In honour of International Women’s day I wanted to write about a subject I feel really strongly about – flexible working, or more accurately, the lack of flexible working.
The one major difference between men and women is that women have babies. Women who have worked hard and achieved success in responsible, important jobs take time off to have a child and find that they are putting the same energy and responsible attitude into bringing up their child or children. They work hard to be a good parent, to achieve success in giving their child the best possible start in life. As important jobs go, this is a biggie!
At the end of their maternity leave, they are faced with a massive decision. Do they stop investing all their energy into bringing up their child and hand part of that role over to someone else, or do they give up the career that they worked so hard for over the previous years? Most of the women I know don’t want to have to choose. They want to work, but part-time, flexibly so that they can be the best mother they can while contributing to the family’s finances and still using their pre-baby skills.
Most of the debates about working mothers versus stay-at-home-mums and the benefits or otherwise of pre-school nurseries do not seem to consider this third option. Even very young children can enjoy spending time with other children in a secure environment, but I suspect very few thrive on being in childcare full-time.
In my opinion it is the lack of flexibility in the workplace which has led to the increase in mumpreneur businesses. These are mostly home-based, sole-traders who work doing something they enjoy, at the times which suit them and their families.
These women are intelligent, educated and skilled as well as being creative, organised and highly motivated – all attributes that employers are looking for. Some become millionaires, more just chug along, making a little money for themselves, while being there when their children get home from school. All of them are making a contribution to the economy.
Big companies, with their 9 to 5, presenteeism culture, are missing out on all these hugely talented people because they need to have their staff visible and contactable, in an office, at certain times. If you think about it, the most important, highest paid executives in a company are normally the ones who nobody can get hold of, who pay other people to answer their phones, because they are always in meetings. Why then is it unacceptable for a member of their team to be unavailable at certain times because they are picking their children up from school, taking them to swimming lessons or helping with their homework?
I recently spoke to an extremely inspirational woman who lectures part-time, and has been, by all accounts, the students’ favourite lecturer for years. She was then asked to go full-time and decided that it wasn’t for her, and she now only teaches on a consultancy basis. The students are missing out on some of her lectures all through a lack of flexibility on the part of the employers.
The way I see it, many big companies are losing trained and talented people. Families and the small business sector are gaining them. I hope that one day women will not have to make the choice between their careers and their families, but in the meantime, here’s to the mumpreneurs who make work work for them.
What are your experiences? Do you agree? I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks in the comments.