As a self-confessed work- acholic, I have historically been very sceptical about so many of the topics covered in this publication. I would say I was a traditionalist: at my desk, putting the hours in, and expecting the same from those around me. I would question whether productivity was as high as it should be when someone worked from home, and I had a cynical attitude to flexibility. Having been brought up in a sales environment, I would argue that on occasions, being seen is often more important than what you deliver. A pat on the back was standard appreciation for being at your desk early or sacrificing part of your evening for the greater good. This was often the case regardless of performance, and the opposite applied for those who were performing well but only working their contracted hours.
In the recruitment market, flexible/ agile working is rarely accepted or if accepted rarely works. It is also no surprise that senior roles are often dominated by men across this industry, and that women tend to leave recruitment when they reach a certain time in their life. As they settle down and start families, they often re-evaluate and opt for more viable careers in internal recruitment or HR, above a target oriented sales role which requires long hours, is high pressured, and generally demands an inflexible lifestyle that very rarely goes well with children.
It created an interesting dynamic therefore when I found myself at a cross road and my “commitment to the cause” was put into jeopardy as I discovered I was pregnant with twins. I started my journey with a positive “I can have it all” mindset and I continued to get up when the alarm went off at 5 am. As I grew larger and larger and the hour and a half commute became more and more difficult, the reality of the prospect ahead suddenly dawned on me. At this stage, I started to think more seriously about whether this could feasibly work for me and my family. During this period, I felt incredibly vulnerable, and not knowing what the future looked like was increasingly difficult. I certainly felt the strength and confidence I always took for granted slowly disappear over the 9-month period.
Fast forward a year and I sit here, with the ability to look back. I now have two children who are 10 months old, I’ve been back at work for 4 months and I’m benefiting from flexible working and achieving my goals at work. It has been, however, one of the most challenging periods of my life. Without the support of my husband, who sacrificed 3 months of his career so that I could return to work, and my incredible parents, it would not have been possible. I would, therefore, like to take this opportunity to share some of my learnings with you. I understand that this will not work for everyone, and I know I still have lots of challenges ahead, however, I hope my experience gives food for thought for anyone hoping for a family or juggling a career with home life.
There are two reasons why returning to work was right for me: I want my children to have all the opportunities I had as a child and a young adult, but also, I love my job. For me, loving my job makes the challenge of being a working mum far more achievable. This brings me to my first learning; make sure you are motivated and happy in your role. I firmly believe that if being at work makes you miserable, this way of life is not sustainable. The need for additional revenue or a second salary is not enough of a pull factor if you dread coming in to work every day. I realised very quickly that on those days where I’d had no sleep, or when my children were poorly and I felt the intense guilt at walking out that door, my passion for my job, for not letting my team down, for delivering to my network, helped significantly in facing that challenge head-on and putting that smile on my face. This for me is essential in being successful.
You can have it all, or certainly you can have an awful lot, but no woman is an island. You cannot sustain this way of life on your own. You must have a support network, but in addition to this, that network needs to understand what their role is and when. There is little point having support when they don’t know how to help, or they’re not utilised. Communication and teamwork is so important here. For us as a family, it is a complete team effort. My husband and I split everything 50/50, layered with support from my parents and our Nanny. Again, this is not straight forward, and the logistics are often incredibly complicated. It absolutely puts pressure on your relationships and is often strenuous, but as a working mum you cannot always be chief parent and you certainly need help to succeed. When it does work well, however, the sense of achievement is fantastic and everyone feels part of a well-oiled machine, however, these moments can be few and far between
In an ideal world, hopefully you are returning to a role you love, to a business you respect and to people that recognise you as a key part of the future success of their business. If you are lucky enough to have most, or all the above, then you are negotiating from a position of strength. Make sure you think carefully about how you can be happy and spend time with your children, but also ensure that you can achieve your goals at work. Go to your employer with a structure that works for you and is carefully thought through. Think about the time you can utilise more efficiently and the time you want to allocate to being a mother and surviving. Work through this together and although there may be some challenges to overcome, if your plan is carefully thought through and therefore effective, you’ll get to an outcome that could work very well for you
From this experience, I’ve learnt some difficult lessons, and I look back at my former self and cringe at some of the opinions I once had. I am still a novice at the complicated world of being a working mother and I bow down to those with far more experience than I, because it is not easy. A certain amount of flexible working has really helped me make this work, but above all, a positive mindset, clear objectives and a great support network has made it an incredible experience. I appreciate that this is not for everyone, but for me balancing a career and spending time with my family gives me both happiness and a sense of achievement that ensures I can keep moving forward.