We were lucky enough to be invited to the ‘Leaders with Babies’ event, an inspiring panel discussion in Lewisham Town Hall. Run by Leaders Plus, it was an opportunity to meet inspirational leaders who successfully combined a leadership career with being a parent. Our #MGFBlogSquadder, Clare took away some great food for thought, read on to see what resonated most with her:
“This event could not have come at a better time – this morning followed a restless night mulling over the hole in next year’s budget, then a leaky nappy Vs work trousers incident, follow by a split lip, a traffic jam trying to get a parcel before it was returned to sender, and three urgent calls with recruitment agencies to fill gaps so we can meet our targets for funders.
I know that’s a morning that resonates with a lot of Gin Mummies. The jigsaw of work and home and parenting is tricky at the best of times, but if you’re at a point in your career where you might be expected to, ahem, “lean in” (don’t get me started on that phrase…) then sometimes it can feel like an unending treadmill where nothing is getting your full attention, let alone your top performance.
It’s not often that we get some mental space to think about why we do what we do, and to reflect on whether we’re doing the right thing, or just rumbling along doing what we think we should. That’s where Leaders Plus fits perfectly – a network for parents (mostly women) who are leaders or aspiring leaders.
Verena Hefti, founder of Leaders Plus, pulled together a great line up of exceptional women for this event – pithy Christine Armstrong, co-founder of Jericho Chambers and author of the upcoming book Big Jobs & Small Children; the extraordinarily steadfast Liz Butler, fomer Chair of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust; and Sara Williams, Exec Director at Lewisham Council, who appears understated and soft, but clearly knows how to get what she needs.
As I discussed with another attendee, we could swap war stories about being an ambitious working mum all day – we’ve all had that horrific boss, those judgy colleagues, the disastrous collisions of chicken pox and board meetings; and although there is great solidarity to be found in this, the panel had some sharp insights into not just surviving a successful career and offspring, but making it really work. My takeaway points were:
– We must make active choices. It’s all too easy to allow work & life to happen to you rather than being something you’re actively creating. Instead, consider your options and own what you have chosen. Everything we say yes to, whether it’s sports day or that additional project at work, means saying no to something else. Make those choices wisely and accept all the consequences.
– Be really clear, with everyone from your boss to your childcare to your relatives, about what you expect and what they can expect from you.
– Be honest about what kind of mum you are, and what kind of mum you want to be. There is no pecking order of what is “best”, but forcing yourself to work full time when you really want to be at toddler groups is just as bad as the other way round. As far as you can, arrange your life so it’s yours – it only has to work for you.
– Write your CV now, and write it when you’re having a really, really amazing day and feel great about yourself.
– Sometimes working mums are our own worst enemies by pretending that we can totally make it work by just being well organised. Actually, we all juggle and drop things and fly by the seats of our pants. That’s OK, and accepting that you won’t always be on top of it all (and neither will anyone else) makes it much easier when you’re singing Twinkle Twinkle for the eleventy zillionth time at 4am before a big presentation.
– Never apologise for who you are. Society seems to act like women who leave their children to go off to work are callous, cold-hearted, and selfish. But then, women who leave work to be full time mums are selfish. And women who negotiate job shares, or flexible working, or go part time are selfish! So what! Be selfish! Don’t apologise or hide your ambition, be it work ambition or home ambition. The children of happily successful women are, in turn, more likely to be happily successful themselves – and in particular the daughters of women with successful careers are more likely to defy gender stereotypes. If your work makes you fulfilled this will filter through to your family.
– Manage your cost base from the start. If you’re successful, it’s easy to fall into having what you think a “successful” lifestyle should be. Whether that’s private school, new cars, a holiday home, or the biggest mortgage you can get, it can quickly mean you feel like you have no option but to keep earning what you’re earning and have no opportunity to scale back. If you can, always keep in your back pocket the possibility of quitting and going to work in Pizza Hut again.
– Speaking of which, we don’t actually have to always keep on keeping on in our careers. Our generation will probably work until we’re in our 70’s, so there’s plenty of time to take a break or a “Mummy track” role if that’s what works for you. It may have taken me 15 years to get to where I am now, but I’ve got at least another 30 working years to go. If you decide to step off or slow down for a bit it really isn’t the end of the world.
– You will need to pick your battles, and pick them for the right reasons. You may wish to smash the patriarchy overall, but how does that fit with your career goals and being home for bedtime? You may wish to trailblaze for flexible working, or shared parental leave, or to be able to leave at 5pm twice a week – whatever you do, there will always be someone snarking about you slacking off; just leave them to it. Decide what’s important and focus your energy there.
– My last tip, something I’ve heard plenty of times before, is to get a mentor. I’ve often dismissed this as something other people do, but actually, having someone who sees the best in you is just what a lot of us need. Not necessarily another working mum, but that might help! Have a look around your professional & social circles – there might just be someone there who’s come out the other side of this journey and who has some pearls of wisdom to share.
Leaders Plus is running a fellowship programme which might be just the ticket for anyone who needs a bit of motivation and inspiration – it might sound like hyperbole, but women having careers has only been mainstream for a handful of decades – we really are trailblazers so we deserve the time & support necessary to ensure that we’re blazing the right trails for us, and no one else.”
More information on Leaders Plus can be found at www.leadersplus.org.uk