Balancing A Career and Motherhood

When I tell fellow mums that I run my own business and bring up my young daughter, Jane Sparrow Culture BuildersI’m always struck by how many tell me they would love to have a flexible career. Smart, ambitious women don’t stop being all those things just because they have a child: infact, it is the onset of motherhood that has been the inspiration for so many women to start their own business, fuelled and driven by the opportunity to do something different.

I was pregnant when I decided to write my book, ‘The Culture Builders’. It was an idea that had been fixed in my mind for a number of years, born out of my career as Director of Communications & Change at Sony.  I wanted to create something really hands-on and practical that could help managers cut through the endless waffle and theory about helping people achieve their best performance at work.  I knew just how little guidance there was for managers and yet managers are the absolute key to driving and building great performance. It made no sense whatsoever and I wanted to do something positive to help businesses.

Naively, I saw maternity leave as a great opportunity to get writing – and quickly realised with the sharp, shock of caring for a newborn that maternity leave is not meant for book writing! My c-section recovery did force me to stay in bed, however, and I used the time to formulate ideas and allow myself some space to think – in between feeds of course! My book entailed many interviews with senior people from all sorts of companies from John Lewis to Innocent so I tried to do these when my baby was sleeping, but it didn’t always coincide.  You just learn to be really flexible and do what you can, when you can, as well as getting the support you need.

Women often try to do it all themselves and I’m no different but its vital you get support if when you’re working and child-rearing. You have to reach out and ask people and not be shy about admitting you need some help.  My family and friends were invaluable when it came to the really hard grind of getting the writing completed. They still are a huge source of support.

I always tell people that there will be times when fate seems to work against you – I remember being in a meeting and instead of pulling out my notebook, I pulled out a nappy! Luckily the client saw the funny side but it isn’t funny when your baby wakes up with a temperature on the day of a key meeting.

I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve stood on the podium to deliver a speech and found myself wondering if my daughter is OK. Its all part of being a working parent and I think the more we talk about and accept the multiple roles people often have now, the more organisations will recognise the value of building cultures that reflect the myriad of working options our society needs. There shouldn’t be any reason why a mum who wants to work and loves her job should end up feeling there are no flexible options for her: business has to change because how we raise our families is changing.

Writing the book and now running my own consultancy has definitely changed the way I work.  I have to be very disciplined about the things I find harder to make sure they don’t get de-prioritised by things I love doing.  For example, I’m really proud of my business network but it take dedication and commitment to do more than just send a LinkedIn invite after a conference: its always the personal touches that get the best results.  I personally gift wrapped and signed 200 business books for a client who ordered them as a christmas gift – I wanted them to know just how much I appreciated the business.

Above all, you need to have self-belief. My original book proposal was rejected by the editor but I made the call to find out why and realised that an idea I’d been unsure about including was actually the very nugget that got the publisher to change its mind.

Here are a few tips to consider if you are thinking about balancing a career and motherhood:

·     If you’re on maternity leave, keep in touch with your team if possible.  Its not about discussing work but about connecting with your colleagues and enjoying the social fabric of working life. 

·     Try and talk to other working parents about how they manage their dual roles and how the business has supported them

·     Read up and research how other companies have successfully built in more flexibility. It can give you ideas and evidence of what might work for you

·     Don’t assume your manager knows all the options available to you: perhaps another manager has more experience of flexible working and can help guide you. If you have an HR department, make sure you ask their advice, too.

·     Don’t be afraid to ask for more support, especially when returning to work after maternity leave. You might be returning to a new role, department or even a new business.  It takes time to get back on your feet so get the help you need up front.

Jane Sparrow is a consultant and author specialising in transformational change, engagement and sustainable performance. Her new book, The Culture Builders: Leadership Strategies for Employee Performance, is published by Gower and available at amazon  Hints, tips and inspiration is available on her website

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