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by Sian Claire Owen

Let’s talk about flex

Recently Daisy Chain founder and owner Louise Deverell-Smith attended the Let’s Talk About Flex event in Manchester, run by Anna Whitehouse (AKA Mother Pukka). Here she joined a panel of experts, including Anna Wilthew from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Helen Frankland, Associate Solicitor in the Human Resources/Employment team at law firm Slater Heelis, to give advice on flexible working. It was a brilliant event, and the best part was meeting the wonderful mums who shared their experiences and gave us some serious food for thought. In fact, we were so inspired that we just had to share our thoughts with you!

The first thing that struck us was the diversity of people who came. We met with teachers, PR managers, TV researchers, town planners (to name a few)… all highly qualified, highly experienced, motivated and professional people, who also happen to be mothers. However, despite the wide range of professions these women had, their workplace struggles were depressingly similar. From childcare costs and hours that are incompatible with childcare, to being undervalued or even demoted after maternity leave, these are stories we hear all too often. And when you meet the people behind the stories, they really pack a punch.

Childcare makes it too expensive to work

This is something that came up time and time again. The cost of childcare means that sometimes it is literally too expensive to work. And it’s not just pre-school fees, the cost of wrap-around childcare can also mount up. This isn’t new information, but when you meet mums who really want to work, who have loads to offer and would obviously be an asset to any company who employed them – it brings home just how ridiculous and unfair the situation is.

We know there is no simple solution. Government policy, rising cost of living and entrenched 9-to-5 attitudes are just some of the factors that have created the perfect storm of childcare-cost-hell. But many of the mums believe that some flexibility would help them manage the school run, or could mean they weren’t penalised if their kids got sick. A little bit of freedom would go a long, long way!

We’re not asking for the earth!

One mum said “I don’t want much. I just want to be able to work and to do it well.” Most parents take pride in their work and will give it their best. But when they are working hours that are incompatible with family life, they risk burning out. “I felt I wasn’t being my best. I was being a rubbish mum, a rubbish wife, and I wasn’t my best at work,” was one woman’s experience after returning to work full time after maternity leave. Changing her hours so she was able to have one day a week at home with her family made all the difference. 

A happy worker is a productive worker

We heard a lot of anecdotes from mums who, once they got better working arrangements were much more productive and focused. In fact, some even felt that they were better employees than before they had children! On the other hand, when you have tired, disgruntled and resentful people who are unhappy at work, they are likely to up sticks and take their talents elsewhere, or (sadly) just give up altogether. 

We also understand that many companies want to be more flexible, but they might need the right support, which is why campaigns like the EHRC’s Working Forward are so important! Getting the employers onboard is key to all of this.

A problem shared is a problem halved

Being a parent can be an isolating experience at the best of times. But when you are facing problems at work, spiralling childcare costs and maybe feeling disillusioned and demotivated, the effects can be crushing. Creating a space where parents who are facing similar issues can share their experiences, and just talk to each other is really important. You feel less alone. There are others out there going through similar things. They get it, they understand – and (like freedom) a little bit of empathy can go a long way.

So thank you to Team Mother Pukka for putting on these events! And thank you to all the mums who sat and nattered with us, you’ve given us even more motivation to keep on pushing for flexible work!

If you want to find out more about the EHRC Working Forward campaign, visit https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/pregnancy-and-maternity-workplace/working-forward 

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