I was reading a book not so long ago, wherein the central character was a working mother who was struggling to balance the demands of her career with the needs of her children. There was a particular part of the story where, in a desperate attempt to participate in a school bake sale, the frazzled mother bought some cakes from a supermarket, bashed them up a bit and sprinkled icing sugar on top to make them look homemade. I felt like someone had been following me around … I have been at times very much guilty of this.
International Women’s Day is always interesting because it marks how far we have progressed with our attitudes and how far we have to go. I was once told – when I was starting out in my career – that I would never get a promotion to Account Executive as I was likely to go off and have a baby … And that this entirely natural state of affairs would upset the clients. I am pleased to say that we have taken great strides since I was met with this outright inequality, but I rather suspect that we still have much to do in order to ensure fair progress for all.
When I started working, there were two ways to get ahead: Be “one of the guys” or indulge in flirtations with the male executive. It was something of a “Harvey Weinstein” environment so you had to learn quickly to be strong and give as good as you got. Had I continued down this path – and not set up my own business – I doubt I would have survived the corporate world. There was a stereotype that – as a woman in a leadership position – you would be aggressive or unpleasant to work for. So, for me, the best thing I ever did was get myself out of that situation and start up my own business.
As a business owner – and a mother – I understand what it’s like to get the kids to school on time, make the packed lunches, do the homework, turn up for schools plays and forge a career. You essentially have two jobs. For so long, I was the mother who never showed up at the school gates and I did feel guilty about that. Having my own company granted me a level of flexibility that wasn’t to be found elsewhere at the time – even at the more forward thinking companies.
So, for me, it’s important that I pass this flexibility on to our own working parents within HRC Recruitment. Five of our senior management team here are working mothers who either work part-time or utilise agile working options.
When you’re a parent you can often lose your sense of place in the “business world” and entering the world of work can seem frightening again. Equally, as a woman trying to forge a career, you can feel that you are, in some way, letting your kids down. Flexible working options tries to negate these feelings, as do our “keep in touch” days for those employees out on maternity leave. It’s a way of gently balancing both worlds and allowing talented women to stay employed in great jobs.
When I think of my own first experience of motherhood – I stopped work four days before my due date and was back to work six weeks after the birth – I wouldn’t wish that on any of our working mothers. It was an absolute wrench to leave my son at home and return to my desk.
I have no doubt that the career experience for many women has greatly improved since I embarked on the world of work. Quite often, I was judged on my looks or qualities that were deemed to be “feminine” – neither of which would be allowed to happen, thanks to more stringent HR and equality policies. Yes, we still have work to do if we are to fully close the gender pay gap, but the fact that companies are being told to publish their wages for all to see should hopefully bring this particular example of inequality to an end.
If, like me, you’ve stayed up till 4am baking a gingerbread house that your son absolutely begged you for instead of shop bought cakes, you will know how difficult it can be to marry your two worlds together. My children are proud of me; for forging ahead and building my own business from the ground up. I made sure that, along the way, my kids didn’t lose out. I might have – but they definitely didn’t.