Archive for May, 2012

Women Who Waited to be Great

Women Who Waited to be Great

By ‘thinking long’ you can achieve your career and life goals.

One evening in 2004, having spent yet another evening scraping a living serving drinks at a swish party, Erika Sunnegardh was in tears and about to give up on her singing career. For 16 years she had worked as a waitress and singer at churches and funerals and was beginning to lose hope. But at 38, Erika decided she should give her dream one last try. Though she was living in New York, a family friend suggested she audition for Sweden’s Malmo Opera. The audition went well and she was given her first professional role, in a production of Turandot.

This experience in turn gave her the confidence to audition for the Met. She was taken on as an understudy, and one night in 2006 the singer for the role of Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio was taken ill. The 40-year-old Sunnegardh filled in at the last-minute, and it was a triumph: the performance was critically praised and the audience loved her. Finally, her career was established.

As the French philosopher Montesquieu, who did not produce his masterwork, The Spirit of the Laws, until his late fifties, said: ‘Success in most things depends on knowing how long it takes to succeed.’

When Sunnegardh went for her audition at the Met, its artistic administrator Jonathan Friend was amazed at her voice. But he was also drawn to her beauty and maturity. ‘She was, as a human being, grown up,’ he said. ‘She had had another life, and knew what she didn’t know.’

Though the story is remarkable, the principles are universal.

It usually takes at least a decade to become an expert in anything – what researchers have called ‘the ten-year rule’. With the increased life spans most of us enjoy today, you are rarely too old to begin learning a trade, art, or discipline, and to be able to apply that learning in a new career – or, to get to the top of what you already do. Within the context of our longer productive life spans, say age 20 to 80, ten years is not that long in the scheme of things. At 40, for instance, you still have 67% of your productive years ahead of you.

Remember the saying, “Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year, but underestimate what they can achieve in a decade”. Taking the ‘long view’ of your life is all the more relevant for women who have to spend years balancing family needs with career aspirations. In the midst of changing nappies or doing endless weekend chauffeuring to sports events, it is easy to think: Is this the end of my career? Is it the end of any chances to achieve my dreams, or just anything substantial beyond the family?

Joan Birman studied mathematics and physics at college and could have entered academia, but was also keen to have a family. Over a period of fifteen years she had three children, and only returned to university when they were in their teens. By the time she got her PhD in mathematics she was 41. She wrote in a memoir:

‘I was rusty, but that did not seem insurmountable because, as a compensation, maturity had given me an ability to focus and to concentrate in a way which had seemed impossible fifteen years earlier.’

As an older woman in a young man’s field she might have given up, but she got noticed after giving some public lectures, and duly found an academic posting. It was the start of a very successful career; Birman became an expert in her branch of mathematics – topology and braid and knot theory – and made a number of important solutions and discoveries.

Parents – particularly women – often have to bide their time like Birman did, hoping the point will come when they can devote themselves fully to their chosen area. But the time does come, and we shouldn’t get too frustrated in the meantime. And as Birman says, the extra maturity and insights into human nature she gained through having children and managing a family became a real plus in the work environment.

In her early thirties, Betty Friedan was dismissed from her job as a journalist for a union newspaper when she became pregnant with her second child. She managed to do some freelance writing, but it was difficult with three children, and through her twenties and thirties juggled as best she could. When she was 35, Friedan was given an interesting project to survey her college classmates 15 years after graduation. Her interviews revealed many unhappy, unfulfilled housewives, and this sparked the research that would lead to The Feminine Mystique, the multi-million bestseller, launching the feminist ‘second wave’. With her children at school and growing up, Friedan found more time for writing and research, and after the publication of the book in her early forties she became a public figure.

Closer to home, consider the career trajectory of English philosopher Mary Midgley, who didn’t publish her first book, Beast and Man, until she was 59. ‘I wrote no books until I was a good 50,’ she noted, ‘and I’m jolly glad because I didn’t know what I thought before then.’ With her three sons moving on to university, she was finally able to devote her time to writing and speaking.

With the longer life spans of today, most of us do have time to achieve our goals. But the trick is to think long. Whatever you have done so far may have just set the scene for your real contribution, whether that is something quite modest or a project on a bigger scale. Don’t ever think that you are ‘too late’ or ‘too old’. Whatever your current age, chances are, you have just been warming up.

Author: Tom Butler-Bowdon is the author of Never Too Late To Be Great: The Power of Thinking Long, recently published by Virgin/Random House (£11.99).

Time-out or burn-out

Time-out or burn-out

The importance, the skill and the necessity of taking time-out if you want to prevent burn-out as a working mum.

In sports like basketball, baseball, and ice hockey they understand the importance of a time-out. Can you picture it: the heated match situation and suddenly the whistle of the coach, hands up, time-out! The game stops, all players immediately hover over to their coach for…… for what?  What happens in a time-out? A time-out is a situation where everybody steps back; physically and mentally. It is a time for physical recharging, where players can catch their breath, give their muscles a little rest, fuel the body with a drink. It is also a moment for reflection and looking back at the recent events in the match: what worked, what did not, how about different positions for the players, how about different tactics and strategies.

The time-out is a restful period, that shapes the game and ideally leads to a better performance and better results.
How often do you, busy women with lots of balls in the air, take a time-out? Because of the juggling and the pressures from different sides it is very important to allow regular breaks.

As a busy mum myself I discovered the value of time-out in the form of meditation years ago. The busier I was, the more time I spent meditating. That sounds daft and illogical, but the meditation practice refuelled my body and mind, made me focussed, alert, and I felt in control and relaxed. In that state of mind, I could do much more, than when I allowed my energy to be zapped away by nervous energy and worries.

As my life evolved, I started to teach meditation and came across this myth that meditation takes too much time. Meditation is a word for any technique that calms the mind and can take many forms . It doesn’t need to be complicated. Focus and concentration, for even just one minute, will help to create a restful state of the mind.

To dismantle the myth that meditation takes up a lot of time and to prove that great changes can be achieved I designed a research programme which I called The Meditation Wave, referring to the change in frequency in our brains when we meditate. This research asked participants to try 28 days 5 times a day a 1 minute meditation. In my opinion, I took away the excuse of not enough time as there is no excuse when it comes this one minute. We all will have those moments, as we wait for a traffic light, the kettle to boil, for the train to arrive, and these spare minutes can be used for a highly effective brief meditation.

The effects of a regular one minute meditation were very positive. People who started with sleeping problems all reported a significant improvement in their sleeping patterns. Others noticed a much calmer demeanour and one participant gave the feedback: ‘The knot in my stomach is gone and I don’t feel nervous anymore’.

The research project has ended¸ but as a result The Meditation Wave is now available as an online meditation course with guided meditations and a daily supportive email.

Time-outs are key in a busy life, to recharge with regular intervals. The challenge is to find the type of ‘activity´that works for you and suits your lifestyle.


Author: Mariette Jansen Coaching from stress free coaching. Email: Blogsite:
Facebook page for the Meditation Wave. Meditation Wave is the easiest way to incorporate meditation into a hectic lifestyle.

  • All materials are delivered via email.
  • There is no time commitment. The maximum time involved is 10 minutes a day, broken down into 5 chunks of approximately 2 minutes each.
  • Can be done anywhere and everywhere.
  • Cost for all materials and 1 month support: £37.

The course contains downloads, daily support, instruction and off-line support if needed. The down-to-earth approach fits into our Western culture and has been very positively received.

What to do on maternity leave?

What to do on maternity leave?

You’ve clocked out of the office, and hopefully been bundled off with arms full of goodies for you and your impending arrival – so what to do on maternity leave?mas

In the early days…

  1. It is so important to build yourself a network of support while you are off on maternity leave. If you don’t have an established group of friends with young children near you – you need to find some. Friends will help you through the really hard days when you’re at home, exhausted with a colic-stricken or teething baby. Try the NCT or NHS – either for antenatal or post natal classes and coffee mornings, local playgroups. Netmums even offer a ‘meet a mum’ service – a bit like online dating – this is a fantastic way to make new friends if you are new to an area.
  2. Take advantage of any time that you have before he/she arrives to see friends, relax, read books, go to the cinema, swim – anything that you feel able to do. Maternity leave before the birth can be a really wonderful and indulgent time (unless you have kids already, in which case it’s business as usual!)
  3. If you can afford to, maintain childcare for siblings as far as possible – it’s good for you to have a bit of a break, it’s good to allow you and the bump/baby some space to bond, and it’s also good for your other children to experience some continuity in an otherwise confusing period of time.
  4. Keep yourself fit and healthy – it’s easy to put your own needs right down the priority list, but if you are exhausted and run down, you are not going to be doing anyone any favours, least of all your baby. Join a gym with a crèche you are happy with, take up a buggyfit class, or just go for long walks with your baby – get out and about and active.


Once you’ve got into the swing of things…

It may take three months after you’ve had your baby before you’re ready to think about anything else, or it may take a year or more. Don’t rush it. If you are starting to think about your return to work or a new focus in life, here are a few things to ponder over…

Lots of return to work advice will emphasise how many skills you learn through motherhood – but in reality, these will only take you so far. To make your CV relevant and stand out from the pile, you really need to have up to date, concrete and formal work experiences (whether paid or unpaid), and evidence of efforts to keep your
knowledge and skills current. Have this in your mind during your maternity leave and try to balance ‘being in the moment’ with your child with your future ambitions.

  1. How about studying for a relevant qualification? (or even totally irrelevant – it can be incredibly liberating to learn a new skill when you are not juggling paid work expectations as well – it may even lead to an entirely new career). It can also be very motivating and energising to think about something other than the baby (no matter how gorgeous he/she is). Look at your local Adult Education centre, University or local magazines for inspiration…
  2. Take up some voluntary work at an organisation that interests you (ideally a specific role – e.g. trustee / governor, treasurer, newsletter editor etc), Do-it offers an easy way of seeing what is available in your area.
  3. Could you undertake some low key consultancy work to keep your skills up to date? Make sure you check your existing employment contract if you are still
    employed, to make sure you are not breaking any terms. BusinessLink is a great place to research about self-employment and tax implications.
  4. If you know that you don’t want to go back to your old job/career, this is a great time to explore new options, try a few things out, talk to your contacts, do some research. Keep a file of articles, job adverts and companies that interest you – this helps to build up a picture of the kind of things that interest you. Working with a life coach or career coach can be a great way of working out your priorities and planning how to achieve your goals.
  5. Keep reading papers, news websites and trade journals and follow what is going on in the world. Read an old classic that you’ve always promised yourself you’ll get to one day (and you can sneak in a few trash novels too!). It is so easy to become so wrapped up in your new baby that you forget how to have a conversation about anything other than nappies and sleep patterns (or lack thereof). You could even join (or start) a book group as a way of keeping yourself motivated to read – and as a nice excuse to get together over a cup of coffee/glass of wine with friends and neighbours.

Maintain an open mind, welcome new opportunities and embrace this special time with your new baby to maybe discover a new you… who knows what the future may bring? Be prepared to make the most of it.



Author: Tamsin Crook, founder of Making Careers Work – a maternity coaching and career support service which helps mums and mums-to-be reach their full potential in their careers within the dynamic context of their family life. As a mum of three boys herself, she understands the desire to try to balance the needs of the family with personal career ambitions – not always straightforward! Tamsin works with women at all stages of motherhood, and is based in Thames Ditton, Surrey.

Tamsin is one of the key contributors to Mum & Career and has written most pages on Maternity Leave for us.

Top 6 ways to find work for trailing spouses

Top 6 ways to find work for trailing spouses

Yes, I know there are lots of barriers to working for trailing spouses, and even more for expat mums. But it’s key to overcome those barriers if you want a fulfilling life of your own.

McNulty, a consultant into mobility issues, says in the New York Times: “What I found in my research is that almost all spouses face an identity crisis, but only about 10 to 15 percent did something about it, by becoming authors, getting an MBA or starting businesses,”. Most “felt they were victims, with no control.”

This, to me, shows that finding something meaningful to do is vital for your own sense of fulfillment. Here’s the top 6 things you need to do:

1. Decide what YOU want to do

It really makes things easier if you, rather than just trailing along, make a conscious decision about what you want to do. Your options are limited. You can: work, study, volunteer, take time out looking after the family, pursue a hobby or re-think your career.

These are all viable options, especially when you keep in mind your next move. If you want to return to work at some stage, continuing to add activities to your CV can make things a lot easier in future.

Read more on: What are my options?

2. Actively engage with project/job choices of the leading spouse

The job-finding process might seem something your partner is doing. But you can actively engage up front. Consider whether you can get a work permit, whether there might be jobs in your line of work, and what your partner can do to help.

Robin Pascoe, author of  ‘a Movable Marriage’ would only join to countries that would work for her as a journalist. Some couples alternate whose career will be leading at their next country-move. In my case my husband once negotiated a voluntary job at his employer’s local charity project for me, before accepting the move.

3. Ask your partner for help

Your partner could help to research potential job opportunities and help establish methods of acquiring the relevant work permit or working visa.

4. Be organized up-front

Sort out practical issues, such as childcare/schooling before you leave. Do take advantage of all the resources and support services available on-line and off-line to help you with this.

Make the necessary contacts for finding work in advance. This is very viable thanks to social media tools such as LinkedIn and expat bulletin boards and forums. Get in touch with the local Chamber of Commerce, register with various employment agencies and network with friends, family, your partner’s employer and other expats in the area.

5. Be prepared to work for less pay at a lower skill level initially

You might have to prove yourself in a new country, take up a course or obtain new certificates or degrees before being fully accepted. Your first job can be a good stepping stone to learn the basics in a new culture, your next job may well be at your own level again.

6. Build a portable career and focus on building transferable skills

Transferable skills are those skills you can take into another job or country without losing their value. Read more on identifying your transferable skills.

A portable career is something you can take easily to the next country. This could for instance be Internet-based. This includes blogging, freelance writing, online PA work, computer programming or website development jobs. You could set up an Internet-based export business, teach English as a foreign language, or set up a business catering for the international community.

You can even take your current job with you. A German lady who worked for a publisher, negotiated a more flexible job, working from home in the UK, and flying back in several times a year for key meetings. A life-coach coaches clients by phone in Greece and the UK.
For more ideas I can recommend: ’Jo Parfitt – A Career in Your Suitcase: The Expat and Trailing Spouse’s Guide to a Career on the Move’, ‘Robin Pascoe – A movable marriage’

So, yes, you might have to be prepared to work for less pay at a lower skill level and it might take longer before you have found a job that works for you. But it could just be key for your sense of fulfillment to keep control and reassert your identity. Go for it!

Author: Inge Woudstra is the founding director of Mum & Career (, a community site for professional working mums in the UK. She is a trailing spouse, mother of a 7-year-old, and has re-located 3 times in 10 years time. 

Barriers to working for trailing spouses and expat mums

Barriers to working for trailing spouses and expat mums

It’s not easy working when you are a trailing spouse and expat mum. First of all, working expat mums face all the well-known issues all working mums face: juggling work and family life, feeling guilty, regaining confidence after a period out of work, finding flexible work, finding childcare and lack of opportunities due to the recession.

On top of that there are a set of more specific issues:

Setting up a family in a new country takes time and energy

Most expat partners initially have little time to work. Children need more support and attention after a move, and on top of that all other practicalities do too. It typically takes between 6-12 months to sort out all practicalities of moving and rebuild your social and practical network -schools, sports clubs, dentist, GP, hairdresser, favourite shops
Most of the family and household tasks are done by the stay-at-home partner. Expat jobs offer high rewards, but in return request dedication. Companies usually expect long working hours, jobs often include a lot of travel, working flexibly is not an option, and especially after just moving, will be really full on. Basically you are on your own.

Finding work and becoming effective in a new culture easily takes 1-2 years

The job context is different in each country. It takes time to understand job-titles and requirements, adapt a CV accordingly and/ or even acquire new degrees. Networks need to be found, as do places to hunt for jobs. Once a job is found, it takes time to become effective. As a result most women don’t even bother to get started.

There is no support network to help with childcare, finding a job or sorting practical issues

Some of the issues any working mum faces are much harder in a new country without a support network. As one of the people I interviewed for this article said “My worry wasn’t just finding the right school, but finding how on earth the schooling-system worked in the first place”

Ulrike D., German expat who is an executive coach explains: “Childcare options in the UK are costly. In Germany my friends and family would be helping out, here I have to outsource which brings high extra costs. In addition commutes are much longer and clients can be far away, so I need much longer days of childcare than I would in Germany.”

Clearly it’s not easy to work as an expat mum, so if you decide not to, you will not be the only one. Actually for some partners the opportunity to take a career break can be attractive. It can be a chance to provide the time and space to re-think career direction, a point reported by 25 percent of the non-working partners surveyed by The Permit Foundation (2008) who stated that they did not wish to work while abroad.

If you do want to work though, do not despair, it can be done! Top 6 ways to find work for expat mums and trailing spouses

Author: Inge Woudstra. She followed her husband abroad, giving up her life and career in The Netherlands, and relocated 3 times in 10 years time. She has one seven-year old son. Now she lives in the UK and runs Mum & Career.

Expats and Trailing spouses - new horizons

How to go from Alienated Expat or Trailing Spouse to Feeling Like a Local?

Life Coach Carole Ann Rice gives great insights on leading a more satisfied life for expats and trailing spouses.

There can be fewer, more awesome life changes than that of a relocation of job, home and country. Taking a giant leap of courage and faith to uproot and cast your net across uncharted waters is an adventure many are called to but few are chosen. Perhaps the leap is even bigger for those of us you who follow their partner in his or her new adventure.

Although it may appear that all your birthdays have come at once as you embark upon a new life in a new country, it can also seem that a catalogue of high tension nightmares are ready to unfold before you too.

In the ranks of what causes the most stress in our lives after unexpected bereavement, moving house, changing jobs and divorce are right up there as life challenges guaranteed to raise the blood pressure and test our resolve. Not mutually exclusive components to relocating either.

So as a stranger in a strange land, who can you turn to when all around you is unfamiliar; when family and friends back “home” are gleefully awaiting your good news and you’ve a long way to go until you feel settled and sure of your new life?

Although many international organizations have HR departments committed to helping new employees segue into their new positions with ease and comfort, monitoring well-being and ensuring a seamless relocation, some of you may seek a more personal but neutral support with whom you can share your anxieties.

This is where coaching can be most powerful. Offering confidential and unconditional support (usually via the telephone, at a time that is convenient) the coach provides a listening ear or a hand to hold, instilling motivation or inspiration if you so desire. But unlike employer, partner or family the coach has no agenda other than the client’s desired goals and outcomes.

Change Management – Who Are You Now?

Leaving behind all that is familiar some people view a relocation as a new start; a new beginning perhaps where they leave behind things they no longer want in their lives. Traumas, bad relationships and life’s disappointments seem to become a thing of the past as you pack your case and face a new future full of possibilities.

But as we all know we take our past with us and although avoidance and distractions work for a while in new surroundings, who we are remains the same. Confidence, motivation and clarity are probably the main issues that clients bring to their coaches. These are all areas that require inwardly driven strength and cannot be effectively achieved by outward stimulation such as a new environment and a new job.

When an individual has been subjected to a major life change, as an ex-patriate would be, it can take time to assimilate what repercussions the shift has made on their Self and catch up with who they are now “being”.

This is a great time for reinvention. What better time to let go of things that don’t work for you? To be the person you have always wanted to be? To make this the proverbial first day of the rest of your life?

There is no time like the present but what if along with your family photos and favourite CD collection you packed your insecurities, your procrastination and all those debilitating and destructive fears and habits that you were hoping to dump at passport control?

You Are What You Are

Back in the 1980s a techno band called the Thompson Twins retired from the pop world and spent months lolling around Caribbean islands, lying in hammocks and chilling like there was no tomorrow. Then they came running back to grey and smoky old London.
“It gets boring in paradise” they cried as they returned to the familiar assault of metro life.

Funny how a palm tree, pagoda or a sweeping seascape can start to become a dull and familiar sight as the Piccadilly line or black cab. Back in a daily work grind it could seem to the ex-pat that they’ve just swapped one hamster wheel for a more exotic rat race.

Wish You Were Here?

So what do you do if the dream doesn’t add up? What if the shock of the new has become the same old routine wrapped in different clothing? What if the grass wasn’t greener but just another shade of the same colour palette? The freedom no more than a vast emptiness? The sarong just another work suit?

Working with a coach you can start to reassess your situation and in doing so discern what is real, what is a distorted belief you may be holding on to or just finding out what it is that is making you feel so dissatisfied.

This investment in a coach could make the different from turning pain into paradise and save you the cost of a return ticket home.

Author: Carole Ann Rice MD of the Real Coaching Company. Why not book a free 30 minute telephone session with her now?

Senior women and family

How to manage a senior position and children – Vanessa Vallely

Find out from the interview with Vanessa Vallely how she does it – Vanessa is Head of Business Management at Aviva Investors 4 days/week, she is also the founder of leading women’s network and website, which serves an audience of over 100,000 City Women. She co-founded the City wide diversity network, The Network of Networks which includes the Diversity heads and heads of women’s networks from 45 FTSE firms.

Vanessa has won a number of prizes and awards, most recently the Champion for Women award at the 2011 Women in Banking and Finance Awards. She is regularly featured in the media and is often called upon to speak at corporate and charity events.

Vanessa has a husband and 2 daughters (aged 8 and 11). She is a school governor and Non Executive Director for the National Youth Music Theatre and the Prostate Cancer Charity. Just this Sunday she ran the London Marathon. So I went to find out for you how on earth one single person can manage this.

That sounds like quite a busy life. How do you do it?

I am highly organised, I keep lists and even keep lists of lists, and I have two smartphones. I guess I have always been capable of a lot of output and get more done than others. My current boss said: ‘What she does in 4 days, others do in 5 or 6’. I never waste any time, you don’t find me dreaming on the train, I am planning my next meeting or working out a plan. I always write things down: ideas and actions.

When do you have time to relax?

Not often. I run for relaxation, when I run I am in my own world, listening to my own music. Four days in on holidays I start to relax, however in down-time I generate more ideas, which means more work, so I feel it’s not so good for me to relax.

I do find me-time in pockets. I am an only child and enjoy being on my own. This Sunday morning I relaxed, sitting back with my laptop on my lap, catching up on e-mail on my own, which was lovely as I feel on top of things now. Sometimes I take a special moment of relaxation in the bath with candles.

What does a normal day look like for you?

5.30 Get up, do my make-up and get dressed

6.00 Wake up my eldest daughter, check their lunches and bags (but they do it themselves)

6.30 My child minder (live out nanny) arrives and I hand over to her

6.45 Catch a train

7.30 Breakfast in the office and start work, or a networking breakfast externally – I usually meet people for lunch and/or before I go home, that’s where I fit my networking in

9.00 Start work

18.30 Leave work

19.15 Home, Child minder goes home and I talk with my 2 girls and catch up on their day

Later my personal trainer comes. I train in the conservatory with the children around so I don’t have to go out again. In the rest of the evening I fit 1 or 2 hours work in, Skype or do some work for We Are the City.

22.00 Go to bed

I am away about 1 evening per week, when I do networking or go to an event. I usually do fit in a few hours of work on Saturday and Sunday as well. On Saturday I get up at 6.00 and fit in a few hours for non-work things such as We Are the City before my daughters wake up.

What kind of support have you got at home?

I have a child minder who comes to my house, and she has been there for many years. I also have a cleaner 4 hours/week and someone who comes to pick up my ironing every Sunday.

My mum works full-time so she can only baby-sit occasionally.

My husband has a senior position at the FSA, and his work is not very flexible. So we sit down every Sunday to look 2 weeks ahead and plan which one of us has more space to take full responsibility (for the children) that week.

When do you get to see your children?

I do see them every day at the end of the day, and on Saturday we do things together, I take them to drama, or we go climbing at the climbing wall.

And of course Friday is my day off from work, I do the school drop-off and pick-up and have an Open House, where they can bring any friends they like, to compensate for the other days when I am not there for play dates.

I am also at assemblies and sports days, I won’t miss those and as a school governor I feel I have to be there. When I was less senior I often pretended they were other meetings, now I don’t care and just tell people at work where I am.

I travel with them too. I put up a world map and they choose where we go. Up front we read up on those places. That way they have already seen a lot of the world.

What about your husband, where does he fit in?

We talk in the mornings when we travel to work and at lunch-time. He doesn’t miss out at all. We work in the same industry so he understands what it takes. We have an agreement we work hard now and one day life will be easier.

How do you feel about working 4 days a week, do you feel you have to put more hours in?

It works well for me. I am at least 9 hours a day at work, but not on a Friday. I make sure I get the work done.

When I reached COO level at a major retail bank I realised I didn’t want to go any higher and that if ever I was to become a CEO it would be for a charity and not a bank. I am an individual who gets the job done and who can sit behind someone and make them hugely successful, and I actually enjoy playing that role. I realised that if I was to go for the big office and the big chair, I would have to severely compromise my family time and some of the things I love doing, like my community and charity work, I am not prepared to do that.

I think when you hit 40 you look around and you appreciate life a little more. Work is a massively important aspect of my world, and I don’t doubt I will always be in senior roles in the City, however I now appreciate balance, so if a job doesn’t give me that balance I don’t take it.

Do you ever feel guilty?

All the time, either about work or about the children. I don’t think I or they miss out though, it’s just a different view. My children understand I need to go to work and why. We’ve had that conversation. I explained the things we can do now, with the extra income. One of them said ‘you’d better go to work then’and the other said ‘fine, you can stay at home’. They understand it’s a trade-off.

At which stage in your career did you have children?

Most of my career happened after children. When I had my first child I was a team leader/supervisor, I returned to work after 3 months and did a step back to a more administrative role. Initially I worked 3 days/week, after 4 months 4 days/week and then back full-time. I did the same with my second daughter.

I used to think working less and having a family would harm my career. I guess it’s also about how hard you are prepared to work. If I’d missed a meeting when working part-time, I made sure I would know who was there and what was discussed.

How did having children change you, your ambitions and priorities?

I never thought we would have children. Then I met my husband and it did happen. As a result I think I was very maternal. Having children became a reason to achieve, to show it to my children. I come from a humble background and have a strong driver to give them a better background and better opportunities.

What kind of things did they never tell you about having children?

Emergency moments, you just can’t plan for them. When your child is ill your child minder will not have them, and your mates will not take them either, so it’s down to you. It’s a nightmare and I have missed many work things because of it. I am glad we are clear about that one now as they are older.

Then there are the sleepless nights, they never tell you they go on for a number of years.

Last there is the tension in your relationship, about one partner doing more than the other. We have had regular discussions about whose meeting is more important. Once we both had a key meeting on the same day. We solved it by becoming a tag-team, me going in in the morning and straight back home as soon as I had the US delegation on the plane in the early afternoon. My husband joined his key meeting once I got home.

What advice would you like to give to other mums?

I learned 80% is enough, for your children and at work. They don’t have to be immaculately dressed, and you don’t have to be at every single school event or meeting at work.

Your house doesn’t have to be 100% either. For me, I have learned to enjoy those rare moments when there is no e-mail waiting, the house is tidy and clean and all jobs are done. I have learned to treasure those moments, rather than expect this is the normal state of affairs.

If I would do it all again I would probably take a year off, I returned to quickly after maternity leave. I don’t think it harms your career, if you have the right employer. That’s the key, to choose the right employer. I changed employers several times and it can make a big difference.

I would also recommend not to wait for your boss, I have always taken my own advancement in my own hands. I kept a network outside of work, looked after my education and build my own profile. When you work part-time or are on leave you can still go to training events, for instance.

Would you advice your daughters to do what you have done?

My daughters do want children. They see me doing charity events, help out with We Are the City events and come into work at Christmas. They see me and don’t want to do it like that, it sounds like too much hard work 😉 . I would advise them to do what makes them happy. I was just never going to be a coffee-morning mum, this worked for me.

About the interview: Vanessa Vallely was interviewed by Inge Woudstra, founding Director of Mum & Career on 27 April 2012. Vanessa is Head of Business Management at Aviva Investors, founder of leading women’s network and website We Are the City, and she co-founded The Network of Networks which includes the Diversity heads and heads of women’s networks from 45 FTSE firms. She is a school governor and Non Executive Director for the National Youth Music Theatre and the Prostate Cancer Charity.

Why all working pregnant women should have maternity coaching

Why all working pregnant women should have maternity coaching

What’s the impact of your pregnancy at work? And how to best prepare for it? You can do it all on your own, but why not consider maternity coaching?  To fully understand the benefits of maternity coaching to an individual and to a company, let’s look at a case study – Kate, who attended 3 group maternity coaching sessions – during pregnancy, maternity leave and on return to work.

Kate had her first session when she was 20 weeks pregnant. She found that networking with other people in her situation was extremely supportive and has since kept in touch with those colleagues she met.

Kate was concerned about her handover – with headcount reductions, it wasn’t clear who she would be handing over to. During the workshop, she was given a sample handover plan and discussions were held around how to do a thorough and professional handover. Following the workshop, her manager noticed how Kate was very organised and how she proactively set up a keeping in touch plan for her maternity leave.

During her maternity leave, Kate worried about her return to work; how much confidence she felt she had lost; would she be able to request a 4-day working week; would the changes at work affect her role? Her next maternity coaching session allowed Kate to discuss all her concerns, and she realised with relief that she wasn’t alone.

The workshop enabled Kate to work through her return to work options and to prepare her meeting with her line manager. Her manager found that Kate was positive, motivated and professional during their meeting and to her manager’s surprise, had already prepared a list of areas she would like to catch up on, using a couple of Keeping in Touch days.

Following a successful flexible request application, Kate returned to work feeling nervous but positive and prepared. The coaching sessions had helped Kate to prepare and manage her childcare situation, and also provided Kate with some tips on image management.

Kate’s final coaching session was held 2 weeks after her return to work. It covered sharing work/life balance tips and ideas, and Kate found the session on managing your career particularly useful, as it helped her regain some direction.

Not all companies offer maternity coaching, but it is still worth looking into individual coaching sessions. As a more affordable alternative, see what support literature is available through HR – for example Parenting for Professionals Ltd offers a Pregnancy at Work Support Pack which includes a Webcast. It covers some of the key messages, tips and information you can get from attending a maternity coaching workshop during pregnancy, but it is a lot more affordable (£29) and allows you to digest the material in your own time.

Whatever your choice of support, make sure you do address the huge change you are going through at work – putting in some time now to think about the implications of having a family on your job will help you reap the rewards later.

Author: Helen Letchfield is Co-Founder and Principal Facilitator for Parenting for Professionals. As a qualified performance coach, Helen works with parents and parents-to-be to offer support through the challenge of creating a home/work balance. She has 12 years experience in coaching and developing corporate clients and has worked for Barclays Wealth, Credit Suisse, Canon and Harrods. She is a working mum to 2 boys aged 6 and 4.

Sign up to a Monthly update to Mum & Career before 17 May 2012 for your chance to WIN the Pregnancy at Work Support Pack. Signing up will bring you tips and guidance for career-minded mums, delivered straight to your inbox. Signing up is free and easy.