Tuesday, 29 September 2009

We make them fat too

New research (http://jech.bmj.com/cgi/content/short/jech.2008.084590v1?q=w_jech_ahead_tab) 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 (http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/rss/article/941798/) or (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0909/09092903), 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 (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/bb9e07dc-a9ba-11de-a3ce-00144feabdc0.html). 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 (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/showbiz/article-23747790-coldplay-gwyneth-paltrows-more-a-razor-light.do)? 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(http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/career_and_jobs/article6830916.ece) 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 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/6148395/Sexism-is-not-the-only-reason-men-earn-more-than-women.html). 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.