Being Me, Not Mum: Returning to Work
The companies we’re working with. The candidates and partners we support. The technology sector as a whole… we all understand the urgent demand to increase diversity and equality across our industries - if we wish to continue evolving and innovating.
Today we address one of the more prominent issues affecting equality; not just for women in tech, but men and women across all industries...
Family - and balancing the roles of both parent, and career professional.
For this article, we spoke with Caspian One employees Katie Roberts, Holly Ferns, Lauren Sidwell and Matthew Payne - asking them each to share their experiences of having children, and the realities of returning to the work environment.
In a report by TechNative (published May 2018), it’s quoted that women accounted for only 15 percent of employees in STEM fields - and perhaps more worrying... only 15.8% of undergraduates in STEM fields today, are women. One reason for this relates to concerns surrounding starting a family, workplace flexibility, support and understanding.
“I can’t understand how it’s a weakness. What you’ve got is somebody that’s gone through a process that’s pushed them right to the limits of their own sanity, that still came back to work, is still committed to their own life, and clearly has strong integrity as we have children and responsibilities. There’s nothing more loyal and committed than a working mum that wants to have a career - and offering flexibility to that type of person will give you the best employee because they are so grateful for it. That person is not going to leave your business if they get that kind of treatment - it’s just not going to happen.”
- Holly Ferns speaking about the loyalty of working mums.
It sounds obvious, but having children is a life changing experience. When most people hear this statement, immediate thoughts that spring to mind are of late nights with babies crying or similar… but the true impact is much further reaching.
FinTech Sales Support lead Lauren Sidwell fell pregnant with her son at age 26. She worked for six months of her pregnancy, and then went on maternity leave somewhat early, due to the stresses put on her by an unsupportive management team. Lauren returned to work 2.5 years later thanks to the support of family members, along with her husband transitioning to full-time parenting for just over a year.
“Coming back to work after having a baby you obviously worry when you're at work. All you can think about is your baby at first, so it’s a hard transition to come back to your business life”.
Lauren’s return to work was, unfortunately, not straightforward. Whilst her new position granted the flexibility to start later (accommodating the school run), she was quickly made to feel guilty and uncomfortable for being out-of-sync with the business; often berated for not being present in morning meetings, leading to her exiting that organisation.
This experience was shared by Caspian One’s Operations Manager Katie Roberts, who was working at a leading fitness chain when she had her first child. Returning to work after nine months maternity leave, Katie had to fight difficult bosses for something as-simple-as fixed hours of employment she could arrange childcare around.
When Katie’s daughter started going to school Katie changed job, in search of more stability... and at the same time, began to re-evaluate her career path:
“I thought I just need a Monday to Friday job. I don’t need to be anything right now, I just want to be a Mum. Then when she was at school I starting thinking, ‘am I actually going to do this for the rest of my life?’ And that’s when I came here.”
Katie joined us at Caspian One four years ago. In her time with the business, Katie has become an integral and vital member of the team, highly valued across all facets of the company. When Katie became pregnant a second time she feared how the news may be received by Caspian One management:
“When I found out I thought ‘oh no, how is this going to go down?’ - because my previous experience was that I would get pushed out and lose my job, and I absolutely love working here. I’d made my role into something so great to me; it gave me everything I wanted to do - and I get on well with everyone here, so I was really nervous about telling Dom. But Dom is a family man, as is Marcus and I think we’re so lucky to have them because they know the importance of family. Dom and Marcus were over the moon.”
After nine months of maternity leave, Katie returned to Caspian One. However, she notes that the company was nervous that she wasn’t going to come back; a fear shared by many business owners and Directors when it comes to employing a female workforce. For Katie returning to work was an absolute must... giving her an outlet to be herself - not just ‘Mummy’.
When FinTech Consultant Holly Ferns became pregnant age 22, she was HR Manager at a company she’d worked at for over half a decade. Having been career focused up to that point, Holly had to entirely rethink her path forward - but felt lucky to be in an office shared with other working women.
Financial commitments forced Holly to return to work five months into her maternity leave. Holly wasn’t ready to return at this time but simply couldn’t afford to not work, or pay for childcare.
Holly joined us at Caspian One in March 2018, becoming part of our UK FinTech team. Whilst Holly is thriving, she does comment that even now, it can be difficult for a primarily male team to understand ‘Mum guilt’ and how children impact on her day-to-day.
“What isn’t realised is that I could be up for two hours in the morning, in the night, getting our kids ready, trying to get everything done, driving here, there and everywhere - and you feel shattered from that. You’ve already had a day before your working day even starts, and with Oscar being autistic sometimes there are other objections I have to deal with as well… and then you’ve got to come in and be on ‘your game’. Sometimes it’s difficult when you come in and you know people won't understand or be interested in hearing it, and you’ve got to bury it - but you can’t really do that, it’s difficult to do. ”
For Holly the benefit of being a working mum, other than the financial returns, is that she is a role model for her son who see’s her going to work each day. He’ll grow up proud of his mother and respectful of her equal place in the workforce. However, Holly does note that being a working mum can be isolating - both at work and amongst other mothers that don’t work. There is a stigma attached to being a working mum which can be hard to shake.
Before joining Caspian One, Marketing Manager, Matthew Payne already had two children while working remotely at a digital agency. The company had only a handful of employees that worked very closely together with strong family values, so support and flexibility were provided… making the return to work easy.
Matthew was fortunate to benefit from Caspian One’s change in paternity terms this year, receiving a full two weeks paid leave… making a time of financial strain much more manageable. This also allowed his wife to start maternity leave a few months earlier than planned, which Matthew felt made a tremendous difference to their family life.
“Going from two to three is a significant change. I’ve never really come out of the ‘new parent’ lifestyle as mine are 2 and 4, so I didn’t suddenly have to go back to late nights etc… but just having a baby in the house again when you’ve become used-to toddlers is stressful.”
Throughout our discussions with Holly, Katie, Lauren and Matthew, A few themes that were repeated;
Flexibility. It’s brilliant that more businesses are embedding flexible practices into their organisations, but to be truly beneficial, attitudes towards flexible working need to also change. If you offer flexible hours it’s unfair to then make a person uncomfortable when they utilise that offering.
Loyalty. A working mum given flexibility, support and trust is likely to become one of your most valuable assets.
Support. Working mums need support; from the company that employs them, from friends, and from family members that they often rely on.
Be Me. Most working mums love being at work, as it gives them an escape from parenting. It allows them to engage with other adults and own a personality other than just ‘mum’.
Priorities. Family comes first, and companies that understand this will reap the benefits. At Caspian One we are one community, continuously looking to better support our staff when they have children.
At Caspian One we are helping our clients diversify their hiring practices, and working with candidates returning to work after having children - ensuring their needs are taken into account and supported.