Hello Pip. Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do, how old are your children and what happens with your kids when you are at work?
I am a professional contractor, having being a contractor for most of the time since I finished university, just a couple of permanent roles over that time. I am a chartered accountant by profession, but most of my contracts are as a programme manager or senior project manager. Usually I contract in the government sector, but I also worked in the City for a number of years. I am now based in Wellington, New Zealand, and lived in London for 12 years. I grew up and studied in New Zealand.
I have two daughters, aged 12 and 14.
1. One word to describe how being a WoMo makes you feel?
Proud, although sometimes overwhelmed and guilty.
2. What’s the funniest experience you have had juggling kids and work?
Quite a few that are funny looking back, but really not so funny at the time. I had a (childless/female) manager who was doubting that I needed time off to look after a sick child with chickenpox. She demanded photos. Yes, really, photos of the chickenpox and the sick child, so astounding, but now I reflect back on this after 12 years I can laugh about it.
3. What is the one piece of advice you could offer another WoMo?
Always have a back-up plan for childcare! When my girls were young I frequently got let down by my childcare, so I ended up getting a live in au pair, which was helpful on many fronts. It doesn’t work for everyone, but having live in help gave me more flexibility, reliability and certainty around my childcare. I have had very little help from my family, and I have mostly been a sole parent, so I have always had to pay for my help, which puts additional pressure on to manage and direct your help, which is tiring.
Things definitely get easier as your children grow up and become more independent, but now my girls are teenagers there are more things that I need to be aware of (sex/drugs/rock n roll!), so I keep them busy with sport, and I don’t work long hours. I did investigate boarding school, but decided to keep them at day school instead.
4. What’s the least amount of sleep you’ve gone to work on and how did you cope?
Definitely a few nights of no sleep! What I have noticed that from having my first daughter in 2002 to now in 2017, is that flexible working is now mainstream. If I’m sleep deprived now, I would probably work from home. I requested a flexible work arrangement back in the early days, and it was not well received or managed and it definitely detrimentally affected my career when I was in a permanent City role. When I went on to become pregnant with my second child soon after returning from maternity leave, this put me in a very unpleasant situation.
Fast forward a few years and I have found that contracting is a lot more flexible, and as I am a senior practitioner, I set my own hours as the focus is on deliverables, not being in the office 8 hours a day. I can schedule my time to attend to an event at school and around other commitments. We don’t have a lot of flexibility for illness though – mine or theirs!
I have found that employers in New Zealand are much more open to flexible working, and I have many colleagues who have flexible arrangements – whilst a lot are WOMOs, also other reasons are for looking after elderly relations, sports (we are all a bit sports mad in NZ!) or just lifestyle choices. The New Zealand government is very progressive in regard to flexible working, and it is actually the new normal. In my current contract many senior managers I work with work 4 days a week and many contracts I see are for part time work, although I chose to work 40 hours per week. There are even specialist recruitment consultants who place those wanting flexible working arrangements.
5. What have you learned about yourself as a WoMo?
Hold your ground – ask for what you want, and what will work best for you. Don’t be afraid to ask, don’t apologise. Also, a great friend once told me, ‘everything is a phase’, so if your children are being difficult, it’s just a phase… It is also important to do a job that you love, life’s too short otherwise.
I do think though that whilst working mothers are better supported by many employers these days, with technology being a significant enabler, I still despair at the gender pay disparity and the attitude to all women in the workplace, not just WoMos. I recently had a CE of a large government agency say to me that I wasn’t just a ‘pretty face’, this was after I had delivered a presentation to the senior leadership team on a very successfully delivered programme of work.
6. If you had a working mother’s anthem or mantra, what would it be?
Stop apologising (even to yourself!) and ask for a pay rise (your male colleagues will certainly be asking).
7. What is your guilty pleasure to combat WoMo guilt the best?
As a contractor my income is really good, so once I have paid the school fees, I spend the rest on holidays, and the three of us do go on fabulous holidays.
8. Would you rather be dealing with a tantrum or presenting in a board meeting?
Teenage tantrums are the worst, and there’s always a demand for money and new technology! Definitely a board meeting is easier as you know that it has a defined end time.
9. If you asked your child / children what your job is, what would they say (exact quotation if possible)?
After stifling a yawn, it would be …’project stuff’.
10. What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you became a WoMo?
It was never a conscientious choice for me. I have always been career focused so continuing to work in a high performing role was a given for me. Although, reflecting back, I wish that I had had my children younger, as I would have been more energised, and in many ways taking time out when I was more senior was more difficult than if I had taken time out for children when I was younger and in a more junior role.
11. To date, what has been your best WoMo achievement?
Leaving the house in the morning and the kitchen is clean is always an achievement!
12. What do you want to teach your kids about working mothers?
I want my children to be empowered – to do whatever they want to be – whether this is being a mother with a career or not. I hope that some of the barriers and attitudes that I have faced as a working mother are no longer there once they enter the workforce.