Now here's a campaign I can really relate to!! Some of my fellow Mumsnet bloggers are trying to campaign for more flexible working conditions for mums in the UK. Several women have blogged about how utterly their career paths have narrowed as a result of having children, including:
Tell me about it!! So here's my contribution to the meme (don't worry... I had to look it up too!)
A Mother’s Work Meme Rules:
Please post the rules
Answer the questions in as much or as little detail as suits you
Leave a comment on mother.wife.me so we can keep track of the meme
Tag 3 people and link to them on your blog (eek! I don't have much of a bloggers' network!)
Let them know you tagged them
Tweet loudly about taking part (umm, I don't tweet as yet! shhhh!)
- Did you work before becoming a mum?
- What is your current situation?
- Freestyle – got your own point you’d like to get across on this issue? Here’s your chance…
Ok, here goes:
Yes, I was a presenter at BBC World Service Radio for 8 years and a producer/reporter for various international broadcasters and agencies for several years before that. I have always been 100% freelance. I voluntarily stopped working at the end of 2007 because my high pressure jobs meant I just wasn't getting pregnant no matter how hard I tried (even whilst on assignment in Afghanistan once... no, I'm not kidding...I took my fellow-journalist husband along).
At the highest low point in my career, just as my husband and I were having a very emotional discussion about IVF and tough job choices, the phone rang. It was one of my editors at the BBC calling out of the blue to offer me the coveted chance to be a foreign correspondent, starting like, NOW! I had to say 'yes' or 'no' almost immediately and doubt they would have been terribly sensitive about IVF or time off. I said 'no' and the job (and subsequent other opportunities) all went to deserving male colleagues. I'm completely stumped by the fact that the BBC rues the lack of women and especially mothers on its foreign news roll... yet doesn't practice much sensitivity when grooming young women for news reporting jobs. Duh?!
I remember a very seasoned, female, childless roving foreign correspondent advising me once to never, ever say 'no' to an assignment or I'd be dropped from the assignment desk's roster. She was right. If you're a woman working in news, it seems you really have to be prepared never to have children, or spend very little time with them.
A year later, I was tapped by another international broadcaster. Naively, perhaps, I told them I was currently pregnant and would not be able to start until my baby was six months old. I was still encouraged to interview. During the interview, the very seasoned male journalist asked if I planned to be a full-time mum. (This is illegal in Canada and elsewhere, too I'm sure). Again, naively, I engaged with his question, rather than telling him it was really none of his business!
That said, Mark Sandell, the editor of the BBC World Service Radio programme I presented, World Have Your Say, was the most supportive boss anyone could have. Had I chosen to stay on, I'm sure he would have accommodated me as much as possible.
2. What is your current situation?
I just had my second child in December. I'm lucky that my husband, a writer, got a big multi-book commission which allowed me to quit working and de-stress back in 2007/2008. That obviously did the trick! In fact, I found out I was pregnant just a day before our first IVF appointment. My son was born in 2009 and now I have a daughter too.
In late 2010, we moved to India so my husband can write his Indian detective novels. The result is that I can have a lot of affordable child care and domestic help.
I've never been happier or more fulfilled, yet I feel very worried about my career prospects and feel I have to constantly explain myself and what I've been doing the past three years. Not to mention I miss the fact that I earned a very good wage. I'm keen to start working again, but not sure where to pick up. The only reason I can even contemplate work is because we live OUT of the UK! In my area back home (Forest Gate, E7, London) I found a childminder who's like a sister when it comes to looking after my children, but even though she charges very reasonable rates, full-time care would be prohibitively expensive.
I've lost count of friends/colleagues/neighbors who've had blinding careers that fizzled once their babies came along. Many women want to stay home with very young children which is only natural! But they shouldn't be diminished permanently because of that.
3. Freestyle – got your own point you’d like to get across on this issue? Here’s your chance…
I know ONE female foreign correspondent with small children: Stephanie Nolen of Canada's Globe and Mail and author of several books, including 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa. Her secret...? Canada has a law that mandates a year's paid maternity leave (55% of salary capped at $485/week, according to Wikipedia, with some employers offering more) AND you get to keep your job.
You can also split the year between two parents (!!). Stephanie tells me that with accrued leave, she was able to take a full 15 months off with her second child and still come back to her posting in India! And yet, like all mums (and dads too), Stephanie feels that she's compromising on both her parenting and reporting, not being able to do either with as much dedication as she'd like... (sound familiar?)
I'm sick of reading articles about how few women there are in CEO positions... Firstly, this isn't necessarily the appropriate benchmark for women's progress. Secondly, while it's a facile, neat talking point, it doesn't address the great variety of women in the workplace nor what women themselves want! (I don't know any women who want to be CEOs. I know plenty who want to work, be paid their worth, and have happy children without killing themselves.)
All the media does is talk talk talk about equality in the workplace and about women 'dropping out'. It's not a meaningful discussion and rarely engages the mothers who are being talked about! (I've been guilty of this as well as a young know-nothing presenter without kids or much perspective on the topic).
I think young women (and men) ought to be made aware of these issues MUCH earlier on in life - to know their rights far more rigorously. But I also think employers - if they really do want their work force to mirror society - have to care more about the young women who work for them and be open to talking about how children and maternity leave would fit into career prospects.
But most importantly, I think the law has to change to give women far more incentive to stay in work. Like Canada's law, it has to be help women hold their place with their current employer and make it illegal to change a woman's current job due to fertility issues, pregnancy or maternity.
In hindsight, I do wish I'd been much more confident in finding the balance between babies and work. I wish I'd negotiated some kind of leave (even as a freelancer) and then gone back to work after my son was born. I'm still confident that I can re-build my career, but feel I've lagged at least a decade behind my male colleagues who've not had to take long breaks or worry about their physical capacity to be present at work. I think so many women's skills and potential are blighted as a result of diminished choices, which is just appalling in this day and age.