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Louise Jones : Dreamscope TV, the 2nd share from our High Profile Returning Women series.

The Classic Work / Life Balance, Juggling Act, Spinning Plates….

I went to back to work when my daughter was seven months old – to some that was too early but I was in the very fortunate position to be going back to a job I loved and missed. Whilst a fabulous and successful company, it is a small company and it didn’t sit right with me to take any longer off work – and no, I don’t feel guilty for prioritising that. Money was of course a factor too. My maternity pay was paid in full for three months and then down to statutory maternity pay every month thereafter – ouch.

Going back to work was the classic ‘going back to work for a rest’ scenario. I absolutely loved my time on maternity leave, it was so precious and memorable but I was ready to use my brain again and to have more diverse conversations! As soon as I went back, I realised how much I enjoyed my own company too – driving in with the radio on, grabbing my morning coffee, having two arms to do everything…!

I don’t work on the doorstep of home – on a normal day, it takes 40 minutes to drive into work but get the traffic wrong and it can be a two hour journey. Add that to the still occasional disturbed night’s sleep that a one year old can bring and it can be a killer. As selfish as it sounds, I dread her catching another cold or teething again – my priority is of course whether she is ok(!) but I can’t lie that I don’t then wonder how much sleep I’ll lose and dread my alarm going off!

I am constantly asked why I do it, why put myself through that when I could maybe find a job closer to my doorstep?

I started out in TV and media but then left it for a while to do something more ‘sensible’ (mortgage companies wouldn’t touch me at the time until I did!) I did so for eight years and had by then worked my way up, travelled all over the world in my role(s), and had a company car. But I was bored. Oh so very bored and it just wasn’t for me. I missed creativity and the art of having ideas and now I’m now back to where I feel I belong, I’m not prepared to throw that away again.

I can honestly say that my job is my passion, my hobby. I love the work and I love the people. I am surrounded by people on the same level and no longer have ‘the itch.’ It is a fantastic, and I appreciate enviable, position to be in, but my God, have I worked hard for it and to be back here.

Life is definitely tougher with a child in the mix too. The nights I get home at 7pm, I have to practically get her straight to bed or ring my husband and ask that he starts her routine as I’m stuck in traffic. I dislike those nights, I have to say, but I do manage to strike a balance, and I hope one day she agrees that I did that.

We also work on a huge, well known TV show which can mean that we are filming into the very early hours, resulting in getting into bed any time between 12am – 5am – these are of course days when I don’t see that little smile at all albeit my husband always sends me a little picture of her all tucked up in her PJs which helps (me at least).
“Work in a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life” and that is SO true. If I didn’t feel this, I’m not sure that I would feel balance was being restored. The guilt does kick in on occasion but then I know we’ll get that time back and I’ll more than make up for it.
I have been able to find the balance thanks to having a boss that understands the value of flexible working.

Monday and Thursday, when I work full days, I am lucky enough to have my mother in law and parents look after her respectively. Tuesday and Wednesday she is in nursery 8am-6pm – my husband takes her and I pick her up, meaning I leave work at 4pm to avoid the traffic. Fridays I don’t work and we have a lovely, quality mummy and daughter day. That day is so important to me.

Thankfully, our director understands that it is results that are important, not time-serving. I wish for so many people that their companies understood this too. It works both ways. I have always wanted to give my all when it comes to my work but it makes you want to do that more so when you are given the respect and freedom too. Equally, I understand that on occasion, I will have to work a longer Tuesday or Wednesday or go in on a Friday but because the respect and the trust is given, I want to repay it, and everyone is happy.

Yes, I’m absolutely shattered, yes I struggle to get out of bed some mornings and yes, some nights I go straight to bed once we’ve put her down. But to me it is all worth it. The balancing act for me isn’t just about keeping my daughter happy but keeping myself happy too – happy mum, happy baby, I say – I do so by making sure that every extra hour I spend working or travelling is put back into her in the evenings, on Fridays and at the weekend – seieng that little smile light up when we’re playing, doing something simple like reading a book or are on the little train at the park is all I need to know that all’s good in our little world.

Had I not have been in such a great flexible position at work, I would indeed be running for the hills. I have been miserable in some of my more ‘sensible’, ‘real’ jobs and that is certainly not something I want to bring home to my daughter. I hope she too can one day find something she loves to do and pursues it.

Life is tough and we all have to get by which ever ways suits. There is no right and wrong. Let’s face it, every person you look at who seems to have it all covered is winging it just like the rest of us! Hats off to each and every ruddy one of us!

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The fork in the road

Where Future Talent meets Working Parenthood
By Nicki Seignot

If you’re reading this MummyJobs blog then you may be someone who has left their former employer after having had a family, or is perhaps thinking about moving on. I wonder what changed for you when it came to balancing work and family? Has the experience been what you expected? How did your employer support you – or not – during this important transition point? Where are you now in your quest to combine parenting with a fulfilling career?

In my experience many employers have a gap in their approach to supporting talent at this time. Typically, employers will invest in graduate programmes, programmes for high potentials and fast track development programmes. Undoubtedly many of you reading this will have been part of a pipeline of talent for your own organisation at some point. Perhaps you were a graduate or someone on a fast track promotion programme? The surprise is that despite having invested so much prior to this point, many employers fail to extend the investment through the seismic transition that occurs where work meets parenting.

I’ve talked to hundreds of working parents, and find that people rarely – if ever – talk about what great maternity / parental leave policies their employer has. Too often navigating a return to work is left to self-help. For a fortunate few, it is a matter of sheer good luck to have a supportive line manager and achieve a return to work solution that meets their needs and ambitions. And for the many? Those who aren’t lucky risk disappointment, finding their choices compromised, perhaps flat lining, stepping down or resigning altogether. Yet these are talented individuals returning with a brand new set of skills, focused energy and bringing back much needed experience. The losers in this are the individuals and their organisations. It just doesn’t make good business sense to lose good people and all the skills and knowledge that go with them.

So perhaps you are someone looking to start afresh? The opportunity is to reconnect with the professional you, to have confidence that you still have lots to offer a prospective employer. It’s also important to acknowledge the journey you’ve been on, to recognise how much has changed and the value of time away from the workplace to refresh and learn a bunch of new skills.

Here are some ideas and questions to think through as you move forward:

1. Have a vision of your ideal work scenario (Ask yourself – What could that look like? What would you be doing short term / longer term? How much do you want to work – i.e. full time, part time? What do you need to earn? What skills and experience do you bring as a potential employee?)

2. Research the employer (What sort of an organisation is this? What is their track record for supporting and developing diverse talent? What’s possible for longer-term career ambitions? How do they support working families? To what extent might you be able to work flexibly e.g. work from home or condense your hours? What’s expected in terms of working hours / start and finish times? Who can you connect with who might share ‘on the ground’ insights how it is to work there?)

3. Know what you are willing to compromise on (e.g. Being flexible around the days you work, or perhaps the location)

4. Be clear on your non negotiables (e.g. Leave time at the end of the working day to be there for pick up)

5. Think positively about your skills and experience (What have you learned about yourself through this period of transition? Returners can offer different perspectives, they are likely to be more focused, to achieve more in less time and to bring fresh ideas and thinking having been out of the workplace for a while. Perhaps you’ve been involved in community or charity work)

6. Think about what new skills you might need (Boost your confidence by learning something new. You’ll find a host of ideas and online courses as recommended by Mummyjobs. Click here for more details)

7. Plan for contingency (As one working mother said to me ‘Everything works when everything works – but you’re one crisis away from chaos. It’s crucial to have a back up plan for the times you might need it.’)

8. Do a dry run of the morning and evening commute (i.e. So you have a sense of the traffic / peak points en route and know your margin for leave time.)

9. Know you don’t need to make this journey alone. (If you’re about to start work again, seek out or request an internal mentor as part of your induction programme. Someone from within the business, another working parent may be a valuable source of off line support.)

10. Still looking for inspiration and a bit more guidance up front? (MummyJobs can support you with one to one coaching through your search. Click here to find out more.)

Nicki Seignot is the lead consultant and founder of The Parent Mentor and co-author of Mentoring New Parents at Work (Routledge 2017). Nicki works with employers to encourage them to invest in returning talent through better preparation of line managers and connecting working parents with fellow working parents through internal mentoring programmes. You’ll find more information and lots of resources here

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Jane Nicholson : The Home Office, the 1st share from our High Profile Returning Women series.

Budget day fell on International Women’s Day this year. And the Government used the opportunity to announce £5m to support people wanting to return to work after long breaks, especially to women who often “find the route back into employment closed off – the doors shut to them”. Let me tell you my story and how my journey helped me play a part in this decision.

So who takes a career break when they are the main wage earner? Who takes a career break when their children are 10 and 14? And who would take a career break when they have no easy return to work route? Well I did! I probably sound like I some reckless fool but for me at that point in time it was the right thing to do.

I had spent my life working up the career ladder in demanding international HR roles, commuting across Europe. Then my father died. And I looked at my two beautiful children and knew if I didn’t take some time now with them, it would be too late. Don’t get me wrong – I loved my career but I loved my family too and I wanted to balance the scales in their favour for a while.

So I did it! I spent 18 months doing what other parents do: school runs, chasing lost uniform, watching rounders’ matches and taking far too much interest in their school results. I joined the school PA, a book club, finally used the gym and had endless coffees with friends. And I loved it!

Then 12 months later, feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, I decided to come back to work. Having enjoyed looking for new jobs before, I was faced with a real shock. Suddenly, by not following a traditional career path I felt I wasn’t treated seriously any more. Why did I have a break on my cv? Could I not get another job? Could I not hack life in a senior role? Jobs I knew I could do easily I wasn’t even shortlisted for. I lost track of the number of excuses I heard. “We need someone with more recent experience” was always a good one.

Eventually, through hard work and perseverance, I did get three job offers – interestingly all from female leaders. So thank you to those enlightened women who trusted me enough to offer me a job! I could only take one offer and chose the Home Office because the scale and challenge of a role in Government was so different to anything I had done before.

One of the highlights of my role at the Home Office role has been the responsibility for Talent Attraction and Career Programmes. This gave me the opportunity to do something for people wanting to return to work – for those people facing the same experiences as I had. So one of my achievements has been setting up our Returners’ Programme. This was the first programme in Government aimed at anyone wanting to return to work after a career break.

The Home Office now offers 6 months flexible project work in selected departments. And guess what? We have found the quality of applicants for this programme has far exceeded other recruitment methods. All that talent, waiting to be appreciated!

So what has this to do with Budget Day announcements?

Well, following the launch of our Home Office programme, I was excited to be invited to join a small working party looking at how we could support Returners’ Programmes across the Government. I remember sitting in 10 Downing Street thinking it was incredible that a few years ago my experience was discarded. Yet I was, able to use this experience to positively influence the cross-government agenda.

So my advice to those wanting to return to work, is not to give up. Look for these Programmes, which give you a way back into your careers. To employers, I ask that you take a career returner seriously next time their cvs come across your desk. Embrace their different life choices, otherwise, you could be missing out on some hidden talent.