Often I come across women who work and are also mums who feel like they are selling themselves a bit short at work because they have a flexible working arrangement that is really important to them. The Great Big Parenting Juggle often makes us prioritise things in particular ways, like, say, taking our foot off the pedal at work because we are so grateful to our employer for letting us work part-time or perhaps at home one day a week. Maybe we negotiated this arrangement after being on maternity leave and a few years on we are still there and the arrangement works.
What I have also observed is that the novelty of gratitude wears off after a while when we are offering a bit less than we are capable of, doing a bit less than we could and then receiving less recognition for our skills and talents. Although the flexible working arrangement feels like the priority at the beginning, as time goes on things start to feel a bit, well, unsatisfactory sometimes.
So what’s the solution?
Committing to working full steam ahead, finding a new and bigger role and focussing 100% on the day job rather than the job of being a mum? For some people, maybe, but for most of us probably not. The good news is that I don’t think it’s that binary.
This is my perspective as a manager and someone who always wants to find and retain talent in order to be able to do the best job I can with my team: if you have more to offer and you want to offer more, don’t shy away from the flexible working conversation with a new employer. Don’t rule yourself out of roles that you would love to apply for just people you want to work flexibly. Have confidence that there are employers out there that would prefer to have great people – like you – who work part-time or at home once a week than people who are a less good fit for them, but are happy to work in the office five days a week.
Finding those employers means putting yourself out there, applying for more senior roles, being honest with yourself and your employer about what you want. It means having the courage to have conversations that might feel momentarily uncomfortable, including talking about your strengths and why you are an asset to an organisation. It’s worth it though.
These are my top tips for a conversation about flexible working:
1. You could start with stating your commitment to your new employer and your desire to contribute as much as you can while continuing to provide the support your family needs from you.
2. Can you make the role work flexibly? Talk through your reasons why you think this will be possible and mention some practical details like being space at home were you can work undisturbed and being able to log on remotely.
3. If there is a work emergency, can you be flexible? You might offer to come into the office, or log on to respond to emails, or take an important call – you can make clear this is really only exceptionally.
4. Can you offer to work flexibly for a trial period, e.g. 6 months to see if it works for you and your employer?
5. If you want to work at home, you might offer to tell your manager what your plans are for that day or to let them know what you have done – this helps build trust and confidence in the arrangements.
Do try to figure out what you want at home and work and to have conversations that can help make it happen. This really helps you achieve balance in your life as well as a sense of achievement and purpose.
Catherine started her career as a lawyer in the City of London. For several years she really enjoyed it but after a while she felt she was losing myself in the relentless busyness of it. Aiming for a better work life balance she moved into the public sector where she’s held a number of executive positions. She runs mentoring programs for busy working mums that inspire them to feel empowered, confident and positive. She’s married with twin boys. She’s a keen speaker, Huffington Post blogger and photographer and loves riding her horse. You can find her brilliant website here