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.


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