One of the worst things I did after I returned to work after maternity leave was to lie to my boss about having to leave early to fetch my kids.
In the beginning, I would juggle the childcare pickup with my husband and use to arrange ‘meetings’ out of the office at that all important 2.30pm slot and then rush out the door to my ‘meeting.’ Yes, I’d be that mother stuck in traffic swearing at the every set of red traffic lights, running through the playground in heels and a bra not built for sprinting.
I actually thought I HAD to make something up. Something that was never to do with collecting the kids. No one else in the office announced they were picking up their kids and then bravely left. So the water-cooler advice I was given was just that…make it up.
Why did I did I do that?
Looking back, I remember I used to hear the (male) senior leadership team boast about their kids with chests puffed out…listing their achievements and their funny little ways. That being said, I do not remember ever seeing them dash out the door to do the school run. I never heard them discuss the impact on their workload when their children were sick…in fact…I don’t recall them ever going home early and announcing they were ‘working from home’ because their children were not well. Delegated to another perhaps?
There’s this underlying belief that as mothers we must hide the fact that we are working mothers. Don’t mention you’re a mother on your CV as it will count against you. Don’t tell anyone that you’re leaving to collect your sick kid as you’ll be judged. This is not just back when I was in the corporate world…this judgement and thought process is still out there…ingrained in a blinkered section of society who continue to view working mothers as unambitious, flaky, emotional and highly strung.
But I am starting to see a shift.
I’m being asked by more and more organisations ‘how can I achieve a more diverse and inclusive team?’ ‘Why can’t I get more mothers to join our organisation?’ This is a refreshingly new perspective which I’m embracing at full throttle and have been fighting for a number of years. The changes an organisation can make to achieve these goals are straight-forward, but it can make the HR department feel a little vulnerable but that’s how returning mums feel all the time too.
These changes are not about being in a position where a returning mothers can do what the hell they like. It’s all about the compromise. Committing to work hard and working productively between a set number of hours and in return, a flexible approach to management and most importantly, an honest, open line of communication that works both ways.
So working mums, I stand with you. The next time you have to leave the office to collect your child as they’re not well or it’s simply the school run time-slot, don’t create an off-site meeting, don’t blame a doctor’s appointment. All the diversity and inclusion KPIs won’t make a damn bit of difference without the right approach, the right communication and the right level of empathy especially if we continue to mask our working mother demands. How can organisations work out what they need to change if we keep on hiding?