Let’s talk about Flex! 💪🏿 

So on Friday Boy 2 and I packed our cold selves off into Manchester City centre to take part in the latest #FlexAppeal flash mob hosted by the insta-famous @motherpukka and @papapukka. 

I donned my Lycra and flexed to the music, along with 200+ other parents and little ones to campaign for flexible working. 

Why? Because everyone should have the right to work and live. It’s not just about parents trying to save money on childcare. Or about allowing people to rock into the office three hours late with a hangover. 

It’s about giving people a bit of flexibility in the working life, without fear of being held back from career progression. 

It’s about realising that people can bring more to the workplace if they are able to develop their lives outside of it. Whether that’s because they are walking their dog for thinking time, or taking a course to enhance their skills, or even God forbid, pick their child up from school every now and then. 

It’s about recognising that advances in technology and the changes in our workforce mean that so many job roles (or elements of them) could easily be done from home, coffee shops or on-the-go. 

It’s about employers trusting their staff to get the job done, even if they have a late start or early finish. 

It’s about realising the next generation of workers aka ‘Millennials’ will expect to be able to fit work and life together easily, without jumping through a million hoops and feeling guilty for it. They’ll automatically be prepared to juggle the two in a way that works for them. 

It’s about acknowledging the facts. The stats that say the UK economy would benefit by £165 MILLION if flexible working was more widely available for parents and non-parents alike. That’s a lot of cash money and I have a sneaky suspicion our country could do with it right now. 

Far too many women are discriminated against for getting pregnant or asking to attend the odd assembly when they retun to work. It ain’t right! 

Attending this event made me realise just how common this sneaky discrimination is. I also realised I’m kind of ok when it comes to my job. I work 4 days a week and thankfully have an employer who is good at protecting that day off. And my hard work has been acknowledged – without me having to bang someone’s door down. It might not be perfect for everyone, but that’s what #flexappeal is asking for….Flexibility that works for yet benefits everyone!  

We can’t keep losing smart, talented people because of restrictive, old-fashioned approaches to work. 

When you have a spare minute check out www.motherpukka.co.uk. She’s very entertaining. Her employers’ loss is our gain. If you are on instagram check out @motherpukka and @papapukka. Use the hashtag #FlexAppeal and you might spot me trying stop Boy 2 from running off whilst I try to keep up with the routine. Or just see below 😬


But if you do anything else, please just spread the word about the importance of flexible working. 

*Mental & Capital Wellbeing Report 2016

** photo courtesy of Bec Lupton via MotherPukka 

Why are women still getting ‘pregnant then screwed’?

My thoughts on how to reduce maternity discrimination.

Another week has gone by and more reports are being published showing how working women are being treated like crap when they are pregnant or on maternity leave, only to become victim to a pay gap with their male colleagues once they return to work.

This really annoys me. Particularly women who are sacked, made redundant, demoted etc just because they have pushed out or are due to push out a baby. This is illegal and needs to stop.

Yes, I understand that for some organisations (particularly small businesses), the cost of maternity pay could have an impact, especially if they need to pay for additional cover. BUT that doesn’t mean we make it ok for any business not to employ women of childbearing age, or treat them like rubbish. Nor does it mean we should just accept there isn’t a place for us in the workplace after we’ve given birth aka comtributing to the future of the human race. 

What it means is that we clearly need a more equal view in our approach to parental leave and responsibilities. Society’s mentality towards leave and parenting is outdated, still in a time where women didn’t have professional roles and fathers weren’t as hands on. But times have changed. Women are pursuing or already in senior, demanding careers (God forbid) and many fathers actually spend time with their children (shock horror!). But the ‘system’ doesn’t acknowledge this.

Let me explain. At the moment our maternity system is very much that, maternal. Focussed on solely the mother. She is allowed to take time off for medical appointments, without question. She gets paid to take time off caring for a newborn. If a father wants to take significant time off, he might get funny looks from an employer and he’ll have to accept a drop in pay. Not the best move at a time when finances are already be impacted by nappies and wipes (and coffee and cake for mum lol). So it makes sense for mother to take more time off (up to a year), leaving her with a gap in her career, which according to statistics will impact her financially for life,  whilst dad continues to work, progressing his career to bring home the proverbial bacon.

And in most cases, this then continues once she has returned to work as she is the primary care giver. She takes the pay cut to work part time, leaves the office early when a child is sick etc etc. And employers kind of expect it. Some embrace it – ‘that’s her being a mum’ they accept. Some use it as an excuse to treat women differently which is down right wrong. Either way, all employers need to respect the fact that fathers are parents too! Make it acceptable, in fact the norm, for a dad to leave the office at 430 to do the nursery pick up or ask if they can do a conference call from home to nurse a sick child.

Now, imagine if both parents received the same pay for leave? They could split the leave, reducing the ‘time out’ of work for either parent, but ensuring they bring in some kind of income, meaning the onus isn’t on any one parent. I know that the right to shared has been introduced in the UK, but statistics show that take up has been very low. But we shouldn’t give up on it. If we got to a stage where this was the norm, employers wouldn’t or couldn’t discriminate against workers just for being parents. They wouldn’t have many people left in their books!

If you haven’t heard of the wonderful Joeli Brearley, check out her amazing campaign, Pregnant then Screwed. It really is an eye opener into the number of working mothers being discriminated against. But she is actually helping women to challenge their employers and supporting them in the process. Positive action! Thankfully I haven’t had such experiences, but it really is sad that in the 21st century, this is such an issue. What’s more sad is that it’s getting worse. 

But I think it fans, and will get better. It will take time. It will take a lot of effort. It will take mothers to stand up against discrimination to hold bad employers to account. It will take fathers to use their right for shared leave and make it known to their employers that they actually want to parent! It will take the government to make discrimination tribunals cheaper and easier. And it will take the rest of us to provide support for our friends and family in these situations.

Then maybe less of us will be screwed. 

 

Being brave

A few weeks ago I did something I hadn’t done for a long time. I stepped out of my professional comfort zone.

I received an email inviting me to speak on a panel (won’t bore you with the topic details). My first instinct was to pass it on to my line manager. He couldn’t make it, neither could anyone else more senior to me. Bugger.

Just as I’m about to hit ‘send’ on an email to decline, I stopped. I realised I didn’t have a good reason not to take part, only fear. I had been recommended for the event, I’m not sure by whom, but clearly someone out there thinks I’m pretty good at my job.

Rewind a few years and I would have jumped at the chance to talk in front of a room of people. I’ve always been the friendly, chatty one. People love having me at events because I tick a few boxes (female, black. done!). But without realising , my confidence had faded and I had been turning away from opportunities.

I had become the person that said ‘why’ rather than ‘why not’. I was slowly slipping into a habit of just doing what was in my remit, rather than pushing myself. Not the ‘me’ that many people would describe. The impact of motherhood or wifelyhood (yes, its a word!), I don’t know, but I need to change it.

So I reminded myself of my commitment to say yes more often and accepted the invitation. And guess what, the event went well and I had loads of positive feedback. Result!

Then last week I was asked to do an interview with the local paper about ‘successful women handling careers and motherhood’ with the help of family-friendly workplaces. I laughed out loud about the successful bit, but was honoured to be asked. I guess I’m doing a good job of juggling everything.

That’s two yeses in a few weeks. Has my life been transformed? No. But I’ve reminded myself of a few things:

  • Taking on a challenge every now and then is good for the soul
  • If someone else says you are good at something, they are probably telling the truth, even if you don’t believe them
  • The more opportunities you invite into your life, the more that will be opened to you. It’s down to you to accept them or not

Feeling good after a few positive experiences, I think I’m slowly starting to find ‘me’ again.

xx

 

Work work work….

This past couple of weeks I’ve been reminded of how hard it is to keep on top of all the elements of ‘life’ when work so easily takes over. 

When a work load piles up and there’s genuinely nobody to delegate to, you have to face it head on. This can mean continuing my work day in the evenings, after meal times and bed times are sorted. It’s not fun. I should be at the gym or chatting to the husband. Instead I’m face deep in my laptop, Tv on to make me feel less guilty (trying to convince myself I’m actually watching it), not sure when I’ll finally go to sleep.

Food planning has slipped, washing piles up more quickly, general house admin goes to pot. I’m going to bed late and waking up early. I’m probably a little bit cranky with it too! 

It’s interesting how modern life has some how managed to make work so important. It’s so easy to drop other elements when it comes to issues about work. Why do we so often let it take over? 

I saw a photo online saying ‘don’t let anything stop you from going to church that wouldn’t stop you from going to work.’ Although it’s clearly targeted at a Christian audience, it could be applied to a lot of situations. We make excuses for not doing certain things, but rarely for work. Whether it’s plans with friends or a trip with the kids, it’s always easy to find an excuse. Tiredness, hangover, double booked. Would you use those with your boss?! 

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves about the other important things in our lives before work takes over. 

I’ve written before about my work-life juggling analogy, which helps deal with the many ‘balls’ of life. 

I have to remind myself that, as much as I might moan, I know this work situation is temporary. This particular ball needs to be held right now, but I’ve got plans to grab the others so I don’t drop them completely. 

I must keep on juggling. So should you. 

Why work-life ‘balance’ isn’t for me

When I had Boy1 and declared my intention to go back to work, I became overwhelmed by conversations, articles, reports and the like about finding the ‘balance’ between work and home life. As someone who prides themselves on their organisational skill, I thought I’d have it sorted quickly. Schedules, reminders, booking things waaay in advance, I did it all. All in the name of ‘balance’.

But something wasn’t right. Whilst I looked like I was on top of it for the first few months, I was genuinelly beating myself up because I felt I hadn’t found that ‘balance’. I constantly felt confused and guilty for not getting it right, because I my time and headspace just weren’t evenly split between work and life.

Then at some point, about three months in, I had to question if balance was what I actually aspired to.

Emotionally my family will always be more of a priority than my work.  Yet in terms of time, at the moment anyway, I have to spend more days at work than with my family. I can’t expect both to be equal. Plus ‘life’ covers so many more elements than ‘work’, from spending time with children, feeding/clothing them, transporting them to clubs and classes, housekeeping, seeing friends, not forgetting my husband, oh and doing stuff for me (which usually involves a monthly trip to the gym, a 5min eyebrow appointment, or a sneaky coffee whilst child is asleep in the buggy).

Balance wasn’t right for me. In my mind it implies some kind of equilibrium, with all elements taking an equal share of the big chunky, mixed up, pie that is my life. But I don’t want my work to be equal to my children, or eyebrows for that matter. What I actually want is the ability to prioritise the different elements of my life (work included) at different times without feeling guilty. For me, that’s different to balance.

These days, I try to avoid the term altogether. I prefer to use the analogy of juggling. When you are a competent juggler, you have a number of different balls to deal with. At any one time, you’ll have at least one ball in your hand, you know exactly where it is. The other balls are up in the air dangling above your head. You know where they are but they don’t have all of your attention just yet.

Last week I was at my desk, work ball securely in hand, until I got a call from the childminder to say Boy2 was unwell and needed to go home. At that point I had to make a decision. I had to throw my proverbial work ball up in the air so I could grab hold of my motherhood ball.

Once he had been tended to back home, I then had to take hold of the housework ball and sort out food. Then the teacher ball came out and I helped Boy1 with some homework. Once that was done, the work ball was back in hand for a couple of hours.

You see, this is what happens in life. Not just for working parents, but anyone who works and has a life of some sort. Its all about knowing which balls need to be in your hand at any given time and which balls you can let go of, safe in the knowledge you’ll grab hold of them again. Sometimes you will have to let go of the motherhood ball and miss an assembly, so that you can go to that all important work meeting. But sometimes you’ll decide to throw the housework ball up in the air so you can go splashing in puddles with the mummy ball. And don’t ever forget the ‘you’ ball. It’s usually the smallest one in my juggling bag, but I try not to forget it (the eyebrows are a visual reminder).

None of these balls can be let go of for too long, otherwise they’ll all fall down around you. That’s happened to me on a fair few occasions, but as soon as you drop them, pick them back up and start again, maybe at a different pace, with a different style or with some help.

I’ve come to realise that I can’t let anyone else’s juggling style influence my own. Everyone will have a different number of balls of different sizes or weights and they’ll need to juggle at a different pace. I’ve had to find my own style. And guess what, the guilt levels have reduced massively.

People might say I’ve found a balance, but I’ve really just become a great juggler. Let’s face it I feel like a bit of a clown at times, but hey, my kids seem to love me for it.

xx

Disclaimer: the juggling analogy is just how I view juggling. I could have it totally wrong. I am by no means a competent juggler in real life, so any jugglers out there should not take offence.

NOTE: This post first appeared on the fabulous Selfish Mother