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International Women’s Day: Do we really have a choice when juggling family or careers?

I’ve been working for over 11 years now & I can genuinely say I love my job and the people I work with – a very fortunate place to be I know. I’ve also got a young family, I have to manage school runs, nursery drop off, pick-ups, to and from swimming classes and we’re still only on a Wednesday.

It’s a juggle, a constant spinning of plates to get through the day to honour my commitment not only as a mother but also as an employee.

I had a flexible return to work and a very understanding boss, enabling me to work from home and reduced days. In return I was flexible back, logging on in the evening if needed and available for calls on my day off – several were had with a noisy toddler running around. “She’s the youngest member of the team,” by boss replied to my apologies. Looking back it was a harmonious time and I feel like they got the best of me. I worked efficiently on my working days, no Facebook, no Daily Mail sidebar of shame, and I got to be at home a couple of days with my little ones.

Was it a compromise? In all honest truth I don’t think so, I felt like I got a bit of the old me back after a year out of work and I felt like I was enabling our family to do more as a result of my extra income. My Grandma once said to me: “Jon (my husband) provides the bread and you provide the jam”. We could do those family days out or weekends away – I felt, and still do very lucky.

Now my oldest has just started school we are getting into a solid routine, I won’t be taking any more maternity leave (yes, no middle of the night feedings or dodgy nappies to change). I’ve earnt my stripes and I’m now more than ever focused to really put my mind back to work. But looking back, it has made me question, what would have been if I hadn’t stop/start worked for the past 5 years? Would I be a Director or on a board, maybe? It has made me question how women feel about work and careers.

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With that in mind, I’ve spent the past few weeks speaking to women who have returned to work after having children and also women who have chosen to stay at home.

It seems everyone has a story to tell, and the majority of them are sadly negative. Here’s some quick stats on what I discovered:

  • 3% wanted to change their working pattern when they were due to return to work
  • 75% of employers were accommodating to their request to change their working pattern
  • 50% say they felt pressure to do the same job / hours as they were working before
  • 9% felt like that had to compromise on career choices to have their family
  • 7% felt like they had to choose between having family vs progressing up the career ladder

Here’s some of our respondent’s thoughts:

“Although I went back to work on an agreed part time basis, after a month my job was changed and I was moved to a high pressure role that was impossible to manage effectively on part time hours. I had to handover work to colleagues so that I could leave on time which made them feel resentful towards me. I was a relatively new mum, under a huge amount of stress. I was spoken to by a senior manager who told me that my job was not a job for women with children. After 8 months, I resigned from my job having decided that my own health and family were more important than a stressful career. I was not supported at all in returning to work in a flexible way. My family and I moved to a cheaper area and I started my own business. In the time since I have left (5 years) I know of many, many mothers in a similar situation who have left their jobs in the same industry.”

 “Extremely hard and frustrating. Often inflexible. Added pressure on yourself as you want to challenge yourself and return back to “normal” after having children.”

 “The two do not complement each other! Feel undervalued in both.”

“After returning to work my employer allowed me to work from home once a week. I would have liked to reduce my hours but this was not an option. Being a working mother often feels like juggling the guilt of not being with your children enough versus not being in the office long enough. I worked in the financial sector which is still very male dominated and therefore not particularly accommodating to working mothers.”

“In my experience, it is impossible to ‘have it all’ especially whilst children are young. The balance is so hard to strike between career and motherhood”

“As a working mother you live in a constant state of guilt. Guilt that you are not being the best mum, wife, manager, team mate, friend, daughter that you could be at that one point in time. The only way I can make it work is to accept that I’m not going to be the best at all of those all the time. You need to prioritise when each might give a little without causing long term harm.”

“Too many jobs are inflexible, childcare is too expensive, employers are generally unsympathetic about juggling family life”

“I’m a mum with a job whereas previously I was a woman with a career”

“It’s so hard. Especially if you’re the one that’s responsible for all nursery runs, looking after the little ones on sick days, etc. You can’t dedicate the same hours other people can if you need to get something done. People don’t understand when you can’t be flexible about staying online that extra half hour or for travelling”

“One suffers- working hard – family life suffers. Family first, work suffers.”

“Being a working mother adds to the pressure of being a mother. You constantly worry if you are doing the right thing. I love my job but I also love being a mum – I wish there were two of me sometimes!”

“It is a lot harder than it should be. In my experience Mum’s make great employees. We need flexibility, but often bring so much else to table that it is worth it.”

Don’t worry, just to balance things out there were a few positive ones too.

“Working from home helps a lot for me.”

“I think people should do what’s right for them and their family.”

“Personally I feel I have the right balance between working and spending time with my children. However, the choice I made to work part-time has sacrificed my career progression, pension etc.”

When I read all these comments, it makes me think about all those valuable skills that are no longer in the workforce, don’t get me wrong I know they are still contributing, and with wonderful things at that, but if their employers were just that little bit more flexible would we have these skills still in the workforce?

As it’s International Women’s Day I think we should first applaud our female workforce, past and present. Secondly I think we should encourage employers to follow these points when welcoming a working mother back:

  • Be open to hearing options on return to work, lay the cards on the table and talk honestly about options.
  • Be understanding when things happen, there are sick days, drop off and pick-ups, things that can’t be avoided… Put a solution in place like making up the hours another day that makes these easier on the mother
  • Be engaging: a mother returning to work is in an adjustment period, so be conscious that work is not just to earn money. It is a place to collaborate and work in a more efficient way. Engage with them to ease back into work and encourage them to pursue their goals.

A big thanks to all the ladies out there that help me pull all this info together.

A final shout out to the Dads as well – they also make a compromise on time with their families.