Category: Interviews Senior Women

Career Mum … Can We Really Have it All?

Career Mum … Can We Really Have it All?

Is being a career mum even possible? Today I read that 6 in 10 women feel having kids is bad for your career. Really!!!????

In these days of “anything is possible”, so many career mums juggle work with looking after a young family. Perhaps you are lucky enough to work from home. Perhaps you are flying about in private jets and have an army of nannies and chefs catering to your child’s every requirement. Or perhaps you are like most of us working mums who do everything yourself and spend much of your life in a state of mania and panic that you have forgotten something vitally important.

A Career Mum’s Maternity Leave

As a Career Mum, I went on maternity leave a few days before my little one was due and returned to the office full time 11 weeks after he was born. I think this is fairly usual in the USA but not so much in the UK. Friends and colleagues often gasp in horror to hear of my very short maternity leave but I am the main wage earner in our little family and if the mortgage is to be paid and holidays are to be booked, I need to get to work. And the truth is I wanted to get back to work and felt little remorse about leaving my child with family and latterly, a private nursery which I paid through the nose for. Men are not criticized for not taking career breaks, so why are women often sneered at for wanting to have it all?

A Career Mum’s Guilt

As my son has grown older and my working life has become even busier; I have felt the gut wrenching pangs of guilt associated with not being at home. I have had embarrassing situations where my child was at nursery for 4 years and his teachers did not know who I was at graduation because I was rarely the one who had time to drop him or collect him; I have had parents at school assume my husband is a single parent; I have occasionally missed parents’ evenings, nativity plays and sports days due to travelling and/or work deadlines.

On the other side, I regularly sprint in to the office 10 minutes late as scraped knees have needed to be bandaged or breakfast spills cleaned up. I often run out of the office early to ensure prompt collection from after school club. I can’t tell you how many times I have needed to sign a document and rummaged through my handbag for a pen only to pull out plastic dinosaurs, snotty tissues and occasionally special pictures that my son sneaks in to my bag to cheer me up at the office (those days are the best days).

Working Mums – our children attend breakfast clubs, after school care, summer holiday clubs and occasionally even come to work with us. It is stressful; it is exhausting; it is enough to make you want the odd G&T on a Friday night.

Do I regret it? Would I change it? NO!!

A Career Mum’s Reward

I look at my 9 year old son with a mixture of pride and awe. This well-adjusted, confident, intelligent, hilarious little man is the way he is perhaps in spite of, but certainly because of our home set up. In a busy household where both parents work, he understands he needs to help out. He earns pocket money by performing well at school, undertaking the few household chores that he is set, and will save his pocket money for that Xbox One if he really wants it before Christmas. He understands the importance of working for things. He has a centred moral compass and demonstrates compassion for others. He is kind and helpful; running down the front steps when I have been shopping to help carry bags. Would he be all these things if I had stayed at home with him? Probably. Is he still all of these things even though I work full time? Absolutely.

Could you be a Career Mum and have it all?

No matter whether you are a working mum or a busy mum at home all day (and let’s be honest – that is the toughest job of all), we all try to teach our children the skills and values to grow up as responsible members of society.

Remarkable ladies do the “working mum thing” every day – they are surgeons, waitresses, lawyers, shopkeepers etc. We have relied upon and are eternally grateful to the individuals and institutions that have assisted us in retaining our sense of self, making us happier women than we would be if we were just “Mum”.

For many years, I have been lucky enough to be associated with Ably Resources Ltd. Our organization proudly champions gender equality in the workplace and has no glass ceiling for career minded ladies with children.

If you are a woman chasing that board level appointment and thinking that children will prevent that; my experience has been that you can have it all – if you’re willing to work for it!!

Author: Ami Wright. Ami is the director of Ably Resources. Ably is a leading specialist recruitment group. They specialise in finding (flexible) work for women in Engineering, Oil & Gas and Drilling, Marine & Subsea and Architectural and Structural Engineering. They cover UK, Middle East and South East Asia – mainly relocating expats to these locations.

Iman Hill

How to manage a senior position and children – Iman Hill

Iman Hill became General Manager at SASOL last year, and has 5 children. She is an expatriate and – as a mother – has worked in Malaysia, The Netherlands, Egypt and now the UK. Before SASOL she has worked in BP, Shell, an independent oil company and BG Group. Three of her children are primary school age, and the eldest two are towards the end of senior school. Until recently she also held two non-executive directorships. She is also a single mother, as her husband passed away 4 years ago.

Mum & Career went out for you to find how she makes it all work.

It sounds like a full life, how do you do it?

It’s about knowing my purpose. I thought hard about my purpose for work, and my purpose for being a mother. My purpose for work is to be an excellent worker; someone who is accountable, delivers on promises, who role models compassionate and felt leadership. My purpose for motherhood is being a present mother; being an integral part of the life of my children, understanding what is happening at school, being present at meal times and at key school and life events.

“I need to be very organised, and always ahead of myself.”

I thought about this many years ago, when I had my first child, as that really was step change for me. That’s when I sat down and had a conscious thinking process. I did it on my own, as I felt I needed clarity for me.

Knowing this was my purpose, meant I had to take certain actions. I need to be very organised, and always ahead of myself. This means for instance that I need to look ahead at school engagements and ensure I can take time to be at those engagements.

For me, organisation is key.  Never pretend you can be superwoman, as you can’t.

Having one or five isn’t that different. Having the first one was a step change, after that it’s just a level of complexity more.
Iman HillWhat does a normal day look like for you?
My nanny comes in daily at 6.30am, which is when I leave the house to catch a train to work, where I arrive at 7am.

I leave the office at 5pm, then go straight to the gym (it’s opposite the station) and work out. I am home by 7.15 and have dinner ready by 7.45, which is when we sit down as a family. Then I do homework and bath time afterwards.

I really don’t work again until the children are in bed by 8.30-9.30pm. There’s nothing worse than having a parent at home on their Blackberry, saying: ‘Sorry, sorry I have just got this one email to do, just wait’

Once the three young ones are in bed, I am back on my Blackberry and do some more work. Or I am on my laptop, while the older two watch TV in the same room. I also fit in shopping in, in the evening, once the little ones are in bed.

How about the weekends and evening engagements?

My weekends are as free as possible. We start with everyone around the breakfast table and agree what everyone wants to do and then we get on with it.

I don’t go into the office at the weekends and I don’t travel if I can avoid it. Sometimes I leave for South Africa towards the end of Sunday though.

During the weekends I prepare all the meals for the forthcoming week e.g. season and marinate the main ingredients, so the cooking time during the week is minimised. My nanny is also the housekeeper and does the cleaning, the laundry and picks up occasional shopping during the week.

In this role at SASOL I try and avoid evening engagements, and when it does happen about once a month the nanny will stay. In the past, eg when I was MD of Shell Egypt evening engagements were part of my role. I was representing Shell, and was the face of Shell in Egypt. In those days my husband was at home with the children.

Where do you fit in travel?

Travel is a constant feature of my work. Currently I am one week a month in South Africa. As it is such a constant feature my children are used to it. We Skype or phone daily when I am travelling and I make sure we stay connected. They all gather around the computer in the evening and we catch up.

‘We Skype or phone daily when I am travelling’

Their school offers flexible boarding, so in that week the children board. They love it as lots of their friends’ board all the time, so it is a bit of a treat for them.

How do you manage the holidays?

In summer I take a 3-4 week break and the rest of the time the nanny looks after them. Also the eldest two help a lot as the eldest now drives. I am very lucky to have children that are happy to help.

In most other holidays I will take some time off too, to spend some time with my children, even if it is just a few days.

How do you manage at work to make sure you are home in time for dinner?

I am very efficient and focused. During my 30 minute train journey I work (both ways). This is when I plan ahead for the day and start clearing things.

I get to the office at 7am and have a good 1-2 hours to get on top of everything before the day starts. During the day I am very focused. I have learned to sit down every morning and prioritise. I also have a fantastic PA who organises absolutely everything. The time I work in the evening I use to make sure that everything is off my desk. When I end my day there’s nothing that isn’t dealt with or delegated. Delegating is a vital part of doing a role like this.

I have never had any complaints at work about delivery or accountability. Generally colleagues will understand you, in fact admire you and that you are still delivering and managing a family.

It’s all about setting clear boundaries in a constructive way. At one point when I worked for a very senior member of the Committee of Managing Director’s at Shell, he used to ring me regularly at 6.30 pm. During one of those times I explained to him that the house between 6-8:30 pm was family time for me. And I was happy to take his call at 3 am if that’s what was required but that I’d like to avoid those hours that I reserved for my family. He respected my request and didn’t call me again during those hours if he could help it.  When I joined the executive team here in SASOL I had an individual conversation with some of my executive colleagues explaining my personal circumstances and explaining: ‘this is how I work:  when it is urgent you can always call me, but these are my home times and if it isn’t urgent that is family time. If it is urgent you can call me anytime. ,

“I explain to my team these are my home times and that is family time”

Working like this is fair on everyone and it creates the right dynamic. There is one other woman in the executive team, but all others are men. It’s amazing though, when you open up or show vulnerability, they really reciprocate. We then start to have a conversation about really having a healthy work-life, about family commitments that are expected of men too.

How did you manage maternity leave?

With the first child, I stayed home for 10 months and then went back to work. Then with each child I took 4 months, which was the legal standard in the country I was working in at the time. I would be out of contact for 6 weeks, and start building up working from home a month before returning to the office.

During one of my pregnancies, however, I had to have bed rest for nearly 6 months. I was leading a large business unit in Shell. The company were very good about it. They accepted that this is how it was. They would send someone over with my work. They didn’t make a fuss about it and when I returned from maternity leave I was promoted. This has created a great loyalty in me for Shell that will never leave me.

Your husband stayed at home with the children, how did you get to that decision?

When I returned to work after having my first child, both me and my husband worked full-time and my Mum and Dad stayed with us for nine months to look after my daughter. Then it was time for my parents to return to their own life, but we didn’t want to leave our daughter with a stranger until she could speak, so we decided that my husband would stay at home with her.

That really was an economic decision, as we realised we would always be paying as much as he would earn on childcare and we realised that childcare costs would escalate as we would have more children.

“It was a challenge for my husband at first”

It was a challenge for my husband at first, as this is 18 years ago and it was in Malaysia and he would be the only man in the school play ground at pick-up times. It really was challenging for him and he learned to ignore the comments. In the UK, Builders would make jokes when he was pushing the pram, and he had to learn to ignore all of that. Our arrangement was that as soon as I came home from work, the children were my job and he was free to do whatever he wanted in the evening. This meant that essentially I was doing two jobs, but it wasn’t a chore to me. It was only when my husband passed away that I had to hire a nanny.

Did your career change after you had children?

Having children hasn’t impacted my career, in fact my more senior positions only came after I have had children. I have certainly felt the responsibility of being a breadwinner more. When you are on your own it doesn’t matter so much where you live and what you eat, but when it’s for your children it feels very different. It’s even more important to be an excellent mother, make sure your children are fed and properly educated. Your priorities and responsibilities shift and I have certainly felt that.

What would you like for your own children with regards to work-life?

I tell my children often: ‘don’t think there’s anything you can’t do, follow your dreams’. It takes dedication, dependency and accountability. Your behaviour needs to be based on values, and then you can make it happen.

“My children are proud of my achievements”

As to balancing a work and family life I tell them you have to take a conscious decision. You have to realise what it is going to take, what it means, what you have to give up. Then you have to reflect on whether you have the will, the means and the opportunity to put the things in place you need to make it work for you. You have to think about what you need and how to create space for you. It’s key it’s a conscious decision and it is your own choice.

My children are proud of my achievements and loved having their dad at home.

What advice or tips would you have for other women?

  • Be clear about your priorities on a daily basis and focus
  • Do not have any mind-talk ‘I must not leave the office at 5’. Personally I question people that are regularly in the office till 7pm. I wonder if they are focussed during the day and whether they are on top of their job.
  • Be clear about your boundaries, and discuss those with others
  • Have a planning conversation with yourself and your partner and take steps to put that in place
  • Cut yourself some slack, be kind to yourself
  • Make time for yourself, go to the gym, the theatre or what works for you

If you do deliver, are thoughtful and accountable, your team will create a lot of space and cut you a lot of slack

I was really keen to make time for the interview as I would have loved to have had some practical advice when I started a family. It would have been very helpful.

Author: The interview was conducted by Inge Woudstra, Founding Director of Mum & Career

How to manage a senior position and children – Jane Michell

How to manage a senior position and children – Jane Michell

Jane Michell runs Jane Plan, a business that has quickly grown from the kitchen table to a large business with thousands of clients, and 4 employees. She is the main breadwinner in her family and also has 3 children between 10 and 18. How does she manage to do it all? We scheduled a call with Jane. She speaks to us on the hands free, while she drives home from work, to make best use of her time.

Why did you start your own business?

Things weren’t going so well for my husband at the time, and I wanted to step up to the mark, take responsibility for our family finances and contribute financially in a much more significant way than I had done before.

At that time I was working as Director of Nutrition in a hospital, and my department was managing weight loss programmes. It was a good job, and I worked mainly school hours, but it didn’t contribute enough to provide for my family’s West-London lifestyle, with 3 children, private school and a couple of holidays a year.

The idea for the business came from several things that came together in my mind. In my work I felt personally disillusioned that a lot of the people we were treating were referred for surgery (gastric bands etc.) . Professionally I also felt disillusioned as there are a wide range of diet plans available that range from :’very good and very expensive’ to ‘not good at all’. I felt women were victims of the diet industry, and that really annoyed me. I wanted to do something about that. In addition I have a personal history of weight-loss too.

So I started building on my own experience and my professional expertise to develop Jane Plan, a weight loss programme. When I started, two and a half years ago, I worked from my own kitchen, and my clients were my friends. But now I have my own premises, two kitchens and work with a number of food suppliers. We do a personal consultation, develop a tailor made diet, and deliver the food daily to our clients’ home or workplace.
Taking on financial responsibility has worked. I have found, though, that the more financial responsibility you take on, the more you have to live up to it.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I typically leave at 7 am for the office, only to return home by 8 or 9 pm. I work Monday to Friday, and 3-6 hours on both Saturday and Sunday too. If this was a lifestyle job, I could shut up shop at 3pm and ignore the ringing phone. However I am in the unexpected position of being the breadwinner and can’t afford that, so I make long working hours. I have to say I love my job too – so working such long hours is not too onerous!

What kind of support have you got at home?

My husband leaves just after me in the morning, and comes home about the same time. We don’t have childcare. Basically the children look after themselves. The youngest, who is 10, travels independently, and often pops into the supermarket to buy dinner for everybody. In the evening the children cook their own dinner. My husband gets something himself or gets leftovers when he comes home from work.
Up till recently we also had a cleaner, but as we are now renovating she doesn’t come. – with the mess of the building project it wouldn’t be worth while. However, we normally do have someone to do the cleaning.
We do not have any family near, so unfortunately do not have any support there.

How do you manage support after school, with homework or during the holidays?

I have not had summer holidays for the past 2 years. In half-term I organise play dates for the youngest, but he mostly organises them himself. My daughter, who is 16, is out with friends or studying in holidays and my eldest son plays sports or studies. The first year of the business the children went to the Isle of Wight and stayed with their grandparents in summer holiday. Last year my husband took them to Italy.

Homework isn’t an issue, as my youngest comes home after school and there is a culture of studying in the house. My daughter is doing GCSE’s this year, and my eldest son, who is 17, is doing his IB. So the youngest just joins in and does his homework, and the other two do help him.

They organise it all without me. For example, all my kids see an orthodontist, as I don’t have time to take them, so I order a minicab to pick them up from school and drive them there.
I am blessed with three of the most amazing children. As a mother, I feel I have failed them in the past 2 years. I am not sure how they have managed. I guess what happens is, they see me working really hard and feel a sense of obligation to do what I expect them to do.

I don’t think my eldest suffers from the current situation and the youngest perhaps a little bit. However my daughter in the middle takes on most of the burden. She tends to organise dinner, tidy up the kitchen and calls me in the office to organise domestic details: ‘I think he needs his rowing kit for tomorrow, where is it?’. I do manage the burden on her, and get cross with the boys that she gets to do the donkey work. It seems so unfair that it’s always the women that step up to the mark – even at the age of 16!

Now I keep my Friday nights free for some special time for me and my daughter. I take her out to a fun restaurant of her choice, e.g. in Notting Hill and we have some mummy-daughter time together. The boys don’t seem to need that sort of input as much, so I do different things with them.

In weekends I do watch the occasional sports match, and I take my youngest son to the school play of the eldest. So I find time for each one of them.

How did you manage when your children were younger?

When I had the first son I had a senior job in the BBC. When the baby was 6 months, I went back to work. That certainly was too soon, and I deeply resented being the only mother in my group of friends to return to work already. My son was in a nursery, and although it was a wonderful nursery it wasn’t a positive experience for us. It was heart-breaking and he kept getting ill, so I had to take days off work all the time. I would recommend anyone in the same position to hire a nanny instead.

I had the next baby pretty soon, as I felt it would be economical to have the children close together to keep childcare costs down. I hired a nanny for the two of them and that was cheaper and worked out much better with my work.

When I had the third child the eldest was 7 and I gave up work for a year. I gave up the job at the BBC, as I felt it would interfere too much with my children’s lives. I re-trained as a personal trainer, just as something fun to do, and ran training programmes from my home. We had an au-pair to help out.

Following a course in Nutrition I found the job at the hospital, which was part-time and we had an au-pair to cover after-school care. I started working full-time again when the youngest was about 5. By then I was Nutritional Director. I worked mostly school hours at the hospital, so childcare and being there for the children wasn’t an issue.

When you started your own business, is this how you imagined it?

No, I started a business from home. I didn’t expect it to be like this. The business just grows and grows and has taken on a life of its own. It has powered forward and pulled me in. It’s such a pervasive presence, it’s always there, I talk about it all the time. It’s like a baby attached to my hip, it’s like my fourth child and I care passionately about it. To the point where I come home and my youngest son will ask: ‘How many orders did you get in today? Is your profit still okay?’

There’s nothing quite as dominant as your own business. The buck stops with you. I am responsible for 4 employees, clients, the rent of the location, the premises and everything else. If the locks break on the door, it’s my responsibility to get them fixed.

The biggest price I pay is the time I have lost with my children. That, to me, is the price of success. But you cannot run your own business with a part-time attitude. That’s just not how it works if you want real success, if you want to see your brand on the high street you have to work for it.

I don’t want it to be like this the rest of my life though. My end-goal is to make this a saleable business in the next 3-4 years.

Do you ever feel guilty?

I feel perpetually guilty. To me, motherhood is a state of guilt, I don’t manage it, I live with it. I deeply resent the time I miss with my children and am hoping it will be for the greater good. Perhaps in a couple of years they will be able to say ‘We are going off to mummy’s ski-ing chalet. It was my youngest sons Christmas wish ‘for mum not to make any work phone calls during Christmas’.

I would love to be a mummy that is at home, cooks meals, makes sure her children are well turned-out and has a beautiful home. The reality is I come home to that, and my children have been home organising it. But I do it like this, because I know there is no other option for now, I love my job and we rely on the financial income my business provides.

What do you hope for your own children?

My own daughter is currently choosing her A levels, and I have discussed work-life choices with her. I told her that if she chooses a career she needs to consider how it will fit around a family. She has got it all mapped out and certainly doesn’t want to do what I do. She would like to work in a hospital in her twenties, and then become a GP when she has children.

It was different for me, as I come from a generation that was told ‘You can have it all’. That is not true, you cannot have it all.
To be honest, I give my sons a different message. I tell them they need to step up to the mark and be responsible for their families. Interestingly, I don’t tell them they have to choose a career that fits around the family.

What would your advice be to other female entrepreneurs?

When you start out, do it with your eyes wide open. Do not underestimate the commitment required to make a business work and be prepared to make that sacrifice. Be prepared to work tooth and nail. You want to be sure you want to do that, as it will have quite an effect on your family. You are not going to have a work-life balance and be truly successful, have a good income and support your family.

However, it’s like when you are having babies and they are little. It is a phase in life. When you run your own business there will be phase in your life where you are going to run ragged.
My business has given me some of the biggest highs I have known in my life. I have changed as a person. I have become so much more confident, outgoing and together. I don’t take any crap anymore, I really don’t have time for that and feel I have truly changed for the better.

I genuinely think it is all worthwhile, but I know it will have come at a price. We live hard, and we play hard. The Friday nights with my daughter, for instance, are very special, and that special time would not have come my way if I had been at home more.

Both of my sons are incredibly proud of me. My eldest says ‘Mum, you really stand out from the mums in school and I wouldn’t want it any other way’. I do get tremendous support from my kids.
Personally, I love it, as I feel I could be on the cusp of something quite wonderful.

As we end the interview, Jane arrives home and she walks into the house. Her 10-year-old boy greets her enthusiastically and asks: ‘What shall I get you for supper mum?’

Interview by Inge Woudstra, Director Mum & Career


How to manage a senior position and children - Julia Tishenko

How to manage a senior position and children – Julia Tishenko

Julia Tishenko is Tesco’s Category Director for Central Europe. She Tesco’s home business in Europe, trading in Poland, Czech, Hungary, Slovakia on-line and in stores. She manages a team of 50 people, with regular international travel. She mentors internally and is also a mentor for the Cherie Blair Foundation. She has 2 children under 5. I went to find out how she manages work and family.

Your job sounds full-on, what sort of hours do you work?

I work 5 days a week, 9-10 hours a day, sometimes I work in evenings too. Then I travel 2-3 times per month, and a trip usually involves 2-3 nights away from home. Weekends are usually free, but not always.

What support have you got at home to help you manage this?

My husband works free-lance and project based, so his diary is much more flexible than mine. He does the children in the morning. Then we have a nanny from 8am-6pm and my husband takes over from the nanny at 6pm again. He does most of the cooking and shopping. Any other housework we share fairly evenly. We also do have a cleaner coming in once a week.

With your work schedule, where do your children fit in?

I do see them in the morning, but don’t have much interaction with them. I arrive home around 7.30 and, as the children go to bed at 8.30 and 9pm, I usually do spend some time with them then. As my husband has done supper, I have my hands free to focus on the children.

When I travel, I often leave very early and don’t see my children at all.

The weekends are about doing things together. We go to concerts and theatres twice a month. We also like going to the zoo, have playdates and visit playgrounds.

Do you ever have the feeling you are missing out as a mother?

At first I did feel guilty, but at some point I realised there’s no point, as it would be a perpetual guilt. I have to work, as I am the major breadwinner, so part-time is just not an option. In addition I would not be happy at home. I feel looking after young children is a lot about logistics, and the non-stop tidying up when I was home over Christmas was enough to drive me mad. I just wouldn’t be happy at home.

I realised at some point over the past years that my children would be happy if I am happy. Delivery of a piece of work brings me in a healthy state of mind and makes me happy. My children are always incredibly happy to see me too. Of course I am lucky to have a good nanny, she stimulates them in different ways than I could.

Do you have some time left for you?

I keep fit with a personal trainer 3-4 times per week. Sometimes he comes to my home, so I can be around the children. In weekends I get to sleep in. My husband gets up early, and catches up on sleep during the day. It works for me, and feels like I have enough me-time.

How did your work change when you had children?

It’s hard to tell as I had a different job before children. I was promoted while on maternity leave, and have a much more responsible job now. I know I prioritise more than before and have become more efficient. I review what drives my business and my personal performance, and focus on those areas only. Having a larger team and larger responsibility also forces me to delegate more, and that has incrementally grown. I set direction, which has become key. Once I have set direction I can delegate. It helps I have a really good team, and feel very well supported.

Having children keeps things more in perspective, and suddenly many things seem less important at work, but also at home.  At home I focus on the key bits; so I ignore what my daughter is wearing – which she is very particular about –  and just insist on her washing her hands before dinner. To me the latter is more important.

How did your organisation support you?

I have been supported throughout, especially when my children were very young, my line manager helped me find the right role. One that would allow for more flexible working hours and for breast-feeding. I was promoted while I was on maternity leave, and had a salary increase as well that is pretty much unheard of and my line manager had a lot to do with that.

I have been in Tesco for 10 years now, after attending a business school in the UK 12 years ago, as I am originally from Russia. My development over time in Tesco has been helped at various points by a coach. We have focussed for instance on building a personal profile, stakeholder mapping, developing relationships and personal branding. I also used to have mentors, now I still do have mentors, but it is more informal.

How did your own parents manage their work-life?

Both my parents worked as music teachers in Russia. My mother worked half days, but was doing all the housework on top of that. I don’t remember spending a lot of time with her. This is very different for me now, as I do spend a lot of time with my children. I do remember a happy childhood, and in summer my parents had time off and that’s when we spent time together.

What would you have liked to have known up front about being a working mother?

I would have liked to know earlier that I need to ask what I want, and just relax if my employer agrees.

When I returned after 7 months of maternity leave, I was still breast-feeding, and it felt really bad that I had to leave the office at 5.30 or 6pm. No one said anything, it was just in my own mind. At work they were very supportive. I needed to express once a day, and they found me a room with a sink and I would stay there for half an hour. In my own head I was embarrassed though.

When I had the second one I had learned to give it a place, to think: ‘these are my arrangements and that’s okay’. There’s just certain things I need to do. It’s really just a stage in life. You feel exhausted, but you are delivering. Also it’s only temporary and you will overcompensate in future.

What advice would you give to other mothers?

Find out what works for you. When I had my first baby I met a lot of other mothers with professional careers in antenatal groups, yoga groups and so on. Many of them were giving up work, or returning 1-2 days per week. I enjoyed my leave, but was also ready to go back, I wanted to go back. I wasn’t feeling good about myself and needed more stimulation. Besides, I also had to return for financial reasons.

I have happy children and have learned to trust the nanny. I have found a good school and am good at delegating, at work and at home too. I don’t have anything like withdrawal symptoms. This works for us. But it’s very personal what works for you. I would recommend my children to do the same. My daughter can be a stay-at-home mum, if that is what she wants. For me, I love working, and do not feel fulfilled if I am not delivering at work. Of course I also need the theatre and concerts, it’s really about balance and that is just not the same for everyone.

I would say, just give it a go, and it may work or not.

Most important is that you have peace of mind and you know your children are in good hands, whether that is a nursery,  child minder or nanny. My nanny resigned just before I returned to work after the second child and that was incredibly stressful. What helps for us is that my husband is completely free to take over when I have to work late or travel. That makes it easier. If  both of us would be working long hours it might be more difficult.

Author: Inge Woudstra, interview on 27 December 2012



How to manage a senior position and children - Aparajita Ajit

How to manage a senior position and children – Aparajita Ajit

Find out from Aparajita Ajit how she does it – She is Vice President and Head Banking & Capital Markets UK and Europe at MphasiS, an HP company based in Bank, London. She works flexibly and has a three-year-old son and lives in New Malden, Surrey. She volunteers for the Mayor’s Mentor Programme.

Judith Zerdin, journalist, went to find out how she manages it, and when, if ever she ever gets to see her son.

You have the word “Europe” in your job title. Does that mean a lot of travelling?

Part of my job involves looking at new client acquisitions, and that does mean a fair bit of travelling. I was in France last week, next week I’m in Edinburgh, after that I’m in Luxembourg.

I could have a week when I have to visit two or three countries, but I tend to make them day trips rather than staying over. I’ll catch the first flight out in the morning and the last flight back at night.

How much work do you have to do in the evenings/at weekends?

My boss is based in New York and my team is scattered between the UK and Europe, but we do have a few members in India too. We have to speak at a time that works for everybody, so we’ll often get on to a team call at about 9pm. Once my son’s in bed I’ll go back to work.

I try to avoid working weekends if I can, unless there’s a major bid or some urgent time-consuming project.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I get up at about 5.30 – quite often I have to make early morning calls then to my Indian colleagues.

My son wakes up between 6.30 and 7am and then we’re getting ready and out of the house by 8am.

I drop him off at his day care and then I catch the train to Waterloo and then the tube to Bank. I’m in the office by 9am.

I use my commute to catch up on a lot of my business reading; keeping abreast of what’s going on in the markets. I check my phone, but I try to avoid doing emails as I deal with a lot of confidential information.

I don’t usually take a lunch break; I’ll just grab a salad or sandwich and have it at my desk, and then I leave at 4.30 to pick my son up from day-care.

I like to spend 2-3 quality hours with him before he goes to bed, after which my husband and I will have dinner and then I’ll catch up on work I’ve missed from the two hours not being in the office, and make any conference calls to the US or Canada.

I have a cook who comes once a week and the rest of the week my husband and I share the cooking. I also have a cleaner once a week.

It’s about juggling it all, but the good news is, as long as the work gets done and I put in the hours, my company doesn’t clock-watch. It helps that it’s a trust-filled atmosphere.

What about ‘downtime’?!

Weekends for sure – on Saturday nights my husband and I catch up with friends either at our place or go out for dinner, or go to the theatre. I go to a zumba class on Saturday mornings and Wednesday nights and I also go to the gym on Mondays after my son’s in bed and my husband’s home from work. I’ll fit my work around it.

My husband and I try to take off at least one Friday every three months to get some “us” time, too. Then we might go and see a film, or just chill out.

What about your husband – how do you share childcare responsibilities?

Each week we’ll share our schedules for the next week or couple of weeks so we can plan our diaries. We make sure, as best we can, that if I have to travel somewhere he will pick our son up, and he can work a bit from home.

My husband and I share responsibilities equally and he is extremely supportive and understanding. I do pick-up more often because my husband works for an Investment Bank and it does make it quite difficult to leave as early as me. However on days that I travel, he plans his schedule accordingly.

What would you say are your best coping mechanisms when things get tough?

It depends on how you define ‘tough’! For example, my son had chickenpox not that long ago. We had all our annual leave planned already and I only had three or four days to spare, but I decided to work from home, and my husband took some days off.

His company also offers an emergency nanny service, so we got one for the last three or four days.

I think drawing on any flexibility your employer gives you is very important. It’s all about having a very understanding employer, and an extremely helpful and reliable husband. We don’t have our parents in this country so we can’t rely on them.

When things get tough I just have to deal with it – it’s a bit of a trade-off. When it comes to childcare it’s just really important that we’re planned and organised.

At what point in your life did you decide this was what you wanted to do?

I grew up in India and I didn’t have everything just given to me; I had to work hard for it. Moreover, my parents were role models and I learnt a lot from them.

I’ve got two Master degrees and I was studying while looking after a baby and working full time, but I invested in all of that and started to see the results of my efforts and I realised the sky’s the limit. I believed that all the way through it.

What would your advice be to mums who presume they can’t go further in their careers if they have a family?

Many of my friends are highly educated, while some of them decide to stop working out of choice, many of them feel they have to give up their career once they have a family. A lot of the time we presume that’s how it has to be, but I think you need to talk about your aspirations with your family.

Look for other options: working flexibly/part-time/job sharing, and be a bit shameless with the resources made available to you at work.

For many people childcare is very expensive – you should work out how many days you can afford it and see what options are available for the other days.

Has any part of your life suffered in your quest for success?

There are days when I really wish I could just put my feet up and go to the Bahamas! On the other hand, we do make the most of our holidays, and I love spa days – I’d be lying if I said not. But I’m very happy as a mother, wife and professional woman. I’m very pleased with the life I have.

Time is not the issue – says mum and senior manager Paula

Time is not the issue – says mum and senior manager Paula

Talking about being a working mum at the BBC ‘Women at the top’ programme triggered senior manager Paula Leach to think about female leadership and motherhood. This is what she learned about being a working mum in her own words.

Being a working mum for me the key challenges have come down to Time. I’m nearly 7 years into my parenting journey, with 2 beautiful daughters and a worklife balance many would envy, combining my part time senior management role with being an involved and present parent to my girls. So what’s the problem? Haven’t I ‘got it all’? Haven’t I ‘got the best of both worlds’? Well, it’s an interesting question, and one I have a bit of a constant wrestle with myself.

In a quest to try to work out why I feel like this, I recently tentatively took part in the filming of a BBC documentary which was examining the reasons why so few women are represented at the senior levels of management in business. Scary as it was to put myself ‘out there’ and actively join the debate, I wanted to share my perspectives, experience and optimism and learn as much as I could on the way.

The process of being filmed and trying to work out in my head what was my overriding perspective on the subject of combining motherhood and career, was all a bit of a new step in a new journey for me. Of course I was only going to be featured on the programme for 3 minutes or so, and I was happy with the footage (although I just find watching myself very uncomfortable …. Surely I don’t really look or sound like that??!!). However, the finished programme was one thing, the journey that asking these questions has started to send me on, is something else.

So …. Back to Time. I have always known, ever since I returned to work after my first daughter was about 1 year old, that it was about time. There are only so many hours in a day, and I was already madly busy with all my work commitments before I then had to fit in my new job as Mum. I’m super organised though, so went about the process of creating a jigsaw of childcare, greater efficiency, working different times of the day to make up for dashing out of the office early to get to a nursery pick up etc. We all do it- it’s how it works. And over that period where I have continued to make this jigsaw of activity squeeze into my 24 hours, I, like many other women I know (and probably countless more I don’t know), have felt various new emotions about my working and home life such as guilt, low-confidence and questioning what other people were thinking of me, feeling not quite as reliable as I always had been (or the risk that I wasn’t that reliable) amongst other things. A wise friend once told me, it takes 5 years to come to terms with the situation of this balance and feel at peace with it rather than trying to be everything you were at work before.

So, I am a reflector, and this has all got me reflecting a lot about Time. I actually know for a fact, that I am equally if not more capable at delivering in my chosen profession than I was 7 years ago. And I feel optimistic about those contributions. I simply am not in a position to work the same days and hours, or work between “9 – 5” in the accepted business tradition. Interestingly, where I have felt a dip in confidence or worried about my reliability or felt guilty …. Pretty much all of this is rooted in Time – or lack of it!

Coupled with that realisation, I was interested to explore whether this perceived issue of time was external or internal to myself. Generally, there is some expectation from others, but on the whole, my reflection leads me to conclude that most of the pressure I feel regarding time is actually pressure I am putting on myself.

Light bulb moment! (I had this a couple of years ago). Just forget about worrying about the time -what I can’t fit in that I used to, how to be like everyone else (or as I perceive everyone else) – and get on with the excellent outputs and contributions that I make, focusing on my energy and quality and creativity. Let go of that guilt and that lower confidence and see what happens – I would soon work out whether this was mostly me putting that pressure on, or whether it truly was real. Result: Yep – mostly me!

So, my feeling is really this: As a professional woman, I have certain expectations of myself which I literally could not replicate once time got squeezed. I wasn’t prepared to make the sacrifices so many women did a generation ago with regard to seeing their family grow up … surely they had no choice, but because they did that, it has paved the way for women and mums like me to have a choice and take on the mantle of the next challenge with confidence and energy! That challenge being the challenge of demonstrating that Time is Not the issue … having personal confidence, and the confidence of others, in output, creativity, leadership, quality – these are the things business should be really interested in and I for one plan to demonstrate that it doesn’t always need to matter that you are seen to be doing the 9 – 5.

Having confidence to do it my way will hopefully open the eyes of business that mums and business can work and can thrive, with a little open-mindedness on both sides to being flexible and focusing on the output. By having the confidence to be doing, delivering and succeeding, we can perhaps grow and open up the opportunities to work flexibly, be involved with our families at the times that we need to be during the 24 hours we have, and still achieve what we need to at work (and beyond!). I don’t see working flexibly as simply a temporary accommodation to ‘help’ me – I see it as a win-win for me and the business. I achieve everything that is required of my role and beyond. I cost less than a full-time resource. I am committed to making that work and being the most efficient that I can be. The biggest barrier I believe I truly have faced is actually my own personal perceptions and expectations limiting myself, so I am taking deep breaths and not apologising for working a different schedule – I am embracing it and demonstrating it’s value! And at the same time I am very present in my children’s lives and fully engaged in their school life and activities which is important for me.

Obviously I appreciate that I am fortunate to work with an enlightened employer where the foundational elements of flexible working and empowerment mean I can take responsibility for my own schedule and working my way to achieve success. Technology is such an enabler here to allow us to move forwards – so we don’t waste the talent that is out there with so many people who have chosen Motherhood. My mantra moving forwards … it is ‘Mum AND career’ not ‘Mum OR Career’!

And what about me ‘having it all’ already? …. Yep that’s all fine and maybe a perception could be that I do, but I have ambition to progress in my career, learn more, take on interesting challenges and add greater value – and I plan to do that still with only 24 hours in the day!

I have learnt so much about myself, and others, over the last few years having become a parent. Perhaps I may continue to progress my career because I have children, and not in spite of it.

Author: Paula Leach, She has 2 beautiful daughters aged 6 and 3 and works 3 1/2 days per week in a senior leadership role as Learning & Development Manager at a large Multi-National automotive organisation. Since having her daughters, she juggles her career with her family and is constantly striving towards achieving a balance which means she can be present and involved in her children’s lives, schooling etc, in addition to not only ‘holding down’ her role, but continuing to develop, grow and contribute professionally. As part of this journey, she recently took part in the filming of the BBC2 documentary ‘Hilary Devey’s Women at the Top’.


  • Looking for more tips, guidance and insights on Navigating your Career and Children? Why not join us for a high-impact fun workshop on 9 October in Central London. Speakers from Ernst&Young, Sapphire Partners and more

Pregnancy of newly appointed Yahoo CEO – has the glass ceiling been smashed?

Pregnancy of newly appointed Yahoo CEO – has the glass ceiling been smashed?

The announcement last week that the newly appointed CEO and supposed saviour of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, is six months pregnant has ignited much debate. Whilst there has been some backlash, most commentary has been positive, citing Ms. Mayer as a prime example of women “having it all”.

What is apparent however, is that a woman holding a senior position at a Fortune 500 company whilst simultaneously expecting a baby is still a story worth reporting and debating. It should not come as a shock that a woman is expecting a baby. Would a similar amount of news coverage be given if the new Yahoo CEO was a man expecting a baby with his wife?

Ms. Mayer represents only the 20th current female CEO of a Fortune 500 company and women, as a whole, account for only four percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to make decisions on the terms of a worker’s employment on the basis of their pregnancy. Unfortunately, there are many cases where women are refused employment or promotions, or even dismissed (including selection for redundancy) just because they are pregnant or take maternity leave.

Ms Mayer was recruited by Yahoo in June 2012. She is said to have disclosed her pregnancy to Yahoo’s board at the end of June, noting that none of the company’s directors seemed to have an issue hiring a pregnant chief executive. Of course, had Ms Mayer’s pregnancy resulted in a decision not to offer her the role, this would have been contrary to equality laws and Ms Mayer, had she worked in the UK, would have had a claim for sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Successful claims for sex discrimination can open a company up to a claim for uncapped damages in an employment tribunal.

Ms. Mayer has stated that she intends to “work throughout” and to take only “a few weeks” of maternity leave. Whilst it is always positive to hear of female appointments to senior positions, particularly when that female is pregnant, Ms. Mayer does not represent the majority of working women. Indeed, the surrounding media hype and Ms Mayer’s approach to her maternity leave may suggest that, regrettably the ‘glass ceiling’ is very much still in place.

It is also apparent that shareholders and the public feel that they are entitled to be informed of Ms Mayer’s pregnancy furthermore, they feel they are entitled to comment and pass judgment. Hopefully, the appointment and confidence of the Yahoo Board will work to show that women, pregnant or not, are capable of working as whatever they choose and it is for no one to criticise their choices.

Author: Laura Molloy, employment solicitor at Manchester law firm Pannone

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.