Having it all

Hands up if you have ever felt judged for your choices as a mother? 

By Cathy Owen

It was once suggested to me, by the nursery I paid a LOT of money to over five years, that I could perhaps work less as my child was getting frustrated in nursery. I would have loved to have been with my child more, and worked less, but financial commitments would not allow for that at the time. So instead their ‘helpful’ comment just piled more fuel on my already crippling guilt…

I’m not alone, many families feel trapped like this. The National Childbirth Trust reported in 2014 that of 886 new mums returning to work, 77 per cent confirmed that their main reason was financial.

However, since attending my first Scottish Mothers Collective event at the launch in May 2016, I immediately felt that I was in an environment where I was not judged. It was an inclusive group for ALL mums, be they working full time, part time, self-employed, on maternity leave or staying at home. I felt totally connected to the speakers who shared tales of trying to find a balance, often needing a glass of wine at the end of the day and their little victories, which could simply be managing a slick of lip-gloss before the school run to nailing an important presentation.

The founder, Kimberley Ritchie, was a successful in-house retail PR. After the birth of her daughter Charlotte (now aged two) Kim returned to the workplace with a degree of flexibility. But she admits that as a new mum she felt a bit disconnected, as if she had to be two people, and very much compartmentalise those two different parts of her life. When pregnant with her second child, Harrison, she took the brave step of setting up the Scottish Mothers Collective, having been drawn to online support networks, but feeling Scotland did not currently provide a forum that offered emotional, business and social support to mums.

Setting up the organisation also gave Kim the courage to launch her own freelance consultancy, which (with two young children) means working Sundays when Daddy’s home to occupy the kids, and late nights when everyone is in bed and she has peace to focus. The result? She no longer needs to be mum ‘slash’ professional. She can be flexible and give her clients her best because she no longer feels torn between work and family. This is what SMC is all about… owning your version of balance and coming together to inspire others, gain business knowledge and sometimes, just to have a laugh.

If you work from home the SMC provides welcome relief to working alone, it’s somewhere to meet like-minded people, to bounce around ideas and to connect, offering an element of workplace camaraderie that’s missing when you are self-employed. For working mums, trying to find balance and keep all the balls in the air, it’s an environment where you can admit its not easy sometimes. This need to connect can also be true for stay-at-home mums who may feel isolated, and disenchanted with baby-group chat. The SMC is somewhere you can go and not feel pressure to discuss your latest organic baby food recipe.

Events are monthly, and they strike a good balance of business, lifestyle and even events that include the kids. Their latest illustrated the SMC’s commitment to addressing significant issues for working families when on February 24 they marched in Glasgow with Mother Pukka, an amazing blogger and Instagram force with a 65k following, in support of her ‘Flex Appeal’ campaign which is currently touring the UK. It’s demanding more businesses to wake up and smell the benefits of having a flexible workforce.

Many employees are too afraid to say they believe in flexible working in case it impacts on their role. For example, Mother Pukka highlights that the government’s ‘Working Forward’ pledge reports that 86 per cent of businesses believe they work flexibly, while at the same time 77 per cent of women face maternity discrimination or lose their jobs dues to inflexibility. The focus of the events are to highlight the benefits to employers (not to witch-hunt them) including an estimated 165 million for the economy, highly motivated staff not driven to take their skills to another employer, or the advantages to both employer and employee of working freelance.

In 2015 The Guardian newspaper reported that only one in 10 advertised jobs, with a salary of £20k +, even mentioned the possibility of flexible working, despite half the working population at that time demanding flexible working.

Claire Alexander, who launched recruitment agency Part Time Professionals in Edinburgh last year, understands well the need for more flexible working opportunities.

She reveals, “I’d had countless conversations within my peer group (30 and 40-something professionals) about the struggle to find working hours that fitted in with family needs, so I knew there was a huge number of skilled, experienced professionals who were not fulfilling their potential because of the lack of flexible job opportunities.

“I decided to do something about it and started up Part Time Professionals last autumn. The huge number of CVs we received in the first month of our launch confirmed that people, especially parents, have been crying out for a change to the way we approach working hours.

“There are educated, professional, experienced people out there who can make a big contribution, but who just can’t be in the office Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. It seemed like madness that nobody realised they could use flexible working as a recruitment tool to attract high-quality staff.”

Claire adds, “And the great thing is that businesses are starting to understand that there are real commercial benefits to employing professional staff on a part-time basis – not just in the money they save – but part-time workers stay longer in their roles and are actually more productive during their working hours than their full-time counterparts.”

Following on from lending their support to Flex Appeal, future SMC events in the pipeline include a lifestyle focus and more activities involving children. And when asked who her ultimate guest speaker would be, Kim confesses that she’d love to have Michelle Obama inspire the SMC mums… so watch this space!

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