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Doing an Executive MBA during maternity leave

Nov 5, 2020

Susie Ho

Susie Ho

Susie Ho is an EMBA ’21 candidate who started Ivey's Executive MBA program shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Sophie. In the article below, she writes about why she chose to do her Executive MBA during her maternity leave and how she made it work.

If you are like me, you are ready to level up in your career. You have been working the daily grind, hustling, networking, and exploring different opportunities that may take you closer to your professional goals. This is why I decided to go back to school for an Executive MBA.

I started my career working in health care in nuclear medicine technology, which is a form of diagnostic imaging using radioisotopes. With a lack of leadership opportunities in this field, I had always wondered if going back to school might be beneficial in this respect. I am a passionate advocate and champion for nuclear energy and knew that eventually I wanted my career to be in this realm. My transition into the private energy sector happened when I realized there was an opportunity to offer my regulatory and radiation safety expertise to the nuclear industry, which is when I started my own consulting firm.  

Making the decision

I had been thinking about getting an MBA for so long, but had been putting it off for years. Various reasons for the delay included waiting until I saved more money, had settled into a new role, knew where I’d be living for the next few years; you may find your list similarly endless. When I finally applied, my acceptance letter came at approximately the same time that I learned I was pregnant. As it worked out, I was scheduled to start the program three months after giving birth. I remember laying out my options: defer and start a year later, or accept and start the program while I was on maternity leave. I had a short discussion with my partner before coming to my decision. It was actually easy to make. We are firm believers that time is our most precious resource, so I chose the latter and decided to start the program following my daughter’s birth. Before starting, I knew that I had to work out the logistics and get my support systems in place.

Here’s how I made it work:

1. Organize your life into a schedule and stick to it
Having an organized schedule will be your holy grail. I have a daily routine that changes as my daughter gets older. When she was a newborn, her naps and feedings were more frequent so it was hard to find my rhythm. At the beginning, I would wake up at 5 a.m., nurse her, and put her down for a nap. Then I would pump breast milk and do as much work as I could before she woke up hungry again, which was usually two hours later. Having bottles ready to give your newborn provides you with a little bit more freedom to continue working without breaking your stride. I won’t lie, this stage will be the hardest. But just remember, this too shall pass. Now that my daughter is older, our schedule is easier to navigate. It will be different for everyone so make one that works for you and stick to it like your life depends on it. Your sanity certainly will.  

2. Identify your supports and lean on them
There is no question that I could not have done this without unconditional love, support, and patience from my husband. The feeling of knowing that your heart is safely in the hands of an incredible person who absolutely believes in you is indescribable. My mother is also integral to our operations and the glue that holds us together. Moms are worth their weight in gold, so treat them well! Hopefully, you have friends and family who can help you out during this time as well. It will make all the difference. And finally, the program staff and my classmates have been tremendously supportive of my situation. They are accommodating and have been flexible to help me make it work.

3. Get help
My mother helps out a lot. She is absolutely key to my success in the program and we owe so much to her. Every day, I get five hours to work on school, run errands, pump breast milk, and even fit in some exercise. If you do not have your mom as an option, get a nanny or someone you trust implicitly to watch your baby. The more you trust the person, the more you can focus on what you are doing and maximize the benefit from your learning.

4. Get a pump
If you plan to breast feed (which I do exclusively), get a breast pump. The better the pump, the more time you will save. I swear by the Medela Symphony. It is hospital-grade and does not come cheap. But it saves me about an hour every day. Again, time is more precious than money, so it is a no-brainer.

5. Outsource
We like our house clean and tidy. So, with a baby and a dog, this means cleaning endlessly. You won’t have time for this, so outsource where you can. We have our house cleaned weekly and order food takeout once a week to free up time.

6. Simplify your life
I keep my schedule light and remove anything that adds potential stress or drama into my life. This means not taking on any additional non-value-adding responsibilities or obligations and not wasting time getting involved with people’s problems, gossip, or negativity so that you can dedicate what little time you have to the things that matter. For me, the things that matter are my family, my fitness, and school.

7. Manage expectations
Being a new mom is unbelievably hard. You are going to look haggard on some, if not most, days. If you can’t get cleaners all the time, then expect the house to be messy until the weekend. It may take you months before you get back to your pre-baby body, so don’t obsess over it, deal with it. You are not going to be hosting fancy dinner parties anymore and will be eating just for nourishment so that you can keep your tiny human alive. Say goodbye to your social life. Date nights will mean trips to Costco, so get used to it. You’re not going to have as much time to spend with friends and family, so don’t overcommit. You will not have an infinite amount of time to do school work, so do what you can and, remember, don’t let perfection get in the way of great or even good enough for that matter.

8. Make time for your family and prioritize it
Someone once told me about this thing called mom guilt. At the time, I wasn’t convinced it was a thing, but, let me tell you, it is real. So very real. Such that when you are poring over your endless case studies, your attention will begin wandering over to the baby monitor and you may find your eyes well up with tears. This is totally normal. I remind myself that everything I do and all the sacrifices I make are for my daughter and these hardships will eventually pave the way to create new norms for women. Being a mom will no longer mean that women will be held back from advancing their careers.

9. Make time for things you are passionate about
Your mental health is just as important as your health, so doing things that are good for your happiness will be your salvation. I am the chair of the Women in Leadership Foundation in Ottawa and have been dedicated to this organization for the last five years. Make sure to carve out time for causes that are meaningful to you.

New moms can do an MBA

If you are thinking about getting an MBA and believe that your pregnancy means you have to wait, I am here to tell you that you don’t. In fact, now might be the best time for you to do it. It makes sense to do it while you are on maternity leave because you are already taking time off and can create time to get it done. Your baby is asleep more often than it is awake, which means this is totally doable. Also, doing an MBA during this time means that you will stay sharp while you are off work and so your transition back will be that much more seamless. You can also schedule a meeting to renegotiate your salary upon your return because you will have earned a raise. Waiting until you are back at work will make it more challenging because you will:

  1. Have less time, more meetings, and more deadlines;
  2. Feel like you need to work harder to compensate for taking time off and so be less likely to consider adding an MBA onto your plate; and,
  3. Have a small child that wants your attention 100 per cent of the time.

Have I convinced you yet? Good. The last piece of advice I will leave you with is this: do your research and choose a great school. For me, if I was going to spend time away from my precious daughter, I knew that it had better be worth it.  Only the most meaningful and impactful education would do. Choose a program that works for you and make sure that the program staff support the fact that you are a new mom who wants to level up.

I hope you don’t accept anything less.