Before taking maternity leave for the birth of her first child, Tracey had a senior role in digital marketing for a large company, and managed a team of 11 staff. After taking a year off, she wanted to return to the same role. However, there was no offer of flexibility from what Tracey described as quite an old fashioned, male dominated employer. Tracey took the unprecedented decision to ask for a reduction in hours, on the grounds that she could do the same role in 4 rather than 5 days. This was partly influenced by the fact that the organisation did not have part time roles at such a senior level. Tracey did this for a year, but increasingly felt that it wasn’t sustainable.
“I felt that I was wasn’t being as good a mum as I could be, because there wasn’t time to make proper dinners, and I wasn’t being as good an employee as I could be because I couldn’t stay late until the job was done”.
Consequently, Tracey left her job without another role to go to as she couldn’t see how it was possible to have a good career due to the lack of flexible roles at the level she was used to working at.
In order to work round this Tracey set herself up as a freelancer, taking short term projects where she could work 2-4 days each week. However, she felt that this was a discriminatory measure given that she lost entitlement to paid sick leave and holidays.
After taking further time off to have her second child, Tracey set up a business with a friend. This allowed her to choose her own working hours around school hours and after school activities. The reality of working during school hours and late evenings meant that she felt that she couldn’t switch off from her work. This was compounded when Tracey found herself temporarily as her mum’s full time carer. The impact of Brexit upon their business, plus the increased demands on Tracey’s time resulted in the decision to terminate the business.
Once Tracey’s children were both in school full time, she decided that it was time to focus on her career again. Eight years after she first returned to work full time after the birth of her son, Tracey found that attitudes towards working mums had not changed much. In order to find a part time role, she took a less senior position with a marketing agency. However, she felt that the fact she had to leave at 4.30pm in order to be able to collect her children from their after school club on time was perceived by colleagues as “slacking”, irrespective of how productive she had been all day. Tracey isn’t alone: a CIPD survey in June 2019 revealed that 32% of respondents reported that taking up flexible work was actively discouraged by managers or supervisors, and 30% felt it was perceived to have damaging consequences on careers or was disproved of by work colleagues. (Flexible Working in the UK, June 2019)
Although Tracey was offered a full time position in the organisation, she declined. She realised that the salary she was offered was only 60% of what she had previously been earning and, as such, wasn’t worth the guilt that she would feel for spending less time with her children.
“Mums can feel guilty about working. We can feel stuck, like there’s no opportunity to change”.
Tracey is currently not working after finishing her temporary contract so that she could spend the summer holidays with her children. She says she has learnt to be very resilient, particularly if she can’t find suitable opportunities. She has been calling previous contacts and clients to access the hidden job market. Eight years after the birth of her first son, Tracey still feels that the corporate world is still not geared up to encourage people to work flexibly, which wastes the talents of mums and carers. “I can do my job from my kitchen table: I don’t need an office!”
Caring, Working, Living is a 12-month project funded by the Government Equalities Office to support women like Tracey who are looking to return to work after taking time out for parental or caring responsibilities. The project helps Returners to find employment support, such as with CVs or interview techniques, in their local area. We also work with a range of employers across Greater Manchester to support them to understand the benefits of implementing flexible working practices, such as flexitime and home working, so that hours can be worked around school hours or caring responsibilities. We are working with employers to provide opportunities including workplace visits, work experience and placements for our Returners. To find out further information, please see our website: https://www.gmcvo.org.uk/caringworkingliving/returners