Inspirational People Series – Anna Hemmings MBE, OLY
Anna founded Beyond the Barriers High Performance Training Consultancy in 2009 at the end of a glittering sporting career, where she won 6 World titles in marathon kayak racing and competed at two Olympic Games. Anna now works globally developing leaders and teams, she is an Executive coach and keynote speaker. She is adept at translating the lessons that she learned in sport into the business world.
Anna has developed a reputation for helping individuals and teams unlock potential by breaking down those barriers that may prevent change and improvement. She aims to help others build personal resilience, meet challenges head on and achieve results.
Anna’s unique combination of experience in sport combined with 10 years leading a successful training consultancy gives her a broad understanding of the challenges that individuals, teams and leaders face and how to overcome them to maximise performance.
● How do you balance work and family life?
I can’t say that I always get it right but I do my best to strike a balance between work and family life. I have 2 days a week when I pick up and drop my kids to school and on those days at 3pm I aim to leave work behind and not be checking emails and taking phone calls when I’m with them. I run my own business so this isn’t always easy but it is important to me that I dedicate those times to my kids. If I try to do both at the same time, I do neither well and feel guilty about both! I don’t check my emails until I have dropped the kids off to school, so I can give the children my full attention and not be pre-occupied by work and worrying about emails that have come in that I need to urgently respond to. I learnt that very few emails need responding to immediately!
I protect my weekends so that they are dedicated to family time which is important for the family as well as my own mental health. When you understand what is important to you and you have clarity on your values it becomes easier to draw the boundaries and stick to them.
- What are the pressures associated with this?
I run my own business so if there is still work to be done on those days that I need to stop at 3pm it means I might have to pick up work again after the kids have gone to bed, which is hard but I value the time with the kids and that nourishes me, giving me the energy to work again in the evening.
On some occasions I choose to accept client work on the days that I am supposed to be picking up the kids which causes pressure on my childcare arrangements. Juggling work and childcare can be a big cause of stress!
- Do you think there is any progression in helping working parents or is there still a long way to go?
I think some companies really get it and value the contribution that women bring to the workforce and they do what they can to make it easier for women returning to work. Other companies seem to be a bit more ruthless and have a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude and they clearly still have a long way to go!
Having the flexibility to work from home on 1 or 2 days a week can make a big difference to a working mum. Not having a commute to and from work can take away a lot of pressure and the rush to pick up kids on time. I think that following Covid-19 our way of working will change and hopefully the flexibility that working mums require will increase.
- Being a mum of two and having a successful career, how do you manage ‘mummy guilt’ if you have it?
Yes I certainly have ‘mummy guilt’! It’s tough when your children talk about how other parents came in to do reading with the class or were able to attend the school trip and you couldn’t and it pulls on your heart strings. I have learnt to accept that I cannot do everything and sometimes something has to give. However, I am very diligent with the diary and as soon as dates for school plays, assemblies or concerts etc are released I immediately put them in the diary and protect those dates. I have yet to miss an assembly or sports day and I don’t intend to if at all possible, and not just to avoid the guilt but because I love watching them and the joy on their little faces when they see you in the audience is priceless.
I love my work and I’m passionate about helping others – individuals, leaders and teams to develop and perform at their best, and this makes it all a whole lot easier. In that respect I am lucky because if I didn’t enjoy my work and I was de-motivated it would be much harder to justify missing out on time with my kids.
I also believe that I am better mum for my work; having another focus in my life allows me to bring more energy to the time I am with my kids. Much of work that I do in the field of personal development with adults can be transferred to children such as resilience and growth mindset, so I feel like I am able to bring value from my work to my kids.
I am a certified Executive Coach and many coaching principles can be applied to interactions with children such as listening skills, questioning skills, understanding behaviour and beliefs. I am very far from a ‘perfect’ parent and I don’t actually believe there is such a thing but I do believe that my own personal development from work has improved my parenting skills. I remind myself of these benefits of my work whenever the guilt strikes!
I also like to remind myself of these findings that came out of research at a Harvard Business School study:
- The next generation of kids having working moms will be more successful in their careers, earn more money, and narrow the gender gap even more, once and for all.
- Daughters of working mothers will grow up to be more successful in the workplace than their peers.
- Men raised by working mothers will be more likely to contribute towards household chores.
- Have you had a good experience of being offered flexible working in your career so far?
This question is not really relevant to me as I have always run my own business and never worked for anyone else who has dictated my hours of the flexibility of my work. When you’re offering a service to a client more often than not you have to work around the client.
- What roadblocks do you feel working mothers face?
This isn’t the case in all workplaces but in some the boss doesn’t always appreciate the responsibilities at home and can often expect women to still work long hours in the office when actually work could be picked up at home when children have been taken care of.
The other side of the coin is that in the pursuit of work success and career progress, women work hard to meet deadlines or bring in new business and sometimes taking care of the children has to take a backseat.
Again this isn’t the case in all families but more often than not it’s the mother who takes the day off or has to come home early if the child is unwell. Therefore, its really important that working mums make their colleagues or boss aware that their child/children are as important as the work. This helps when you want to take a day off or apply for leave.
- How do you juggle your time – can you let us into your average week, if you have one?
Prior to Covid-19 ‘new normal’, there wasn’t really a typical week because of the nature of what I do. I wear 3 different hats – sometimes I’m doing 1-2-1 coaching which might be from home on zoom or in a client’s office in London. I would aim to organise these during school hours where possible on my days when I don’t have cover for pick-up and drop-off.
A large portion of my work is face to face workshops and training and development and this could be anything from a 1hr lunch and learn to a longer programme that involves full day workshops – where possible I have to schedule these on the days when I do have childcare cover as they can be all over the country. My mum looks after the kids 2 days a week and I have a nanny on the third day.
I am also a keynote speaker and whilst a speech is rarely more than 1 hour the venue can be anywhere in the country and sometimes in Europe. I have no flexibility over dates and times of these events so this is when the childcare juggle really kicks in! I’m super lucky that my mum helps out a LOT and will cover on days that she’s not scheduled to.
When I’m not delivering work for clients or at client meetings I work from home which allows me to take my kids to school; usually I get to take them at least twice per week if not more. On the days when I am doing pick-up I usually finish work at 3pm and try to rustle up a dinner or at least start the prep. If I’ve been super organised I might have thrown a bunch of ingredients in the slow cooker and hope for a reasonably healthy meal come 5.30pm! I do need to be pretty organised with meals because I’m often found taxing the two of them to various clubs around Wimbledon between 3.30-6.30pm! If they are both at the same club then I usually grab 45mins on my phone or laptop finishing off emails in the canteen of gym club!
At least twice during the working week I try to fit in exercise, sometimes that might be a HIIT circuit in my lounge before the kids go to school or a run at lunchtime or I hit the gym when my son is at Kickboxing. All of this means I need to be super organised and sometimes I’m not and then it all falls apart!
- What, do you feel, more needs to be done to showcase equality in the workplace for men and women?
I do think that improvements in workplace equality have been made however we’re still not where we need to be. Research shows that female workers are still paid significantly less than their male counterparts, and women continue to be underrepresented in senior management roles. This pay gap needs to be removed and many companies need to demonstrate greater transparency.
Whilst many companies are improving their corporate wellbeing offering, more work can still be done to demonstrate that work-life balance is a priority for employees. Companies need to play a vital role in supporting mothers by working together to agree on a fair and balanced workplace that will promote productivity, while also allowing flexibility and the option to work remotely where possible.
To help relieve working mothers, parental leave for fathers should also be promoted as this will allow mothers to invest more time into their careers.