So, you have had a good career before leaving for maternity, in many cases great career with lots of options on going back to work, or you are self-employed, an entrepreneur or an established business woman. Especially with the number of initiatives for flexible working, part-time hours, job share, freelancing etc. similar opportunities – how hard could it really be as a returning mum after a substantial break? The answer, unfortunately, is VERY!
From what I have read and heard, including opinions of women I have consulted with these circumstances are extremely personal, full of emotions and overwhelming with the feeling of doing the right thing. Like many have expressed, they would like to have it all – a family, a child and a career but the reality is still on the contrary. Here is what some women had to tell us:
Gemma Guise, Managing Director, online media and publishing platform JurnoLink:
I am a new mum! My little boy is one and I have seen how difficult it is to run a business and have a child. I think returning to work as a new mum is really hard because child care is so expensive. As a small business owner, I can’t afford to put my child in full-time child care but at the same time, I need to be working full time to ensure the business succeeds…
Working from home is not feasible with a little one as you feel guilty splitting your time 50% with your child 50% of the business. You either need to be at work or at home with a child. I am very lucky that I have a great team that supports the fact that I cannot be available 24-7 and puts up with a baby in the office the odd day. I honestly don’t know what the answer is for small businesses owners that want a family.
I have been told “you can’t have everything” but I cannot accept this. It would be an easy option to forget about working but there is still the financial aspect of living to consider! Currently, I have been in a fortunate position where I could sacrifice my salary, this meant that I could put the money towards someone who could fill my shoes full time. I still work on the company but only one day a week as that’s all I can justify for child care!
Alison Bullman, Principal (and business owner) at Stagecoach Fulham, a performing arts school for children:
I’m not sure I’m fully “qualified” to answer those questions as I didn’t return to a “normal” job following the birth of Phoebe, my first child. I chose to start my own business to give myself the flexibility I needed to support my family. What I would say, however, is the reason I didn’t want a 9-5 office job was because of the pressure that is put on you to work hours that simply don’t fit with children – such as early or late meetings, last-minute demands such as business trips, the need to work late when projects aren’t finished or overrun and sometimes multiple social/networking events.
The pressure this puts on mums and working parents is a significant strain on family life, which can ultimately damage the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and parents. Having said all that, owning your own business does mean no maternity leave or the associated employment benefits, so business had to continue as normal regardless of sleepless nights and tiny babies when I had my second child, Teddy. You also don’t get access to certain benefits such as Child Care Voucher schemes, so childcare costs and taking time off when self-employed is hard to manage.
I think women are much better placed now than ever before in terms of most companies acknowledging the demands of juggling work and motherhood, and there is support and advice within big companies. I believe what would make caring for children whilst working better would be following the footsteps of those countries where men and women share working hours and caring for their children. There needs to be a better balance and options between both parents.
I am a qualified accountant by profession however when I was looking to return to work in London following the birth of my second child the flexibility I was afforded in my in between period (I returned to work after my first 3 months pregnant with my second and they needed me for an office move, team recruitment and training so allowed me to work 7.30-4pm) was removed, citing business needs (even though I also worked 7-11pm at night for them).
With no family nearby for the support, I couldn’t see how we could manage to have two children and both working in London. I began my own keepsake business, however, it became very popular and I couldn’t balance customer demand with the needs of my children. I decided to specialise but again the products I was making were so labour intensive that even specialising didn’t really help.
I was struck by an idea at Christmas for a fully automated product that would need only website development, promotion and marketing and so the personalised handwriting practice workbook for 3-7-year-olds was created. I got the copyright and the domain name secured. I am launching Write My Name at the start of April and hoping that this will be the answer to my working needs while forever striving to achieve that work/kids balance. I hope it works otherwise I’ll have to go back to my profession and pay for another woman to take care of my children. Something I’ve been very against from the start.
Gerry So, the Co-Founder of Okappy Ltd.:
I gave birth to my first son last year in July. Being a first-time mum, running a start-up (incorporated July 2015) and working in a male-dominated industry is one by far the toughest thing I have ever done. It’s like doing the impossible especially I previously worked in a Tier 1 Investment banking for 10 years where I used to see people going on maternity leave, working part time etc. where the workplace would provide excellent support for mum’s returning from maternity.
Working for yourself is completely different. On one hand, you’d be so exhausted from looking after your baby yet you’d have to keep the business going as it’s your own business, let alone it’s a startup with limited resource and funds. My comment to all the mums and entrepreneurs out there is never giving up and everything is just a phase, it will get better. Communication is the key, be open about what you can do and can’t do so that you can manage your team’s expectations. Even to your clients as well, be bold to suggest your deliverables. You’d rather be honest about what’s doable within the timeframe rather than under deliver.
What I found the hardest is our office is based in Bethnal Green, one of the buildings owned by Work Space. They don’t have any rooms or facilities available for mums if you want to express while at work or to sterilise your breast pumps etc. I had to buy a microwave for our office. Unfortunately, I have to sit on the toilet to express every 4 hours. It’s not the place you’d want to be, as one of the friends said, ‘it’s like you’re cooking in the toilet’. That’s probably the most off-putting thing. Hence, I spend a few days in the office and a few days at home. I think definitely all offices should have facilities for mums, similar to having disabled access.
Anonymous, Marketing Manager, a premium virtual assistant company:
As the ability for companies to offer flexible working conditions increases, the demand will also continue to increase. There’s a shift that has come with advances in technology that is making it easier and easier for employees to work more flexible schedules, whether that means working from home or flexing hours. For new mothers returning from maternity leave, this shift is especially important as they begin to sort out the best way to handle conflicting priorities and a new way of life. If companies want to retain new mothers, they need to fully understand and embrace the need for flexibility during the transition from worker to working mum.
While I planned to return to work after having my first child, it was difficult to completely define what that return would look like 6 or 9 months out. I think if companies want to improve the working culture for new mothers, there has to be complete acceptance around that. Plans can change and flexibility desperately needs to be at the forefront. Luckily, I work for a company that really values working mothers and work/life balance, and they worked with me to figure out a plan that worked for everyone involved. I was able to start part-time and work back into full-time as I felt ready. I wish every working mother could have the same type of experience, and I hope to see it more the focus on work flexibility increases globally.
Steph, Managing Director, Don’t Buy Her Flowers:
The biggest issue I faced after returning from maternity leave is the juggle of childcare and work. I found the job itself wasn’t a problem – if anything I was far more efficient with my time and focused when at work. Though my kids were at nursery age when I started the business, I was looking ahead and couldn’t see how we were going to manage any of the school runs along with my commute. Most offices work with 9-5 expectations, which are limiting especially when you add on commuting times either side.
I think something fundamental to the debate is flexibility for men as well as women. If it’s always a woman’s role to pick up the childcare side of things, they will always be ‘lesser’ in the workplace because they are limited to certain hours. In certain traditionally male industries, such as banking and sales roles, there’s often an assumption that there is no flexibility – it’s not even a discussion – and the mother will be picking up the childcare. In addition, more businesses should employ a person to do a job as opposed to being at a desk within certain hours. As an online business, we are able to provide flexible working across a number of roles because we don’t have opening hours as such. I think more and more businesses will move that way.
Lisa Fisher, 4D Business Coaching:
I think it is important for workplaces to support and value working women for a variety of reasons and that this supportive culture attracts, retains and engages working mum’s valuable contribution. Having a flexible working environment will ensure women such as myself are able to return to work and still have an effective work-life balance. I am not sure if companies are legally required to ensure flexibility but have heard horror stories from some friends who have not experienced a welcome return to work!
It would be helpful if a woman’s overall productivity could be looked at and that might not mean working the standard 9 to 5. For example, some talented working mum’s might prefer to work shorter days, in the evenings or even a weekend which will enable them to have some form of flexibility. However, homeworking comes with both advantages and disadvantages so working women need to have an awareness of the blurring boundaries that may come from working in their home and some employer’s expectations of the permanent “on call” culture which fortunately I do not experience.
Working from home has enabled me to have more of a work-life balance as I am not commuting, feel that I am more productive as am not tired from the travel to and from work and can balance my client’s needs with working the hours that are more suited to family life. My employer has supported me in this role and I am very fortunate to be able to work 4 days a week Monday to Thursday in term time and this reduces to 3 days a week in the school holidays so we only require childcare for our 6-year-old daughter 2 days a week.
Once when speaking with a mum of two young boys she advised how she had to give up a 15-year successful career within property sales and business development as she could not do justice to her kids and felt guilty of neglecting family due to long working hours of estate agencies. Not surprisingly her employers were least interested in providing any form of a job share, flexibility or support. In a nutshell, it is still very hard and an almost discriminatory for returning mums into the world of work in many ways.
I am sure a lot is being done and it may be better than what it was 20 years ago, but times are changing fast and women’s involvement in businesses at every level is far greater than ever so I believe we need to push employers and businesses on how fast they can accommodate the personal lives of talented, versatile professionals and let them feel “not left behind” because they are actually capable of bringing life into this world, surely that should be rewarded not punished.
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