Last year, I asked what I thought was a fairly unamusing question of a male professional who had had an operation and, whilst immobile, would have been perfectly able to get work done just about anywhere with a laptop and a cup of tea: "Why don't you just work from home whilst you recover," I asked.
He laughed... no, he belly-laughed at me.
"I can't do that, I need to be seen in the office for the boss to believe I'm working," he exclaimed.
"If there's no flexibility with an employee who's ill," I thought, "women (and men!) with caring responsibilities have got no hope!" Bemused, yet frustrated, I vowed to change those bits of the world that I could, but didn't really know how I could achieve this.
It was against this backdrop that, a few weeks after this exchange, I was approached by a Women's Equality Party member, shortly after the launch of its policy statement in October 2015, to review how the Women's Equality Party (WE) could meet the needs of businesses in my local area of London. "Great", I thought, "I'm finally changing the world - starting with East London." At that point, I wasn't a member of the Party. But then I discovered that WE is a 21st Century Party fully committed to promoting flexible working for all so that women in particular (but men too!) could have choose to join the workforce whilst still enjoying a work-life balance.
How could I not get involved?
As time went on, I discovered that WE had even more practical, groundbreaking policies that are close to my heart:
- Ending sexual violence against women through improving safety on London transport
- Tapping into the charitable sector to promote community cohesion to support the creation of more affordable London homes
- Supporting London-based schools in acknowledging the different learning styles of boys and girls and letting them know that it's OK to make subject choices that don't follow gender 'norms'
...the list goes on.
My life prior to WE didn't involve 'official' politics (I say this, because I believe that we're all involved in 'unofficial politics' - complaining about the lack of cycle lanes in London, signing a campaign against the congestion charge, deciding not to vote in the General London Assembly elections - these are all political choices).
I trained as a barrister 20 years ago and went on to hold high-level legal roles in the public, private and charitable sectors. I chose to work for organisations that were forward-thinking and valued their staff. This enabled me to not only give birth to, but be there for, my four young children - as well as having a varied and challenging career. After having my fourth child, I discovered my entrepreneurial gene and set up what I believe is the first barristers' chambers to cover both the 'solicitor' and 'barrister' aspects of a case from start to finish entirely in-house and at a fraction of the usual price. I also took up governance roles in the education and charitable sectors so that I could influence policy at high level and invest my skills and knowledge back into my local community. So, when my local WE branch asked me to stand as a candidate for the GLA, I was more than ready.
The selection process was rigorous and competitive, but, along with nine other incredible women plus Sophie Walker as the Mayoral candidate, I made it - and am now standing for the GLA elections in May.
Flexible working is just one of the areas of expertise that I contribute to being a GLA candidate for WE. I offer authenticity in relation to the policies I stand for and can genuinely empathise with 'detractors'. For example, I've lived flexible working, not only as an employee, but as a business owner and can testify that fulfilled staff lead to satisfied clients who lead to business success. The formula is very simple, but, in the context of a world where 'putting in time at the office' is a huge driver within organisations, I can relate to the fact that the flexible working formula can also be very scary.
Flexible working is just one example of a policy area in which I hope to bridge the gap between the 'average' man and WE, which I see as a key area WE need to focus on. Some of my favourite people in the entire world are men - my husband and three young sons being top of the list! My message is that WE are not anti-men, WE don't want to see men airbrushed out of society, in fact, WE believe that equality for all will mean a better deal for women AND men.
I want my three sons to live and work in a world that allows them - as well as women like me - to:
- Enjoy work-life balance, thus maintaining their wellbeing and reducing their burden on London's overstretched medical provision
- care for their ageing parents (one of whom will be me!), thus improving the quality of life for the senior citizens of London and using fewer social services resources and
- Use their working time more effectively by working from home - thus reducing congestion on London's roads tubes, trams and buses and improving London's economy by producing more work in less time.
The benefits of flexible working would also mean that more women would be able to work, leading to an increase to the UK's GDP of £2,850 by 2030. Given policies like these that allow women to 'win' without meaning that men have to 'lose', how could Londoners NOT vote for WE?
Having grassroots knowledge and experience of how WE policies can change the lives of all Londoners, I think that I can offer Londoners credibility as well as hope. 'WE and me' are doing politics completely differently. If the people of London vote for WE candidates to sit on the GLA, I know that, one day, when I say to a male (or female) colleague, "Why don't you just work from home whilst you recover from your operation," the answer will be, "I'm already doing that - it'll just be another day at the office for me!"
Isabelle Parasram is a Women's Equality candidate for the Greater London Assembly, and Head of Chambers of Greycoat Law, a legal practice and regulatory consultancy she founded in 2012
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today. Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email email@example.com with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about