Many bosses would think I was taking the mick. Asking for a job where you can rock up, after four years off, demanding to go part-time and only do school hours. Oh yes, and if you don't mind I might not be in at exactly 9 on the dot as I have to do a school and nursery drop off - but I will be leaving fairly promptly at 3 to pick my darlings up. On top of that I want to feel like a valued member of the team, and I don't want to be paid the minimum wage. Also, I hope you don't mind me talking about my children in the office every so often. It's just they're quite a big part of my social life now and it would be odd to pretend they don't exist. It did feel like a big ask, and I was really quite gobsmacked when my new boss agreed to my terms - and agreed happily.
You might have guessed I don't work as a lawyer, a banker, in finance, in the city, or even as I once did as a journalist. Let's not mess about, it must be near impossible to achieve this sort of work/life balance if you do. To do my old job comfortably the easiest option would be to get a live-in nanny or au pair, or someone who could be at my house at 8am and leave at say 7pm after either me or my husband had finished our commutes. My husband and I could then both continue our competitive, challenging and hugely enjoyable jobs, and hopefully move up the ranks and pay scale - or at least I could hope to.
The week before I re-started work the papers made pretty dire reading. A report by the Equality Commission showed that 54,000 women a year may face discrimination at work due to pregnancy. FIFTY FOUR THOUSAND! The term "maternity paranoia" had been coined by a boss who accused his employee of having an over-active imagination when she complained a colleague was getting credit for her work. An employment tribunal agreed her fears were founded and awarded her a substantial sum. I discovered an actual website - pregnantthenscrewed.com - where women can go and vent their anger at their experiences. For someone who's had a four year career break that is a pretty bleak insight into the working world.
Here's where I stand. If I went back to my old job after four years away it would be wrong to expect to go back on a level footing with my old contemporaries. They are now more experienced than me - something I have to rightfully accept. That said I should not be overlooked. I am just as competitive, and capable, as I ever was. In fact I have a renewed hunger to succeed - to set an example especially to my daughter - and a new confidence in my abilities (I've just spent four years multi-tasking, networking, blue sky thinking, anger managing, on little sleep and not even stopping for a private loo break - I can do anything).
Here is where I believe it gets tricky. If I go part time I will miss important meetings that happen on my day(s) off. I may get a representative to cover, but I will not build the personal relationships with the clients that was developed in that meeting room. They may well then contact my representative rather than me. Am I delegating work, or missing out on opportunities? Then the colleague who covered for me may start getting all the good, interesting cases because they were there when I was not - but isn't that discrimination? There are all sorts of scenarios that can play out, and the line is really a little blurred. Possible solutions are job shares and flexible working hours, but they are not for everyone.
Here is where it gets annoying. Even with my nanny/au pair option I am unlikely to be able to socialise with my colleagues as much as I used to. Something most will notice, as much as they notice I am pretty promptly out of the door at the end of the day. It may affect our working relationship - hopefully it won't.
Here's the reality - the working world is simply not currently set up for family life. An easy example of this is school and work hours. Schools finish around 3pm, work finishes sometime after 5pm. Unless parents are happy and able to pay for extra care, one parent or both will have to make a career sacrifice.
I believe for there to be equality there needs to be more of an expectation that fathers will be more involved in childcare. The idea that it's a mother's job to pick up an ill child from nursery is a dated one, and attitudes to that in the work place are changing too slowly. Lip service is being paid to the issue. Both Netflix and Microsoft have recently made the headlines by expanding paid parental leave - and Netflix is offering mums and dads as much time as they need after having a child. At the moment dads in the UK are entitled to two weeks' paternity leave paid and can ask for additional leave if their partners go back to work. Not many take it up. If the law did support dads getting more involved from the word go, and make it a financially viable option, then this would lead to more equality later on.
Another thing that would help is more funding for nursery places. Too many parents return to work to find all, or nearly all their income is being used to pay for someone else to do the job they'd most like to do - look after their baby. Maternity leave is generally over after a year at the most, but unless you are on a low income or some form of income support, there's no financial support for childcare until after your child is three. Nurseries do their very best, but from my understanding the amount they get from the government to cover the three plus year olds isn't enough. To cover their costs they often have to put up their prices for the under threes.
So, I'm now back at work. But you decide if I'm a success story or a failure. I spent years making a career for myself in a job I thoroughly enjoyed and I have now turned my back on that, pretty much because of my children. I don't want the commute or the unsocial hours that go with my old job. Now I'm getting my head round a new job, but one that I am happy to say I'm enjoying. I feel incredibly lucky that my boss is both understanding and realistic. Paul's attitude is if you employ the right people they'll get the work done for you whatever the constraints. He's now got a committed, happy, motivated employee. It's a small company offering a personal service, taking time to get to know its clients and its client's wants and needs. I'm grateful they continue that ethos to their employees...whilst still feeling haunted by what's on pregnantandscrewed.