Mama talks to the mums bravely changing the world of work for the better for everyone.
If there is one thing which got us all talking this year, it has to be flexible working. In almost every city-based sector, the world of work is changing rapidly, from hotdesking to conference calling, with employers scrambling to keep up with the implications for the future of desk-based roles. Happily, these changes also present an enormous opportunity to rethink the way we all put in our hours.
For three years many employees have had the legal right to request flexible working, but, a lot like with paternity leave applications, this change in the law is taking a long time to work itself into people’s consciousness. Over the past couple of years a growing network of mums has seized this pivotal moment to try raise the profile of flexible working across the board. As, despite the seismic changes in our working landscapes, ostensible support from the Government, and a lot of apparent goodwill, we have a long way to go before flexible working becomes a reality for most of us. Employers are still getting their heads around what the future of work looks like, so it feels like a good opportunity for a proper discussion.
And who better to talk to about flexible working than a mum? When a woman returns to work after having a baby she’s already learned more multitasking skills than most men will forget in their entire lives (sorry boys). Add work responsibilities into that equation and working mums become a formidable force, coming as they do pre- loaded with formidable time management, laser focus and a genuine can-do approach to almost anything you put in front of them. Not to mention an admirably low threshold for bullshit.
Juliet Turnbull is the founder of website 2to3days.com, which matches professional working mums with part-time jobs. “Working and having children should not be mutually exclusive. Work is part of your life, not outside of your life and of course children are also part of your life. I don’t believe in separate work and home life – they need to work together,” she says.
“When you become a mother you learn new skills: conflict resolution and time keeping are just two of these. I can tell you right now that a mother who chooses to work is the best time-manager on the planet. I work more efficiently now I am a mother: when you have less time you are more focused,” she continues.
“And a lot of mums reach a stage where they want to work, whether that’s when their children are six months or six years old.”
These sentiments are borne out by research from Digital Mums, the online community offering advanced social media training, while providing businesses with highly-skilled digital talent. Their campaign ‘Work That Works’ launched last year with some fascinating research. They found that 7 in 10 stay-at-home mums said they would go back to work if flexible work around childcare was an option. And it’s not just mums: 7 in 10 UK employees (and 8 in 10 millennials) say they would prefer flexible working hours. However, back in the real world, only 12% have requested flexible working, because they’re worried people think it’s copping out.
“Too many mums are still forced into having to choose between a fulfilling career or being there for their children. Indeed 54,000 women lose their jobs every year due to maternity discrimination and there are currently 2.6 million mums not working in the UK. At the same time, 64% of mums have taken work below their skill level because it is flexible” according to Kathryn Tyler, co-founder of Digital Mums.
Blogger Anna Whitehouse, better known as ‘Mother Pukka’ on social media, knows all too well what sort of discrimination women returning to work can still come up against.
“I was asking for 15 minutes at the beginning and the end of the day so I could pick up my child, and they wouldn’t do it. It’s just short sighted!” she explains.
“In reality, flexible working is actually something where the employer can get more out of the employee.”
Anna’s Flex Appeal campaign, aligned completely with Digital Mums, has seen flashmobs all over the UK dancing to ‘Lets Talk about Sex’ and singing ‘Let’s talk about Flex,’ from Trafalgar Square to Manchester Town Hall. Her next event is in Bristol, and the aim is to raise the profile of the issue for everyone, not just for mums or working parents. Just follow the hashtag #Flexappeal to find out the latest news and events. Another influential blogger, Steph Douglas from Don’t Buy Her Flowers is also fully on board, because she believes flexible working benefits the whole family. “A couple of years ago my husband Doug asked his boss if he could come in slightly later two mornings a week in order to take our son Buster to school, ” she explains.
“He works in the City, it’s very male-dominated and very few companies do flexible working. I can’t emphasise enough the difference Doug doing those drop-offs made. Not just for the additional hours I could put in to my job, but for his being part of our son’s school day. It also hugely helped our relationship.”
The next step for Digital Mums is to affect change through mobilising other mothers, and then everybody else possible, with their Clean up the F Word campaign.
The aim is to get 10,000 signatures on their petition to change the definition of flexible working, as set out by the Government. This is the minimum number of names required to get an acknowledgement from Number 10.
And of course flexible working has multiple benefits for employers. For instance, a recent six-month study from MIT Sloan School of Management showed that when employees were given the option of working from home and allowed autonomy over their time – for example, not requiring them to log in at a certain time – their productivity significantly increased, while stress decreased.
It makes sense: less stress means happier people, and the happier people are at work, the more productive they become. You’re also more likely to retain hard-to-find talent. But this is only the beginning. From cost-saving on desks and equipment to HR the benefits to the bottom line are also an incentive.
Big companies move notoriously slowly but it feels like there is real momentum here, and we can all play a part in raising the profile of this issue, from sharing on social media to going along to events. There is definitely a change on the way.
Flexible Working: Need to Know
For the next #Flexappeal event @mother_pukka
Sign the Digital Mums petition at change.org
Study with Digital Mums: learn innovative social media and work on your terms