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A flexible approach to working mothers

"I’ve been thinking a lot recently about knowledge loss within organisations. A recent client of mine championed this field, helping organisations protect themselves from knowledge loss utilising creative methods to capture tacit, experiential knowledge.

The scenarios are familiar to most, retirement, mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing, etc. But it got me thinking about something much closer to home, the loss of knowledge when women leave the workforce to become mothers.

As a mother I have found myself incredibly lucky to be able to balance work and family life. I have a career that I passionately enjoy, and I work with clients that understand and appreciate flexible working, enabling me to balance my career with raising my family. However, so many mothers face a different experience.

Educated women with years’ of experience and a strong career behind them all of a sudden find they are being treated very differently when they try to return to work. Their teams have been changed, their jobs have changed and there’s a general attitude that wonders whether they are still going to be up to scratch now they’ve spent some time out!

Headlines on this matter make incredible reading:

“40% of managers avoid hiring younger women to get around maternity.”

The Guardian Aug 2014

“One in seven women are made redundant after maternity leave.”
Tracy McVeigh March 2013 The Guardian

“British women face dramatic pay gap 'penalty’ when they become mothers.”
Zlata Rodionova Independent Jan 2017

Now not all jobs or careers can be flexible and at the end of the day a business is there to make money, but why do highly skilled, experienced and educated females, suddenly become less useful to the workplace because they’ve become mothers?

Returning to work is not an insignificant decision. You firstly face the ‘Catch 22 guilt trap’ – feeling guilty if you return to work, feeling guilty if you stay at home. If you make the decision to return to work you have the challenge of finding childcare that can work alongside your working hours, while still providing, love, guidance and care to your child. You are likely to face a reduction in your earnings, and there are significant concerns around the ability to fund childcare and future financial security such as pensions.

If you have gone through all of these hurdles, go back to work and then face the challenges that so many mothers do, is it any wonder that women leave their jobs and take all their knowledge and experience with them.

During my career I have been extremely lucky to work with organisations that have all favoured flexible and virtual working. In three different organisations my manager has been based in the US while I’ve been in the UK. I have managed teams throughout Europe with offshore support from India and China. I have employed contractors that deliver projects, not hours, and that work around their family commitments. I have worked with Mums and Dads that may get up early to work, spend a few hours with the family and then work some more in the evening. This flexibility has meant that we have always had the best people for the job regardless of location or working hours.

With Skype, Google hangouts, FaceTime, Google Drive, the cloud and numerous other technologies, the need to be sitting next to the person you’re working with is no longer relevant.

Now to some, this flexible approach to working may seem scary and alien. “How do I know they’re working if I can’t see them?” is a phrase all too often used by those unfamiliar with this approach. But if you’re looking at outputs, surely getting the best person, the most knowledgeable person, the most experienced or creative person, is the thing that matters. Not the person who is sitting in the office till 6:30pm, but has in fact has spent the entire day on Facebook.

As we lead up to this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) I will be working from home, delivering an integrated marketing strategy for my client. I will be working with agencies across the UK, visiting my client in Gatwick or London, and the customers that we support will no doubt be travelling across the globe in their maritime positions.

I will be dropping my son at school, and will be back at my desk working by 8:30am. I have the technology and importantly the people with the right attitude that enable this to happen.

Let’s use IWD, and all these other great initiatives, as an opportunity to promote this way of working and ensure that valuable experience and knowledge is not lost from the workplace due to draconian ways of thinking."

Jemima FitzMorris is a freelance marketing consultant with a passion for strategic brand and marketing programmes that delivers real tangible results. Jemima is currently working with the Ensign Retirement Plan and the MNOPF, improving the retirement outcomes of those working within the maritime industry.

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