite and leaned in. He said, “Congratulations on your pregnancy. Of course we will still send you to Mexico and we expect you to take your anticipated maternity leave. Let us know what Bruce decides.”
Mildly stunned by his response, I tried to collect my thoughts. How am I ever going to manage this? Transfer to a new country, have a baby in a dual career situation with no family to help? Both of us will be in new jobs. How will we survive?
I pushed my thoughts aside and decided to lean in. Bruce got a job with his company in Mexico, and I was able to work in my new position for about six months before my son was born. We rented a house within walking distance of the office, got a full-time nanny, and set out to make it work.
When I returned from my maternity leave, I had a new boss waiting for me. He was known for working long hours and requiring a lot from his people. I feared I would never get home in time to see my son before bedtime each night.
But I continued to lean in by remaining transparent about my own expectations. On my first day back in the office, I took a courageous step forward and said to my new boss, “I understand you work some pretty long hours. As you know, I am just returning from maternity leave. And since you and I have never worked together before, I would like to suggest the following: If you can tell me the top five deliverables you want from me in the next six months, you have my commitment to deliver on those goals. But I would ask that you never start a meeting after 5 pm that doesn’t end by 6 pm.” As unconventional as this may have seemed at the time, my manager agreed and as a result, others in the organization benefited from this culture shift as well. Six months later, I had successfully delivered all that I had promised.
I believe you can and should set your own limits and clearly articulate them. This takes courage, but it is also liberating and empowering, and often earns you new respect. As a leader building your reputation, and as one who is counted on to stand and deliver in any environment, you will find the trust you engender will serve you well throughout your career.