The days when a mother would automatically stop work once she had a child are long gone. Today, mothers and fathers both work, yet, in general, it is more difficult for women to combine work and bringing up children, particularly in our field of construction and property.
The point of this blog is to convey how having flexibility at work allows me to play the intense, personal role of a mother of two young children and also be a full-time recruitment consultant/manager in a high pressure job – and to argue the case for more employers throughout the (male dominated) construction and property industries to adopt similar approach to their employees, both female and male.
My situation was not unusual for a working woman with a family. Living a relatively long distance from work, already bringing up one son and working a “flexible” late start/finish of 9.30 am - 6.00 pm, I faced a dilemma. This was about making the choice to have one more (and final) baby. I believe this choice ought to be the parents’ own and shouldn’t be determined by work. In my opinion it’s my right as a person and a blessing that I can.
So I did.
Then I panicked! And had another, seeming, dilemma, namely…
How on earth was I going to manage getting a 9-month old baby who attends nursery and a 5-year old who attends school up, fed and dressed, not to mention myself ready and respectable for work, drop them both off (as my partner’s work won’t fit around this) and get myself from Fife to Edinburgh for a 9.30 am start? Then, I need to finish at 6.00 pm to be home by 7.00 pm and feed, bath and spend some quality time with them both? The guilt and worry quickly started to build.
So here’s what happened – and what needs to happen if you’re in a similar situation.
My employer, Chris Peace, who also has 2 young children of his own, valued (and still does I hope!) my contribution to Peace Recruitment, both financially as a fee earner and also as a team member. His approach was (at the risk of sounding like a sook), I believe, the right one. He asked me, “What do you need? What can we do as an employer so that you don’t have to take a position closer to home?” As I’ll describe in a minute, we came to a mutually acceptable compromise that allows me to fulfill my family commitments and still contribute wholeheartedly to the business (which I love).
I had spent my whole mat leave biting my nails and worrying about how tired and stressed I was going to be when returning to work but in one minute, after Chris and I spoke, it was gone. Just like that.
This is what happens now…
I work reduced hours and one day a week at home. The benefits Peace Recruitment gets from allowing me to work this way are:
A couple of years of flexibility resulting in a long-term commitment from an employee make absolute sense to both parties to the agreement. It’s often said that SMEs find this more difficult, but Peace Recruitment is a not a big company (less than 20 staff – but growing fast!) and Chris was still able to demonstrate a personal understanding of my position and find a way to keep me in the business while also allowing me to look after my kids.
That said, let’s be honest, bringing up children, whether full-time or as a working mum or dad, is hard, hard work. Some days I’m extra tired and need matchsticks to keep my eyes open but that’s parenting!
If I could see the person who told me ten years ago “recruitment is not a career for women who wish to have a family,” I’d say that with a bit of understanding and a flexible approach from employers this is simply not true. We’re not bad at it in the UK, certainly better than we were, but still not the best. Worldwide, according to recent studies, Swedish mothers feel the most supported by gender equality and policies at work while most US mothers feel supported as workers but not mothers and similarly most German mothers feel supported as mothers and caregivers but not as workers.
Nowadays the conversation is no longer about whether women should work because today it is normally economically necessary for families to have two incomes to stay afloat. Some companies, especially in construction, still find it difficult, but my hope is that more businesses take this flexible approach and, as a result start to see and reap the benefits that Peace Recruitment and I do.
Linsey Toland, Manager, Peace Recruitment