ASKING FOR CHANGE
‘Be practical and thoughtful in your application for flexible working,’ say Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine, career experts, mums, and authors of Step Up – Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day (£12.99, Vermilion). ‘Don’t just ask for what you want, but really think about how it works for the role that you have. How does it work for your team or your clients; ask yourself how things will happen when you’re not there. You might think in theory that you can log on at home for three hours every single evening, but is that realistic?’
Also, they advise, ‘Don’t be afraid of talking about your strengths – what you’ve brought in the past and what you’re prepared to bring in the future. We advocate doing this even before you go on maternity leave – so you really cement in your employer’s mind what you’ve achieved and why they need you. Rather than slowly winding down, make time to have a proper meeting with your boss. You’re then in a strong position when you come back to say, “Do you remember that conversation we had? I’m still bringing all of that, I just want to bring it in a little more flexibly now.”’
After the birth of her son Oscar, Phoebe returned to work as operations manager for a restaurant group, and had her request for flexible working granted after showing how she’d manage her days. ‘I’m totally on it at work, so I’m trusted to get the job done,’ she says. ‘I’m paid for three days but work 10am to 4pm, spread over four days, so that nursery runs are relaxed and I still get a lunch hour. A shorter working day means time to do boring errands before I’m at my desk, which eases the pressure of doing them all on my day off with Oscar.’
TACKLING ANY DOUBTS
But there’s more to an attractive flex pattern than a life-admin window, especially when most of our salary is servicing a huge childcare bill. Nobody should have to downgrade their skills or salary to do work that works for the family, yet a poll by workingmums.co.uk reveals 65 per cent of mums are less likely to ask for a pay rise if working flexibly. This indicates that flexi options are still viewed by mums as a generous bonus, rather than a mutually beneficial business decision. If mums are to make any headway in closing the gender pay gap, we need to negotiate on flexi options.
Alice and Phanella say that dips in confidence are common for returning mums, but can be overcome by reviewing what you achieved at work pre-baby and how you’ve added to these skills by becoming a mum. They urge you to dismiss any stigma of flex in your head and speak up for what you want and what you’re worth. Ask to be treated like anyone doing the same work, regardless of whether you’re doing a bit less of it, or at a different time. ‘The bonus is on companies to value the work without any kind of bias, but part of that responsibility is with us, too.’