Making motherhood work by Shelley Pinto, managing director Fashion & Retail Personnel
Being a working mother is one of the single hardest challenges a person can set themselves. Managing the twin demands of work and family successfully is a major undertaking, particularly for those women with young children. It can also be hugely satisfying. In this article, mother-of-two and professional retail recruiter Shelley Pinto shares some of her experiences and insight while proffering some advice for those currently in the same boat.
The biggest challenges
You want to be a good mum, yet if you have chosen to continue with your career you want to be good at your job too. It can often be difficult when children are small organising childcare. I got through a lot of nannies and au pairs!
There is also always a feeling of guilt at times; not being there to pick them up after school or making play dates, or as they get older supervising their homework. I have been lucky as I am a director and have had the flexibility.
However not all employers are that flexible and working mums may often miss out on these things. The other big challenges include when your child is ill, particularly if you haven't got childcare, or if they are sent home from school/nursery you have to take time off work - often unpaid - which can be disruptive to your day or week and can cause stress.
Organising your time is really important. On my daily to-do list there will normally be, as well as all my work appointments, something to do with the kids - anything from buying new school laces or school tights to presents for friends' birthdays, etc.
Trying to sort out their doctor or dentist appointments etc. to fit in with work can also be demanding; as a working mother you need to be highly organised to be efficient in your work/life balance. You have to realise that you can't be 'Super-Mum' and 'Super-Working-Woman' - something has to give at times.
I also think one of the biggest challenges is finding some time for me. Normally when I get home from work, both kids want to tell me about their day and all I want is some time alone but I will listen to them attentively (and then normally shout at them to do their homework and clear up their rooms!)
Louise Crampton, my HR manager at Fashion Personnel and mother of two young children, also had some insight on the big challenges for working mothers.
- If you would like to return to work but on fewer days the biggest challenge is applying for and completing the process of a flexible working request.
This can often take the returning mother by surprise in terms of how long it takes, how relatively early on in her maternity leave she needs to start talking to her employer etc.
It is also a challenge to try and strike the right balance between securing the number of days the employee wants and considering what is going to be acceptable for the business.
- Once back at work (whether part or full-time) a big challenge is progressing up career path - particularly for flexible/part-time workers. Once you have secured this kind of contract it is often unlikely that a new employer would offer you similar terms - so moving job roles or employers gets more difficult for the duration of any non full-time work.
- Loss of the social side of work can be quite an issue: most working mums need to leave at the end of the working day (if not before) to get back for nursery or childminder pick-up. This can mean that you miss out on after work drinks or functions which can make you feel quite isolated, especially if the social side of work was something you particularly enjoyed prior to motherhood.
What strategies has your business used to overcome these challenges?
As a business with a predominately female workforce we have had to become more flexible. A few of my staff have children and work either part-time or have flexible hours to suit childcare without it affecting their work. Most working mums who work four-day weeks seem to squeeze in the same amount as they would if they were there for five days.
We have equipped staff where necessary with either remote access from home or smartphones so they have instant access to emails.
There has been the odd occasion where staff have had to bring the children into work for a day or a few hours. It is only the odd occasion and so we have been accommodating. In turn the staff have been really appreciative. Sometimes staff (including me) have had to leave early, but will make up the time.
Is there enough support for mothers wishing to resume a full-time career?
No. The cost of childcare is a huge deterrent. State-funded pre-school sessions do not overcome this problem as they are not a childcare option. Children are entitled to three-hour sessions but it is impossible for a parent to accommodate these hours while working full-time, so they still have to pay someone else to take/collect their kids.
Childcare vouchers only exempt the first £250 (roughly) spent on childcare from tax - I have no idea why the next £750 or so that a full-time parent would need to spend on childcare is not tax exempt...
However, the biggest barrier for mums going back to work is confidence. Confidence comes from understanding what you're good at. I believe that you should stand up for yourself as no-one else will. You can be a good parent and a good businesswoman too and most women just want to be able to do a job they enjoy and know that their children are being looked after in the best possible care. Women want quality, affordable childcare and, again, I think it should be tax deductible.
Recruitment as a career for mothers
Yes, it can be tough at times; if you have an important client meeting or PSL [preferred supplier list] pitch that requires you to be there and one of your children is ill that day, or gets sent home from school/nursery, you have to make alternative arrangements quickly.
That said, recruitment is quite a flexible job and it's possible to work from home to speak to clients and candidates to arrange interviews etc. On the whole people do understand - lots of them have been in similar positions.
We recently had a situation where a candidate had a third interview for a job she really wanted, but she had no childcare on the day of the interview, so I sent my consultant to meet her and she looked after her toddler for an hour whilst the candidate was at the interview. She got the job and we got the fee so everyone was happy.
Tips to help working mothers lighten the load
Firstly, don't try and be Superwoman.
Sometimes you need to have two personalities - a home personality and a work one. The trick is not to allow either to drain you, and to do only the things you want to or that are important to you. You have to be very organised and have a clear divide about who you are. My kids don't want me to be their boss; they want me to be their mum. My staff don't want me to be their mum.
Try not to feel guilty, either about not being with the children when you are at work or about work when you are with the children. Hard though it may be at times, the only person who suffers is you. Once you have made the choice go back to work you should embrace it. My children see me as a role model and are proud of what I have achieved.
Prioritise what is urgent and what is important. Make sure you keep a list of things that really do need to be done by you, delegate to your partner or relatives if you can.
Make sure you make time for yourself everyday: an overstressed mum is not good for the children or at work. I like to relax at the end of the day in a nice bath with candles and unwind reading a magazine and just not talk to anyone for half an hour. Or I like walking with a friend and my dog.
Negotiate with your partner or child carer to look after kids/do pick up or extend hours perhaps every other Friday so you can still take part in the more social side of things at work.
Childcare does not necessarily have to fall to the woman all the time, particularly with the increasing availability of flexibility and working from home etc. Have a conversation with your partner (if you have one) and see if you can share the load with drop-offs/pick-ups and the like. Would your partner's employer consider either an informal agreement for some flexibility at the beginning/end of day?
Shelley Pinto: Career History
House of Fraser
Allocator/Buying Assistant 1987 - 1989
Fashion Division Jan 1990 - April 1994
Vacancy Controller Jan 1990 - Sept 1990
Consultant Sept 1990 - July 1991
Branch Manager Aug 1991- Sept 1992
Divisional Manager Oct 1992 - April 1994
Maternity Leave April - October 1994
Manager October 1994
Sales Director July 1996
Maternity Leave March - October 1997
Recruitment Director Sept 1991
Managing Director July 2011
I joined Fashion Personnel when my eldest daughter Emma was three months old and started working three days a week. It rose to four days after about a year and then five days. I then had my second daughter Katie - I left work on the Friday and she was born on the Wednesday, five weeks premature! So no long maternity leave for me and I came back to work when she was six months old (years ago the norm was not to take a full year off for maternity leave).
I came back and did a similar thing (three days, rising to four and then five). However in about 2002 I went back to four days a week. I have now gone full circle and am back doing five days a week, as Emma is at college (the Fashion Retail Academy) and Katie is at secondary school in her first year for GCSEs.