Monday, 26 October 2009

Nothing serious

Not sure how I stand in the balance of successful working motherhood today. Two little clinging girls telling me how much they miss me when they are at school make me want to give up the balance altogether. But then spoke to my friend Cathy and fellow working mother, who has been through the most traumatic year, winding up her business and setting up a new freer, more fulfilling, freelance business - and I believe anything can be possible.

Still looking for new childcare - so if anyone out there knows anyone experienced at childcare looking for a job, post me a post!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Do women really want to work?

A new CPS report written by Christina Odone, and based on YouGove research (read it here: suggests very few women want to work full time and truthfully, many working mothers would rather not work at all. (If you read the research also read Mark Easton's analysis of how the research may be skewed here:

Meanwhile, a piece in yesterday's Telegraph by Emily Laurence Baker called Show me the Mummy (frustratingly, I can't seem to link to this for free, though in the paper it is headed in small type "The perils of modern parenting") gives advice on how working mothers can make their children feel loved. Amongst the don'ts it lists that you shouldn't tell your children that you find your colleagues more interesting than children's playgroups - I agree with the sentiment - nor that "your work buys the extras" - ditto. It doesn't however seem to address the issue of what working mothers ought to say to their children about why they work. Is it economics or mental sustenance?

So here is my manifesto. I've probably said it before but I'll say it again. I love my children. I enjoy my work. At the moment, working and being a mother is tricky. There are many areas of incompatibility which make trying to do both a cross between contortionism and juggling. But that is because most work is organised for men, and of course fatherhood doesn't place the same pressures as motherhood does. No one questions why fathers go to work because it is the tradition. And I'm not knocking it! Fathers going to work is good too.

I go to work because I had the good fortune to have one of the best educations available and I think it is pointless to waste this on activity which I can delegate to a very capable person, who also needs and wants work, who enjoys it and wants to do it. And I think I can do this without damaging my children.

Working full time is in many ways easier than working part time - the childcare options are certainly much easier.

I sometimes think I would rather work part time - truthfully, I think everyone would like to work less.

I also believe that if the compatibility of work and motherhood is ever to increase, then ducking out of the workplace because it is a bit hard, or because we get a bit criticised is, well, a bit rubbish to be honest.

If our daughters and our son's wives are ever going to have a hope of being mothers and workers, then we need to stick at it, not worry about the labels, nor the perceived criticisms - and keep trying to find ways to make it easier and better.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Am I happier?

New research suggests working mothers are more hurried, more guilty, probably at work because they enjoy it as much as because they need the money, possibly making their children unhappy, but they are also happier.

I'm going to say a huge HURRAH to that. It's certainly true of me. Work isn't always perfect, and the pressure is sometimes intense. But I enjoy the professional side of my life. Do I enjoy it as much as the mothering side of my life? And if forced to choose, would I choose it? No, and no, of course not.

Perhaps it's because there's an important unvoiced aspect of work/life balance which is the importance of that balance. Work/life needs to be in balance, one shouldn't dominate over the other, but the two are parts of a whole, they support each other. Lose one and the other loses part of its semblance.

Two good friends of mine are annually told by their accountants and sometimes their husbands that they don't have jobs they have paid "hobbies". This is seen as something vaguely comical, like they are being taken in. As though work has no function unless it is linked to high and often disproportionate remuneration.

To me this completely misses the point. Call them paid hobbies or work, to many women, maintaining a professional self is key to the ability to main the "life" self, the ying/yang if you will not just of being happy people but of being happy and capable mothers.

Incidentally, none of these mothers has fat, unhealthy, layabout children. In fact, none of my working mother friends has more unhealthy children than any of my stay at home mother friends - who also incidentally work very hard at many unpaid tasks.


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

We make them fat too

New research ( in the Journal of Epidemiology and Health shows that children of working mothers are much more likely to be couch potatoes and eat junk food. They get driven to school and many eat less than two of their five fresh fruit and veg portions a day.

It's been reported in the Daily Mail, the Times, the BBC. I can feel the guilt weighing on my shoulders - though we never drive to school and there's more fruit and veg at home than almost anything else.

But there's no question that it's tempting to take short cuts when you're tired and overworked, and when most of your friends are just like you, so you all support each other in thinking it's ok, and that it's just once in a while when the healthy snack is replaced by junk - when actually it's all the time. If no one is looking...

But of course it matters. There isn't any point working if children suffer - but actually, there's no reason why children shouldn't have as healthy a lifestyle, irrespective of whether we work.

Though it does take a little extra planning and effort - and it's a little harder than just giving in to every single temptation and bribe that all children long for.

The Blame Game

Research was released today in the UK that "working Mums raise unhealthier children". While I won't get into the details of the research as you can read it yourself at ( or (, it is clear that blaming working mothers for the decline of the health of children (and society in general) is still headline grabbing and popular.

Come on - give me a break!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Top in business but what in families?

Today the FT published a list of what it's panel considers to be the world's 50 most powerful women in business ( It is a daunting list. Sleek hairdos, restrained make-up and pearls a-plenty. I can't imagine many of these women packing school lunches at 6.00am, or coaxing a four year-old into lacy socks, or texting during their children's open assembly at school.

Do I admire these women? Absolutely - I more than admire them. I see them, and the thousands of other women in positions of power and emerging corporate power around the world as an absolute necessity in balancing a workplace which is too dominated by male values.

But I wonder how many sacrifices they made along the way?

Working Mother UK is currently running a survey to understand better the needs and pressures facing high achieving working mothers. We've had almost 40 responses so far - and almost 50% of these have said they feel guilty about not being a full time mother.

The majority also believe they are more efficient at work because they are mothers - and only marginally less efficient as mothers because they work.

But the emotional pressure is still huge.

My eldest, who is only seven, has been crying a lot recently. A friend - another mother of a child at her school - told me that she'd been crying in assembly. When I asked her why, she said it was because her little sister was all alone, and had been looking around as though she were looking for me, and couldn't see, and looked like she was about to cry.

Today we went swimming. I organise their swimming lessons so they both swim at the same time - and so do I. She went off with her teacher, and as I watched, she burst out crying. So I went over to her and asked what was wrong, and all she could say was, I don't want to swim on my own, I miss you so much mummy.

I hugged her hard - and sent her off to her lesson, which she really enjoyed.

But that isn't the point. The point is that the pressure on working mothers and their children is enormous. I don't blame employers, I think the reasons are far more subtle and fundamental.

The same survey is showing that most mothers don't feel that having a child has affected their career prospects - except in terms of salary - so blaming employers is not on.

But the pressure is on.


Thursday, 24 September 2009

Hairy legs

What is it still about women and hair? Hurrah that it's now ok for a size normal model to go down the catwalk but Gwyneth Paltrow can't have a few downy blonde hairs without causing a scandal in the LondonLite ( Now I'm not defending her. Nor am I going to pretend that she's a working mother like anyone who commutes five days a week and blogs when midnight is approaching and the whole of the family is asleep. But I'm glad she has more to fill her days than mindless shaving and waxing when she's just popping out for a bite with Chris!

I want to quote Miranda in that "memorable" scene in the SATC movie, where the four of them are sunbathing in Mexico and Samantha is aghast at Miranda's bikini line. Tolerance for body hair is second nature when the day to day is dominated by the demands of a big job and a little person.


Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Outsourcing The First Day of School

Ok, I admit it - I outsourced my child's first day of school to my husband. Just, to clarify, she is only going 3 mornings a week and she is not yet 3, so while it is not perhaps the first "official" day of school it is the first time she has been on her own in that type of setting.

As my husband's works for himself and from home, he takes the lead on the day to day childcare and I coordinate the movement of the troops. But, this time, the planning was different. I began to feel dread and perhaps a twinge of guilt about the upcoming "first day".

How was I going to do this and how would she feel about Mama not being there? How would my husband feel about being the only Dad at the school gate? What would the other parents think? What would the teachers think? What would my Mom think?

As I was working myself into a frenzy, I asked my beautiful, happy, brown eyed daughter who she would like to take her to school on Monday. She smiled and answered "Daddy". I am not sure if I felt relief or regret, but her eyes certainly lit up when she saw Mama standing at the gate at the end of the first session.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Take this survey

It's all too easy to make assumptions about what working mothers are like, what they find challenging and what they want from their work and home life. So we've created a survey to learn more about this under-represented group.

If you're a career working mother and you'd like to take a survey, click on this link. It takes about five minutes.

Post a note on this blog post if you have any difficulties. This programme usually works with absolutely no glitches - but can sometimes be challenging.


Sunday, 20 September 2009

Officially too much

It's officially become too much. Am looking forward to the densest week of the year - somehow, somewhere, amongst all the work commitments, I have to sort out an assessment for my daughter at a new school, a pension conversation with a SIPP advisor, a new nanny to replace pregnant-nanny-who-is-returning-to-Dorset-after-eight-months and a party for my four year old and his friend.

I groaned when one of my oldest friends invited me to a birthday party on Saturday night for her boyfriend who is turning 40. First thought, childcare. Second thought, am too tired. Third thought, do I go on my own for a bit whilst other half stays in as locum nanny? Fourth thought, when did I become so old?

Clearly a long time ago, all those years ago when I myself turned 40.

Cannot believe I have a close friend who has a toy boy.


Monday, 14 September 2009

Working mum success lessons from The Apprentice

Margaret Mountford, ousted from The Apprentice to take up a librarian position, was profile in Saturday's Times( cheerily inviting women to "hang in there" in order to get to the most senior positions, at the same time deploring women's expectations for wanting "exceptional" treatment during the early childbearing years.

It's a piece that makes you think. I was first struck by how tough the 56 year old has probably had to be in order to achieve what she has. The European vice president of one of my clients, America's largest rental car business, has always observed how much tougher senior women can be on aspiring women, and Margaret Mountford is a wonderful example of that.

Achieving seniority in the breakthrough years of women in the senior workspace, her exhortation for women to be tough tells us as much about what she has learnt was required during her generation as what is needed now. Her advice is given as much in our interests as it is indicative of her outlook and historical place in the evolution of the modern workplace.

I tend to agree with her about the positive discrimination - all discrimination is wrong, however well intentioned. The truth is that EVERYONE, men and women, at all levels, should be allowed flexibility in their career in order to care for those for whom they are responsible without being penalised in the careers.

I sold my business in 2007, and for the two or three years leading up to the sale, my business partner and I had strangely parallel if inverse lives. I cared then and still for my two children, now seven and four. She still cares for her mother, now in her 80s and living in sheltered accommodation, as well as a disabled elder brother in his 60s. She herself is in her 50s and chose not to have children.

Truthfully, there were times when my business partner required greater flexibility to visit respite homes and discuss her brother's welfare with various social workers across London than I ever required to care for my children.

I also agree with Mountford that women should "hang in there". I've written before that we should do this for our daughters, and our sons, who hopefully will find a more humanitarian workplace, shaped to the needs to people, when they get to an age where they need to work.

I suspect where I disagree is in fundamental principles. I think business as well as public and third sector organisations should evolve, flex and change to the needs of people, not force people into compromises, unneccessary choices and sacrifices which can put at risk the welfare of those, young and old, who require unconstrained protection.

We invented businesses - we can change them. In fact, we have the responsibility to change how businesses operated for the good of everyone as innovation, technology and discovery leads us to discover new and better ways to do what is required. And I believe that we will change them, as long as women do "hang in there" and make our positive contribution felt.

Business is the weaker for the absence of strong, experienced women in senior roles. I see it around me everyday.

If businesses do discriminate positively to ensure women stay in the workplace, it is as much for their own sake as that of the women themselves.

It just struck me, crass as it is, that care is also in career. The two should not and need not be in conflict.


Monday, 7 September 2009

Sexism in the City

A new report today from the Equality and Human Rights Commission reveals extraordinary levels of inequality between men and women employed in London's financial centre, the City.

On one level, it is hardly news. For 20 years, the media has been awash with stories of discrimination, sexism, offences to women in the workplace, the glass ceiling - and of course, the inequity of pay. This is not a new story, but what is news is the extent of the discrimination - women on average paid just under £3000 for a bonus, their male equivalents paid just under £15,000. That is some pay gap.

In the Telegraph, Melanie McDonough opines that there are many reasons apart from sexism why men in the City earn more than women - for example, personal choice. The choice to move away from a fair remuneration and rights in the workplace to a third of the reward because of the choice to have children ( She also refers to the pure testosterone required of the highest "sensible" City risk-takers and how this was not consistent with - well, being feminine I suppose.

Now whilst I don't disagree in principle with everything she says, I think there is a more fundamental basic principle at play, which should focus on results. If women perform the same tasks and produce the same outputs of men, they should be paid the same amount of money. If they outperform men, they should be paid more. If they require flexible working, and they opt for a less challenging job, then there should be new, equal benchmarks for pay and output. Calculating both remuneration and targets on a pro rata basis is not brain surgery. It seems possible.

If we excuse the inequality by claiming that women opt for less demanding jobs, or don't take such good risks - though risk taking and financial markets hardly seems like a good match at the moment - or lack the correct hormones, we're missing a vital point. These should be choices that women make from a base of equality, not on the supposition that their lot is to have less.


Thursday, 3 September 2009

Mummy time

I am desperately concerned that I may have fallen out with a very dear friend over four year old birthday cake. She's the mother of one of my daughter's best friends at school and we're organising a joint birthday party this year.

The thing is, there's this tradition at their school that they take cake for the class on or around their birthday - and this friend wanted us to do this jointly too.

Now a joint party is one thing, but the idea that someone else was going to be providing my daughter's cupcakes for her birthday was just too much. I felt the small purlieu which is the zone where I am a mummy shrinking irreversibly from beneath my feet. Making cakes for birthdays, school fetes and christmas is sacred territory in my role as mummy. I rarely buy the cakes - they must be home made.

I know the friend meant to be kind but the most immediate emotion I felt in response was extreme threat. I felt terrible for refusing the offer of shared cake - but I had to say no.

The thing that makes it worse is that she is a fellow career working mother, a devoted lawyer who herself stays up until past midnight making cakes when duty calls.

Polling views amongst other working mothers I find a similar attachment to the small rituals which assert our enduring role as mother despite our collective decision to partner motherhood with a career. Whether it's polishing shoes, sewing name tags, writing thank you cards - or making cakes - working mothers seem to be attached to small usually domestic symbols which evidence our role as prime nurturer, and which are precious beyond any rational explanation.


Saturday, 22 August 2009

Sole income earner mother pressure

It was my mother-in-law's birthday today. Three of her sons, with wives and children, gathered at her house for a surprise party organised by her husband. With six children and eight adults in a small courtyard, it felt small but convivial. It was a lovely party and we all had fun. The children ran and played hide and seek, the parents drank warm sparkling wine and talked. What could be better.

Both my sister-in-laws are currently sole income earners in their homes. One hopes this is a temporary situation, the other is resigned to the fact that the role have permanently switched in her home, and that she will need to sustain the household moving forwards whilst her husband cares for the home full time.

I say resigned, though I saw absolutely no evidence of resignation in her behaviour today, not in that of her family. On the contrary, she was exuberant.

Today, she was just back from a 12 day trip in Sweden and Holland, filming an advertisement for a Turkish company. She was tired but ebullient. She had missed her children, and literally couldn't keeep her hands off either of them, nor indeed her husband, who she inspected "like a gorilla", according to my brother in law. She was clearly delighted to be home. But she also admitted to having a great time on her trip, staying up till 1 am after spending the evening with clients and agency colleagues, then coming back to the hotel for late night preparation and e-mails. In her own words, it had been fun.

At the same time, her husband was on good form too, as were her smiley, happy children, who couldn't get enough of their mother but didn't seem at all affected by her absence.

It struck me how liberating it can be when the roles are completely reversed, and as a working mother, you effectively have a "wife" - as function not as gender - ensuring everything is running efficiently and with the love of a parent.

It worries me sometimes that the two working parent model of today is not sustainable. Is it really possible to buy in the support that is required at home when both parents work, or does the nanny/housekeeper solution always end up as a compromise? Do the both or one of the parents inevitably have to pick up a significant extra workload once the day is finished to keep everything at home in order, and everyone happy?

I've often thought that having a "wife" - again, function, not gender - who runs the home as well as a husband who works like I do and dips in and out of home life would actually be the ideal.

It's not the first time that I've wondered how manageable it is having both parents working, and the unknown damage we may be causing on the way, not least to ourselves.

But then I firmly believe this will be the model for the future, and that it's important for me to be role model to my daughters and to some extent, join with other working mothers as pioneers, figuring out how to best make the balance work in the interests of all.


Monday, 17 August 2009

More women graduates finding jobs than men

Last week the story was that most women don't like a female boss. Today, the Higher Education Statistics Agency published research saying that female graduates are more likely to get jobs than their male counterparts (

In principle, I don't suppose it would be unreasonable to imagine that if there are more female graduates going into employment, there are also more likely to be more female managers and directors (aka the boss - the unpopular, female kind) within the next one or two decades.

I'm not entirely convinced that reality will bear out this apparent logical solution, not least as the research doesn't identify the type of employment so many more women than men have managed to find. It is very possible that whilst there are more women in the workplace, the bulk of the most senior and best remunerated roles - especially at board level - will still be dominated by men.

But it does raise a question about the long term future of women and of course mothers in the workplace, once women begin to outnumber men across all echelons, especially in management roles.

We may not be popular as managers - but if there are more of us, than either the concept of being a boss will need to evolve - which I believe is likely in any case, and is indeed already happening - or women are going to need to adopt new behaviours, which I think is less likely.


Saturday, 15 August 2009

Women prefer a man at the helm

New research from ( found that two thirds of women employees prefer a man to be the boss claiming they had more authority, were straighter-talking and better at making decisions than women equivalents.

I find this research depressing on one level but not surprising and actually, very interesting. Through my working life I have come to the conclusion that the attributes of a "boss" within a "business" typically play to male strengths and behaviour preferences. In playing this role I think women often have to change behaviour and adopt attitudes, characteristics even dress codes that are more male than female. They become "men in drag", playing a male role, and not surprisingly, not doing it as well.

Add into this equation the factor of being a working mother, and it's hardly any surprise that so many career and senior working mothers appear to default out of the conventional, "boss-oriented" culture into entrepreneurial, consultant and sole trader pursuits, often in partnership with other women.

This leads me to the conclusion that for women to flourish in the workplace, to realise their potential and achieve their career goals, the perceived roles and the behaviours of "bosses" may need to change. In fact, the very concept of a boss may need to be revised - and thus, of how businesses are structured and managed.


Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Join The Fawcett Society

The Fawcett Society fights against discrimination and equality of pay. It's been recommended to me and I'm going to join it. Clearly much broader than an issue for working mothers but we're part of the same battle.


The nanny has a vandal boyfriend

Calls before 7.00 am are never good news.

This morning it was the nanny, gasping for breath, barely able to get the words out, tears choking her throat.

She had spent the night being harrassed by unknown bullies who had rung her doorbell repeatedly, used verbal abuse and shouted in the street. Remember she is pregnant. She panicked but acted wisely. Called her mother, called the police.

And in the morning when she went downstairs she found her car had been keyed all over the bonnet, roof and sides, with more terrible language. The police say the car is probably a write off.

No question of her coming in to work today, as she spent the day with forensics teams and statement takers - and doctors.

She's been signed off for seven days, her blood pressure raised by undue stress.

The worse thing of the whole dreadful situation? She suspects her boyfriend was the vandal and aggressor.

What happens when the carer needs caring for? That is a terrible question and one that our current society does not know how to reply to very well.

I am torn between feeling huge compassion for someone who I like and wish to protect, and also thinking in horror and selfishness at my own situation. Seven days without childcare, the prospect of unknown emergency nannies trooping through my home and taking charge of my children - and long term what? How can I believe that I can or even should put pressure on this poor girl, on her own in a small flat in a not very good area, with a vandal for a boyfriend, and 16 weeks pregnant? What right do I have to rely on someone who needs protection and help?

So what do I do? I'm a working mother. My children need protecting too. They have a right to consistent care. My life is a knife edge of organisation and planning. It is a house of cards. Today it feels like a large supporting bracket has crumbled and the roof is hanging by a few rotten timbers. The whole thing may collapse in minutes. How am I supposed to cope? And what am I supposed to do?

Anyone - help!


Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The nanny is pregnant

Those followers who are friends will know that 2009 has been a bad year for nannies in my family.

I had the overpaid mad Polish nanny who had worked for the celebrity parents, who didn't stop talking, couldn't listen, shopped for doorknobs and bags when she was supposed to be looking after my children, and left me in the lurch for a week through the unusual late Winter/early Spring snow that we enjoyed this year because she misbooked her plane tickets to Poland.

After a painful and expensive dismissal process (I paid her off so she could find another job) I recruited the lovely English nanny from Devon who said she was an experienced sole charge nanny. Turned out that she had helped out a mother in North London for a few months and that she had very little experience of either the scope of work of a full charge nanny or the confidence that is required in decision-making when you are a full charge nanny.

She doesn't seem to grasp that as well as picking up my kids from school, feeding them and giving them a bath, the little things like making beds that don't look like they've been put in a blender first, brushing my eldest daughter's mane every evening and cutting toe nails before they turn into claws is her job too. And how does she managed to leave in the evening saying everything is FINE even when my youngest was raging with a 41 degree temperature? Why am I the only one who seems to notice when my children are ill, when their skin is flaring with eczema, when they need new toothbrushes, haircuts - all the paraphernalia of looking after a child?

I once came home and the previous trained, experienced nanny said that my two year old had a tummy ache and a cough.

She left in a rush. I listened to my daughter and got the impression that she was having trouble breathing.

I asked her what was wrong.

She said she had a tummy ache.

I asked her to point to where it hurt.

She pointed to her chest.

The emergency doctor immediately put her on antibiotics and an inhaler, and told me to take her to A&E if her breathing didn't settle.

What if I hadn't come home that night? The trained, experienced, expert nanny thought she had a tummy ache when she couldn't breathe.

This is a rant, I know everyone makes mistakes. I know I sound bitter and I want to apologise for this.

But I've had some bad experiences and I would love to know how to avoid this in future.

I've come to the conclusion that the main issue in recruiting nannies, especially for middle income career mothers like me (that means, not the £1m per year corporate lawyers and bankers) is that for A type, OCD, detail attentive obsessives who are very capable at the domestics, delegating the daily management of our children and their affairs to nice girls who become nannies because they like hanging out with kids is an explosive cocktail.

I find nannies are generally undomesticated, and know little about domestic duties. They generally have little experience of what it means to act professionally and the expectations which professional parents have of people who sell themselves as trained, experienced and expert in their field. I see little evidence of any real ambition or drive to move on in their field, and thus, any real desire to learn, to impress, to excel.

For the top nannies, career prospects are impressive.

But most nannies seem to be just filling time before finding a husband and having their own kids, or moving on and travelling.

And of course, the combination of a hyper obsessive detail focused mother like me and an amiable unfocused nanny who cannot comprehend who I am and how I feel is - the ultimate frustration.

So this week my nanny announces that she is pregnant. I am really pleased for her. She doesn't really get the job but she's a lovely girl and I can't help but feel maternal towards her.

Actually - she doesn't announce that she is pregnant.

Her boyfriend calls on Saturday and tells us on her behalf. He has been telling her that she needs to tell us - and she is too frightened to do so. He gets irritated and frustrated, takes our number and takes the initiative himself - but without telling her.

Now I must admit that one side of me thinks thank you for taking the initiative. The other thinks this behavious is moderately high handed. But then - she is carrying his child and he is right, we need to know that she will need to take it easy, that she may need time off to see doctors and have check ups, that we need to make accommodations.

Overall I came to the conclusion that I thought that he was high handed and that she was a child. Or choosing to behave like a child, at least.

Instead of someone that helps, supports and takes the burden from me - I have ended up with a third child. Who is now having a child and is planning to move back home to be close to her mother, so that she can have help when she herself is a mother. Which is a very wise move because actually, she doesn't really know what being a mother entails.

I am pleased for her and I feel sympathy for her. I think that she will be a great mother. But now I have to recruit again, disrupt my children's relationship again and help them to re-establish a new bond.

It is hard and makes me feel extra guilt.

Anyone with any ideas on how to recruit, brief and manage the perfect nanny?

Please help!


Thursday, 6 August 2009

TUC to debate if high heels should be banned

Now this is the thing - I am not a tall person. It so happens that I am also a reasonably fashion savvy person who prefers how she looks in high heels than in flat shoes for many outfits. But being not a tall person and also not an altogether thin person, combined with some fashion sense, I have always erred towards preferring high heels.

So I am a little taken aback by today's report from the TUC which has been extensively and ambiguously covered in today's media. It is being reported that the TUC's Working Feet and Footwear report - - is advising companies not to have policies which oblige women to wear high heels. But apparently, the TUC is also planning to debate whether there should be a national policy that women should only wear one inch heels to work. Now this is cause for concern indeed.

What a remarkale amount of media this report has garnered! Good for the TUC though. Those companies - ranging from City banks to fashion stores to airlines - who tell women what to wear on their feet should reconsider. In fact, isn't there too much obsession with dress codes all round? Surely we live in more liberal times.

As for me - even when I walk my children to school I am still loathe to put aside my high heels. What would traditional feminists say of me? I'm not sure I care. I like high heels and I shall wear them.

I read the piece on my way home from work - and suddenly for no apparent reason I thought about the proposed closure of schools in the Autumn which will be considered as part of emergency measures to control the spread of swine flu. The current policy is that women will be permitted time off work to make provision for childcare should schools be closed. That's useful, for sure, though the options for many women will be very limited and may not be the most savoury nor beneficial for the children.

And what about the unexpected cost of additional childcare? Has the government made provision for that?

The economics of being a working mother are generally very tight, except for the highest earning executives, bankers, lawyers and so forth. I would be interested to know the average salary of a working mother, but I doubt there is much scope for too much emergency childcare. I think that I should write a letter to someone - and encourage friends to pen similar letters to the same or similar people - protesting and requesting that some sort of funding be provided to families where both parents work.

From imposed high heels to imposed school closures, there are many policies which either directly or indirectly complicate and limit the life of a working woman. As for the impact on the life of a working mother, it can be hard to imagine. Challenging and campaigning against all these restrictions and limitations is time consuming and onerous on an individual basis. My perception is that most working mothers learn to pick their battles very, very carefully, and generally allow many unfair impositions to persist because there is not enough energy let alone hours in the day, to fight them all.

The letter that I should write to someone about the funds and the childcare and the swine flu and the emergency school closure will most likely go unwritten.

So thank you, TUC, for picking up a fight on my behalf. Many will say that given all the inequities that working women generally face - and that working mothers in particular face - fighting for the right to choose footwear seems paltry. But at least you're fighting for me.

I will be sad to lose my high heels if companies do one day ban them in the workplace on the grounds of health and safety. But thank you for caring about the little details of my welfare.


Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Harriet Harman plays while big cheese Gordon away

I admire Harriet Harman for using her interim role as leader over the summer recess to push through important aspects of her personal agenda.

What is sad is that she needs to do this in the first place. The idea that the only way that policy can be directed to favour women is when the men are away is depressing and anachronistic.

The fact that her agenda items are marginalised by an all-male cabinet is shocking.

We're almost at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. A hundred years ago women were chaining themselves to railings to get the vote. 100 years on a woman is deputy prime minister and making headlines by dealing with issues which matter to women - but should matter to everyone.

We have come a long way but is it far enough and how will we move further?

A debate on Times Online today is discussing whether feminism has lost its way or merely disappeared under a push-up bra reinterpretation of women's freedoms. Are young women today fully capitalising on the freedoms which the suffragettes and then the women's liberation movement created for them? And do they even realise that there is more work to be done and that there can be no let up? Especially for those women who intend to have children and don't want to be marginalised to a shadowy and sometimes debilitatingly difficult existence as a working mother trying to forge ahead with a senior corporate career?

Alan Sugar thinks it's ok to ask women if they plan to have children in an interview because of the disruption of maternity leave. But what is going to happen to tomorrow's workforce if today's high performing young women, who consistently outclass young men in academic endeavour as well as in the pursuit of work experience and external projects - what if these women are excluded or their role downgraded in the workplace because nature has denoted that they have children?

The battles for today's feminists are much harder. Yesterday's feminists - suffragettes, women's liberationists - were primariy single issue campaigners with one overwhelming goal to change the law, politics or society to remove barriers to women.

The barriers today are much more subtle. Many would say they are invisible, and often because they are about perception and opportunity rather than fundamental right to access. We can vote, get jobs, study, control our sexuality - what are we fighting for now?

As the campaign has become nuanced so it has become diffuse - hard to articulate and thus hard to martial support for.

It is ironic that the symbol of the women's liberation movement was the burning of underwear. In a Times article today Janice Turner argues that "feminism has never had it so bad. Britain is riven with porn culture and a generation is in thrall to a sexist agenda".

She makes many good points but the article collapses in how the argument is threaded together to my mind. As with the burning of the bra, women's clothing and appearance has always been a feminist issue. Today it is being interpreted to mean that we can choose to be overt or covert about our sexuality. Our right to sit in a board room and wear high heels and fishnets whilst being respected for our views. Arguing that women can only be taken seriously as feminists and support the feminist cause if they are drab or plain - to quote "[Natasha Walter's] main handicap as a feminist is her excessive prettiness" - is not to get away from the fact that appearance should be irrelevant and should not be a weighing factor in opening or closing opportunities or access to women, politically, socially or economically.

I should be able to care about handbags and direct foreign policy or run a multi-national. The same way that many men care about golf and rugby and somehow manage to run the country too.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Have been suffering from dizziness since Monday every time I move and after succumbing to a visit to the doctor today, discovered vertigo is common to women of my age.

Feel life is trying to send me a message here, vertigo of course being so compatible with a lifestyle featuring two children under the age of seven and a full time job as chief officer of a communications company.

Two very good articles in the Times today. Alice Thomson writing about why career advice to needs to make young women aware not only of the realiities of a career but also of working life as a mother (ttp:// and an article by Vanessa Lloyd platt (http://http// on whether life as a high flying legal mum is just too hard. Both worth a read, for ourselves, and for those of us with daughters.


Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Working mother suicide

The headline blasts my eyes from the front page of tonight's London Paper: Suicidal Mother's Final Text An inquest today has ruled that a successful lawyer, a working mother with three daughter's, a year younger than me, committed suicide by throwing herself into the Thames at Richmond. The reason given - she was struggling to balance a career with family life. She was believed to have been perhaps suffering from post-natal depression.

I am at a loss to understand any of this.

Here is a tragedy indeed. I read the story torn between pity and horror.

A depressed woman, struggling, unhelped? It beggars belief.

A mother of three children preferring death? I cannot encompass this in a thought. It is too much to process.

Things come to mind. Toni Morrison writing about slaves who killed their children rather than see them be taken in slavery. More unthinkable information.

And today, a woman is so overwhelmed by emotions I cannot pretend to understand, and prefers to annihilate herself. I struggle to see this as a selfless act and yet I want to. I cannot believe that she could see beyond herself, blinded by her depression and its mental and physical anguish.

I look at the picture and she is a million working women that I know. And yet buried under a depression so deep that she cannot take a further step on this earth and chooses to plunge to her death.

How can this degree of pain and illness pass undetected?

I am not a religious person but a prayer comes to mind. God grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.

I pity Catherine Bailey. I am aghast at her act. I pray her children will find a way to understand and forgive their mother, and that their lives will not be affected by this act.

Though I wonder if that is possible.


Social mobility is a question of parenting too

I came home from this week-end after two weeks of sun-filled bliss to weekend papers raging with the depressing findings of a new report from the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, Unleashing Aspiration. The main conclusion? That the millennium pretty much brought to a close the period of unprecedented social mobility which enabled me to aspire to become an entrepreneur in my 30s and a chief officer in my 40s having started out life as going to school on an assisted place because my family lacked the money to send three children to good schools. It turns out that the future for my daughters is much bleaker.

Now, as I have a 20 track record in PR I am familiar with the campaigning formula where you create a report with really, really bad news and you get all the middle class papers wringing their hands about it. It works every time. So I'm not panicking yet.

Having said that, the editorials did raise significant cnocerns, given I have two young daughters. What do I do to help them avert the seemingly unavoidable fate of slipping down the economic ranks?

In the Sunday writer Andrew Martin exhorted parents to be pushy. Get them to switch off the computers and TVs and do stuff. Push, push, push.

But here's the thing. How did I really benefit from social mobility? Was it because my mother was pushy? Was it because I went to an independent school? Was it because I did music classes? Was it all of the above? I don't know. But one thing I do know was that growing up with a single parent working mother, she was too busy to do most of the stuff that mothers who don't work get time to do for their kids, and this means, I had to do it for myself.

There was no cotton wool for me, no spoon feeding. And I wonder if that isn't the point? My upbringing made me realise the only person who was going to do anything for me - was me. And I'm grateful to my mum for that.

Research amongst recruiters shows that today's Millennials - or Generation Y - are much more dependent on their parents. They live at home longer, their parents write their CVs and covering letters, they even call up prospective employers and turn up at the interviews.

Many corporate induction programmes now engage with parents as part of the recruitment of graduates. That's graduates, not 16 year old school leavers. People with degrees.

In today's Metro, there was another survey, this time from the much less exalted Fruit Shoot, an organisation that doesn't benefit from having Alan Millburn as its chairman. Another PR tactic - but it works!

Entitled "Girls skip games" it reads "Traditional playground games are dying out thanks to Britin's growing 'cotton wool culture'. Just 24 per cent of schoolgirls regularly use a skipping rope and 37 per cent of boys play conkers."

Maybe social and economic conditions will mean that it will be much harder to aspire to high social mobility in future. But I wonder to what extent it's down to parenting and education and the "hot-housng" of our children which is increasingly the norm for the middle classes. Endless ferrying to "activities" that leave little scope for the imagination or the expression of personal will and desire, overwhelming surveillance, over-caution.

To my mind, there is absolutely no doubt that anyone who aspires to high upward mobility is going to have to prepared to take some risks, a few leaps of faith. But if everything you've ever done has required the encouragement, goading, reminder of a pushy parent - will you be prepared to do it? Will you even be capable of it?

I hope so. I fear not.


Monday, 27 July 2009

Holiday kids clubs

Holidays are fraught for working mother guilt. I never take childcare because of course, holidays are when you reassert yourself as the one and only mother. But of course that means I become the childcare on holiday. Does everyone have children who see going to the toilet as a source of amusement or is it just me? On a 13 hour flight back from my holidays the whole plane must have thought I fed my children nothing but fruit and liquids. Still. I now know there is only one way to holiday guilt-free and without childcare - the magical land of the kids club. The quality of the kids club is going to be the sole hotel selection criteria moving forwards and I can strongly recommend the facilities at La Residence ( It was the first time my children actually asked to be taken to the kids club - more heavenly than the spa!


Always after 10

In almost any nation, almost anywhere in the world, I would bet that the secret life of the working mother begins after 10. Work finished, children in bed, hopefully settled, husband fed, sometimes by his own hand, hopefully sated. Everything tidied, notes left for the childcare, the cleaner, the window cleaner. Blackberry checked one final time (almost last time that is - what's midnight for after all?). Then it's out with the computer and on with connecting around the world. If only we really did all connect with each other, working mothers might actually feel less alone! Of course I can hear everyone say, stop with the complaining already, it's not only working mothers. Ah yes. But do you choose to order next term's uniform after 10? I doubt it. And were you woken up not once not twice but three times by your jet-lagged children? Also - I doubt it. Of course, you're thinking. Jet lag. Means holiday. Means far away location. Means not such a bad life after all.

And you would be right.


Saturday, 14 March 2009

Good News

I am happy to report that last night Supernanny prevailed and order has been restored amongst the chaos. My faith in the future after the "terrible twos" has been re-newed.

Currently, naptime is underway and I am enjoying the peace, quiet and sunshine. Enough of that - back to the list of chores!

Friday, 13 March 2009


Whew! Only took 38 minutes to put "the girl", a toddler to bed...not too bad. It is usually a bit easier but was out two nights for business meetings this week and didn't get to tuck her in so the routine between us was broken and she wants to stay close to Mama.

Thank God she is not like the brat on Supernanny tonight!!! It is almost like watching The Exorcist. Is this what I have to look forward to in the future? The Mother is out of control, not being consistent and the 9 year old daughter is very unlikeable. I think the commentator just described her behaviour as vicious. I am not sure the "reflection room" is working???

Now, only 2 more loads of laundry tonight, a bit of blogging and email catch up and then the weekend with "the girl" and "the husband" can begin. What will we do on a rare weekend when my husband is not working? Will we go to the zoo, a walk in the park, shopping?? I only have a mediation brief and one MD to sort out before 8:00 am on Monday.

Another breakfast when I wheedle, cajole, plead and eventually shout at my three year old to get her to eat quickly enough so we can get to school. The school run never gets any easier. I love doing it but the stress of making three beds, dressing one child, feeding two, empting a dishwasher, making breakfast and putting at least some effort into my appearance so I'm presentable for work is sometimes too much. Thank heavens for growing up! I keep thinking it will get easier. Then of course we step out of the door, the spring morning is mild and chill against my face, there's a hint of light which may be sun, and then we're walking across the gorgeous park, avoiding dogs, looking for wriggly worms and discussing the day ahead. The child who wouldn't eat is suddenly laughing and singing in her Iggle-Piggle hat, zooming off on her schooter. That's why I love it.