I used to be a traditionalist when it came to working life: at my desk, putting the hours in and expecting the same from those around me. I used to question whether productivity was as high as it should be when someone worked from home and I had a cynical attitude towards flexibility. Growing up in a sales environment, I argued that, on occasions, being seen at your desk is often more important than what you deliver. A pat on the back was standard appreciation for being at your desk early or for sacrificing part of your evening for the company. This was often the case regardless of performance and the opposite applied for those who were performing well but only worked their contracted hours.
In the recruitment market, flexible/ agile working is rarely the norm. So, it’s 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 women settle down and start families, they often re-evaluate and opt for more viable careers in internal recruitment or HR over a target oriented sales role which requires long hours, is high pressured and generally demands an inflexible lifestyle that very rarely works well for working mums.
I found myself at a crossroads when I discovered I was pregnant with twins. My commitment to ‘the cause’ was put into jeopardy…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 5am. As I grew larger and larger, the hour and a half commute progressively became 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. My thought process, judgement and confidence that I always took for granted, transformed dramatically over the 9-month period. Fast forward a year and I sit here, with the ability to reflect. I now have two children who are 15 months old, I’ve been back at work for 10 months and I’m benefiting from flexible working whilst also achieving my goals at work. However, the past year has been one of the most challenging periods of my life. Without the support of my husband, who took paternity leave for 3 months so that I could return to work, and my incredible parents, it would not have been possible.
I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my learnings with you. I understand that my advice 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 who’s juggling a career with home life.
LOVE THE JOB
There are two reasons why returning to work was right for me: I wanted my children to have all the opportunities I had as a child and a young adult, but equally important because I loved 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 into work every day.
On the days I am sleep deprived, or when my children were poorly and I felt an intense guilt when walking out that door, I quickly realised that the passion for my job, for not letting my team down and for delivering to my network, helped me significantly in facing that challenge head on and putting a 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 they are needed. There is little point having support when they don’t know how to help or they are underutilised.
Communication and team work 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 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. However, when it does work well, the sense of achievement is fantastic and everyone feels part of a well-oiled machine. Unfortunately, these moments can be few and far between.
RETURNING TO WORK WITH CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS
In an ideal world all women would be returning to a role they love, to a business they respect and to people that recognise them as a key part of the future success of their business. If you are lucky enough to have most, or all of 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.
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. I now 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 bow to those with far more experience than me, because it is not easy. A certain amount of flexible working has really helped me make motherhood work, but above all, a positive mindset, clear objectives and a great support network has made it an incredible experience. Investigo now operates a flexible working policy to enhance eveyone’s work-life balance.
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.