I returned to work a year after the birth of my son, working four days a week. Truth be told, I really enjoyed it and work made my son more enjoyable and vica versa. This was unexpected and I was a more attentive mother after a year of ‘eat, poo, sleep, repeat’ as well as the ‘awesomeness’ (which goes without saying). Despite the fact that I needed to return for financial aspirations for the future, it was the right move for me at the time.
Fast forward a year and a half, a new job, moving to a new city and becoming a casual commuter twice a week to London, I find myself in a different place. I want a break from a very fast paced (and at times pressured) job to be a more present mum. I want my work to fit round my family not the other way round. I don’t want to hear my two and a half year old son wanting to play with my laptop over his trains and saying things like: “Mummy, my want to work now” or “No more work Mummy”. I don’t want him to be the first in and last one out of nursery twice a week. They (Daily Mail Research Reports and equivalents) say that children whose mothers work go on to be more successful and grounded but it doesn’t feel this way to me at this age. It feels to me that my son has a negative connotation about me working. This has led me to ask three questions:
- What has been this catalyst for my change of heart a year and a half later?
- Why is it so hard to truly maintain a career and have a family in the UK still?
- What might be a mutually beneficial solution to both mums and organisations?
Having spent some time thinking this through, the answer to question one lies in the fact that my cognitive son can now communicate his thoughts, observations and feelings around my work. It may well be that he felt this way before he could speak or it might be that he has just developed this level of awareness. Either way, the research makes sense in the long term but can only become relevant when my child is able to comprehend and experience the concept of competiveness, work and reward (aka. school). At the age of two and half, all he knows is that my work competes with him for my attention. I can truly say that I am jealous of my eighties mum who could afford to stay at home with us three kids until we went to school due to the availability of affordable housing. For the first time, I look at ‘fourth sector’ mums and am jealous.
I work for one of the top companies in the world when it comes to supporting women. I suspect this is largely a result of the industry tending to be significantly more male. At graduate level, there are more women than men recruited to the firm. At manager level there are 30-40% more men than women. No surprise that the average age of a manager coincides with the ticking of the biological clock at around 30. I report into our board and (not for lack of trying at a very senior level), there is still only a 20% representation of women at each meeting. Please don’t quote my figures but you get my drift.
My company campaigns for gender parity, equality, diversity and flexible working all of which have contributed to it being voted one of the most desirable places to work globally. They haven’t set a foot wrong since the late eighties. But from my perspective (as one of their target retention demographics), I still don’t feel like I can balance my work round my family and still maintain a career. I put this down to modern day society and culture not having yet caught up with the stark reality of equality and people can only operate within the conventions of their society. Without ever having been told, I am pretty confident that if I was a part time worker, I wouldn’t be able to get promoted. I also know that there is no way they would consider a job sharing role. These reasons are driven by the balance sheet (business case as it is referred to in corporate terms).
I read a ‘day in the life’ article a few years ago, and I can’t remember who was featured, but she was the CEO of a beauty company. Her thoughts on motherhood and working ran along the lines of: “Why isn’t it socially acceptable for women to slow down to less demanding roles while their kids are young and be able to upscale once their kids go to school – without losing credibility in their organisations?” GENIUS!
In my mind, this approach is the only way to truly achieve gender parity. Companies need to start thinking about the big picture. This means reviewing departmental structures and flexible working around the people who make up the organisation, rather than being driven by strategic organisation objectives. In the long run, retention would outweigh any operational savings, particularly as company tend to change their strategies every few years to meet changing market conditions. This usually results in an extensive and expensive change programme or rebrand. Combined with an assurance around financial and career progression opportunities, women might be able to have long term flexible careers which support the individual rather than the worker.
The corporate world has come so far and huge credit to one of the Big 4 accountancy firms and others who are actively hiring from a recruitment firm which focussing on bringing back skilled mums to careers after they have taken career breaks. If only this was standard across the board… Now there’s a quota system that might work… more on that later.