I am an engineer and mother of three preschoolers. As a woman in a non-traditional field, I have rarely felt ostracized. My co-workers always included me. However, since I've returned from maternity leave with reduced working hours (75 per cent of full time), I feel as if I'm often excluded from social gatherings, both during and after work hours.
Sometimes I wonder if I should speak up when I hear the invitations being extended within earshot but, honestly, the only thing worse than being excluded is being reluctantly included and not really welcome. I look for explanations, and wonder if they don't include me because they think I will say no since I will want to get home to my children. While there will be times that is true, in most cases I will go out of my way to accept an invitation, because they are so rare.
All of my co-workers are very pleasant when they speak with me, giving no indication that they might dislike me. Yet to exclude me as they have, I think the most reasonable explanation is that they don't care about me, and that really hurts.
I feel I have three options: leave my job; accept it and try to not let it bother me so much; or really leave my comfort zone and be more extroverted and speak up when I hear about social gatherings, and try to organize a few myself. I don't really like any of those options and would like to hear someone else's opinion.
THE FIRST ANSWER:
Career coach and specialist
They do care about you. Believe me, if they didn't, you would know. Your colleagues are being sensitive to your situation, even though it is not their place to judge you and your availability. Your situation has changed, with fewer hours in the office and being a new mom, both big changes that naturally alter your availability by most peoples' standards.
I would imagine that you are trying to figure out how to juggle all your responsibilities and how you fit in the office environment now, and so are your colleagues. So, help them out. Might it be that there is really no inviting going on at all, and that the event gets mentioned and everyone just knows that everyone is welcome?
If that is not the case, two solutions come to mind. First, tell the usual suspects who do most of the inviting or event planning that you are back in the saddle and raring to go and can't wait for the next group outing.
Second, invite them to an outing. Use a birthday or seasonal occasion as an excuse for you to do the planning. This will surely send a message that you are ready to rock 'n' roll again.
Make conversation with one or two folks in the office about how glad you are to be back at work, and that as much adult stimulation as you can glean from the gang is welcome, ergo, workplace outings.
Remember, people can't read your mind. You need to take responsibility for communicating your thoughts and feelings about your altered status. Yes, you should be more extroverted to get back in the circle of things. Chat people up about what has been going on in their lives.
Take the initiative, be the instigator for a change, which will show everyone that you are interested in them and the company goings-on and that you want to be considered part of the team. Step up to the plate and heighten your visibility and sociability factor.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Founder, Women's Executive Network
As I read your question, I couldn't help but think about some of our peer-to-peer mentoring sessions and the honest, frank conversations our members have about exactly this: the tradeoffs women make when they choose to build a career and a family.
What we find is that many times, those tradeoffs are self-imposed. We want to be seen as all-in at work so we work longer than we have to, thinking it's expected. But a simple conversation would quickly show that is not the case at all.
Your employer seems to understand the need for work-life balance. The fact that until now you've felt included makes me wonder whether maybe you're feeling guilty that you have made the choice to work less, so you're over-thinking and assuming too much instead of saying something.
Let me put on my mentor's hat for a moment and provide a little perspective and hopefully give you the confidence to do what you don't want to do. Think about all that you've accomplished. You've done the hard work. You stayed in math and sciences when so many girls opt out, and you're building a career in a male-dominated sector when so many women leave once they start their families (double digits in the technology field alone).
Don't underestimate these accomplishments. More importantly, don't just quit. You already gave yourself the solution – but you presented it as a last resort. Speak up.
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