Can you tell I’ve been up since 5am?
Motherhood and the workplace: a conversation between two mums in the UK B Corp Community.
Fay Morgan-Page, Events Director and Co-founder at A Studio of our Own, and Jeanette Wong, Finance Director at Abel & Cole, share their experiences of motherhood and how it touches their working lives.
Fay: Hi Jeanette! As a fairly new mother myself, it’s great to be talking to another woman who’s been through it. What would your advice be for someone like me?
Jeanette: When you have a toddler it can feel like there’s no logic, so it’s important to create boundaries. If childcare means you have to leave work at 5pm on the dot, don’t feel guilty, stay until 5:10 and make a mad rush to arrive late! The extra 10 minutes at work just isn’t worth the consequences.
Someone once said to me: ‘when you’re doing a task, focus on that one task. Answering emails when looking after kids is not going to save time’. In the past, I would be online during bedtime but this is now another boundary I’ve set myself so that my kids get all my attention.
Fay: This is pure gold to me right now! I’m still trying to find my groove. I used to be the official yes man, and I know the feeling of mum guilt when you’re rushing off to get the little one. When I need to focus at work, I give it 150% because there’s another job I need to do when I finish. But sometimes you have to admit you can’t do everything… yesterday! Can you tell I’ve been up since 5am? I’m trying to draw the line more and get better at saying no.
Jeanette: That’s a really good point, about ‘no’ power. As working mums, we can be so hard on ourselves because we want to keep everyone happy. When I started saying no, I found a whole new world!
Jeanette: Sometimes, I think we set boundaries between work and family life that are too distinct. How do you bring your whole self authentically to work every day?
Fay: We’re a tight knit bunch at A Studio of our Own who understand how each other tick and play to each others' strengths. I bring all of myself - daughter, sister, mother, business owner, wife, music fan, travel enthusiast, wannabe home renovator, chocoholic… - in the way I work with my team and clients. I believe that this approach ultimately leads to more honest, creative design ideas!
When I started my career in the PR industry in the early 2000s, I remember working in cool, corporate environments with lots of child-free women in their 20s, and only a scattering of working mothers who weren’t upfront about their experiences. This meant I didn't really know what life was like for working mothers so I couldn’t fully empathise. Sharing is so important!
Jeanette: This is so true! I didn’t really ‘get it’ until going through the experience of being a working mother myself. In past roles, female bosses who had children made it look light and breezy (partly, I’m sure, because of pressure to make it look like nothing had changed post kids). When I had my first daughter, I chose to avoid talking about her in the workplace because where I worked at the time didn’t really celebrate motherhood. Thankfully at Abel & Cole that is not an issue!
This however fails to break the cycle and whilst I completely relate to that approach I think it’s really important that we share what it’s like with our colleagues. The more dialogue and understanding there is, the more workplaces will be accommodating and bring about change. And I personally love seeing zoom calls interrupted by three-year olds saying funny things!
Fay: A lot is often talked about how tough it can be as a working mother, but what would you say is the best thing about being back at work?
Jeanette: After maternity leave the biggest win was probably being able to go to the bathroom without being accompanied by a mini person! Which tied closely with being able to finish a hot cup of tea…
On a more serious note, I actually really enjoy working – whether that be problem solving, team collaboration, leading initiatives or contributing to projects. Whilst I treasured my maternity leave, it was good to get back and feel like myself again.
Fay: I can understand that! I love the flexibility that working from home has brought, but for me, it doesn’t feel that different from when I was on maternity leave when in the same four walls! Now that I’m back, it's nice to have the luxury of choice - I cherry pick when to be at home and when to travel to meet my colleagues and clients.
Jeanette: I know it’s early days, but how do you feel motherhood is shaping your career - and your outlook on the future?
Fay: Being a parent sheds new light and perspective on things. Work is incredibly important, but I have additional priorities now. At work I'd like to think I listen more, and am more compassionate and empathetic. It also feels as though I'm carving out relationships with people based on a shared understanding of parenthood. Motherhood doesn’t define me wholly, but it’s certainly a new string to my bow.
In regards to the future - well at this very moment in time, the world is an uncertain and unsettled place. Like all mothers, my child's safety and happiness means everything to me so I want him to be healthy and content in a world which is fair, balanced, kind and conflict-free.
Jeanette: I’d like my children to grow up in a world where diversity and kindness are celebrated and our world leaders are tackling climate change with the urgency it requires.
Thank you to Fay and Jeanette for such an eye-opening conversation! Together, we can build a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination and #BreakTheBias. Happy International Women’s Day!
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