“Improving the Bottom Line”, “Increasing Sales”, “Embracing Social Media” –
I see countless articles on making the work place more productive, increasing turnover and general performance.
I see few articles on making the most out of our best resources – our people. Even less is written about a subject close to my heart: harnessing the power of mothers who would like to return to work but cannot, perhaps, work a traditional working week.
Before you stop reading this ‘women’s perspective’, my aim is to give a balanced view, looking from both sides – the employer and the working mother (I am both).
As an employer I can say the hardest thing to find are good, capable, hardworking and reliable people. The sort of person you know will complete a task; only asking for help when then have exhausted their own avenues for finding a solution and always making sure this help request is timely (i.e. not the day a project has to be delivered).
In my view, although giving birth does not make you instantly more capable, qualified or intelligent it does add a dimension of ownership and responsibility. Once you have complete charge, 24 x 7, for a helpless being, owning an action from a meeting seems much less of an issue, and with such a strong sense of responsibility, not doing something just does not happen. These, and other improved skillsets, our working world should make sure we take advantage of.
How do we do this? Sure, there are policies, government guidance, and companies trying to do the right thing. In my experience, however, the key lies in the attitudes of every one of us. There can be a policy but without someone wanting to make this work, the policy is irrelevant.
So, if we start with the assumption that there are women (and men of course) who would like to work and are a valuable asset, but would like some flexibility in order to make sure they can make a proper contribution without damaging their family, what should we consider?
1) It’s OK to expect flexibility – not just give it
Critical to this relationship being a success, there has to be compromise on both sides.
If you are giving someone flexibility so that they can work around school hours, or school holidays, it’s perfectly acceptable to expect some flexibility in return. It’s all about compromise like any relationship: someone working in a flexible pattern has to understand that they are part of a team and sometimes that might mean they have to move something or get extra childcare to play their part in the team.
2) Respect, Respect, Respect.
Don’t judge. Certainly not unless you have all the facts (actually this is important in all aspects of life but that’s another story). Passing judgment is not helpful, it’s nearly always destructive.
Not all Mums that work have decided they prefer working to their children. Mums work for a whole host of difference reasons, and for the most part explaining them would mean divulging extremely personal information.
I work because I would find being at home, particularly now my children are at school, pretty tough, and as the mother of 2 girls I don’t want to them have to make the very stark choice I have seen so many of my friends make recently – full time motherhood or full time work. I would like them to consider motherhood in a working world with genuine, workable choices.
3) Try hard to make it work
If there is someone whose contribution you value, explore all options and keep an open mind.
The change in social media and the way we communicate will change the workplace forever, over time. There are all sorts of ways we can now contribute and the working day has also changed. Obviously this depends on the nature of the role – but keep an open mind.
Do they need to be in the office every day? Can they do some work in the evenings? What is the business period of the year for your business? Could someone work less in the summer as it’s quieter anyway?
4) Build the things that might cause problems into an agreement
The old cliché of school plays or days when the child is ill. When you give birth, your priorities take a seismic shift. This is a bond that is very difficult to break and as mention above has many advantages if we are looking from the employment perspective. . Even though you are working doesn’t mean that you can, or want to change this. Moreover it’s understandable that Mums want to watch the school play/ attend the assembly/ swimming gala (and Dads for that matter).
There are 2 points I would make here
- In my early 20s I can assure everybody that my priorities (going out socialising in the main) were are lot more disruptive to my job than attending the swimming gala.
- Build this in to an agreement: allow x events or give a ‘family time’ allowance which allows for the time to be made up at another time/ taken at a reduced rate. In the very complex business environments we work in, this is not beyond us to work out.
5) It’s down to us to change
All of the above rely on one thing: attitude. From the non-working Mum’s perspective we might not want children, or from the father’s position, our partners might be stay at home Mums, that’s fine. We are all sisters, aunts, or have some tie to the next generation. The male and female children of today and tomorrow will probably have to work for a very long time for economic reasons, let’s try and do our part to make it better for them.
Imagine the world where someone chooses to have children knowing that they will be able to continue to work on a flexible basis, making a valued contribution.
Finally, if you are still reading, to those people I encounter….
- The men on the train who converse on this subject with seeming enthusiasm, then at the end say ‘but of course we decided it was best for my wife to stay at home’ (ouch)
- The teachers at school who see me in my gym kit – I do work like you, just in order to fit things in I have to run in my lunch hour (but actually if I didn’t work that’s fine too)
- To those Mums who don’t work, when I ask what you will do once your child is at school – I am not judging. I have a purely (envious) interest in what you are going to do with the free time; being a working Mum means that free time is something I personally have very little of.
If you take one thing from this, don’t judge anyone, its not making our world a better place J
*‘These are the personal views of ED and do not necessarily reflect the view of Lanshore LLC’