When business journalist and media consultant Georgina Fuller had kids, she didn’t imagine that it would open up new career opportunities. She explains why flexibility – and ditching mum guilt – are the only way to keep talented women in work
As an established business journalist, I never thought becoming a parent could help my career. But when a blog I wrote while on maternity leave went viral, it opened up a whole other aspect to my working life.
That blog was on the bittersweet pain of being a mum without a mum, and it obviously resonated with lots of other women in a similar position. It got picked up by a national newspaper and parenting has become one of the main areas I now write about.
I hadn’t written much first-person stuff before and mainly kept to employment issues and women in the workplace but, after having children, I found I wasn’t just writing about the challenges of being a working mother and the middle-management level drop off for women returners: I was living it.
I also realised how defunct the whole nine-to-five system is and that childcare providers, particularly those outside of London, aren’t geared up to support working parents. Many primary schools, for example, don’t offer after-school clubs yet the working day doesn’t finish at 3:30pm. The result? Many talented women I know have dropped out of work all together.
Seeing how patriarchal the system is has made me want to highlight the issue as much as possible in my work but also to carve out my own way of doing things, so I can be present for my children as much as possible but also maintain a job that keeps me sane (just about!) and solvent.
Having children has also made me appreciate the importance of time management, effective planning and what is and isn’t important. It has concentrated the mind and helped me to realise that I can be just as effective in the short school day as I could when I was working traditional hours.
Pre-kids I might, for example, have frittered away an hour or so on browsing the Zara website on a Monday morning whereas now, I know that from the moment I pick my children up at 3:30pm, my time won’t be my own so I have to make every hour count.
Of course, I don’t always feel as though I get it right. On a really good day, I might do a TV or radio interview in the morning, then write a feature for one of the nationals, while still being there to pick my kids up and take them to football or ballet. But on a bad day, when an urgent email or request comes in just as we’ve got back home, and I’m trying to write, do an interview and make their dinner, it can feel as if I’m failing at parenting and work.
Overall though, I love what I do and feel privileged to be able to do a job I mostly love around raising a family. I really believe this shouldn’t be something unusual and that flexible working and taking career breaks should be standard. Raising a family and working should definitely not be mutually exclusive.
Top tips for working mums
Managing a short working day
If your child has recently started nursery or school you might suddenly find yourself with a four-to-six hour window to work. This can go by in a flash so I usually try and write a short to-do list on what I need to focus on. Don’t go overboard though. Just three-to-five points will help you feel organised and motivated. It can be anything from updating your spreadsheet to chasing invoices.
Switching into work mode
I still find switching from mum mode to work mode difficult especially if I’ve had a shouty school run with bickering kids that morning. Getting out of the house and heading to a café, co-working space or anywhere away from home, really helps concentrate my mind and helps me get into the right mindset to answer emails and write.
Be firm with friends and family
The term ‘working from home’ used to be seen as a euphemism for slacking off or watching day time TV and I still find that friends and family don’t always appreciate the fact that I’ve got a job and am not available around the clock for a chat and a cuppa. So my advice is to be firm with people and ask them to respect your boundaries. Turn your phone off if you’re not using it, lock the door and don’t feel guilty about it.
Keep distractions to a minimum
When I first started out, I didn’t have an office space and would sit down at the kitchen table then find myself emptying the dishwasher, doing a quick wipe down of all the surfaces, putting a quick load of washing on and before I knew it, it was lunch time. I realised pretty quickly that I needed another working area at home but didn’t have the space or the money for an office then. So I used a table and chair in my son’s room. I found I needed to get away from the mess in order to be productive.
Ditch the mum guilt
There are times, usually after school or before the school run, where I’m trying to answer a work call or send an email and parent three kids and inevitably the children end up losing out. I get impatient with them or find I’m not listening to them. I always try and explain that it’s because I’m trying to work, not because they’re not important. And I hope that I am setting them a good example and helping to instill a work ethic.
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