Just over a week ago, I asked people via Instagram for their input in relation to what topics they would like to see discussed. Even though I have a six percent demographic of male viewers, the replies were from all women, writes Lindsay Woods.
What was encouraging however, was the broad range of subjects put forth: Brexit; climate change; finances and budgeting; education, body image etc. Furthermore, people openly held their hands up, admitting that they knew little around certain subjects but would like to expand their knowledge around same.
It was at precisely this moment that I fell in love with Instagram all over again. On a platform that had begun, of late, to rival the QVC channel in the selling stakes, here, was engagement with thoughtful and considered debate. In the last year, the momentum for harnessing social platforms for gaining knowledge and creating awareness has increased considerably. There is a new accessory to style and it is called… substance.
Of the suggested topics, there was one which reoccurred frequently; the difficulties facing women returning to work after having a baby. Specifically, the challenges to perform to peak ability not only within the workplace but also within the home. In brief: ‘We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work.’
In tandem with this, is the societal pressure some women face for choosing not to have kids. Despite the fact we are living longer, smashing glass ceilings and continuing the fight for equality, women are still met with an air of suspicion and disbelief when stating their reasons for choosing not to procreate. In 2019 we are still bearing the brunt of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.
I remember my first day back to work after having my first child. The anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach and the uncertainty as to whether I had, in fact, made the right decision.
I had an incredibly supportive boss, but unfortunately, the framework of the business, like so many others, was not. I was offered a period of reduced hours to ease back in, which I promptly declined. Partly because I knew the timeframe would last for approximately a week before I would fall back into the same routine of long hours, but mainly because I wanted to prove that I could do it. That I could do it all. It was the greatest lie I ever told myself.
What followed was a period of three years where both myself and my husband barely saw each other; we worked opposite days so as to share the childcare and our annual leave was taken independently of one another in order to lessen the burden of scheduling. My husband worked from home one day a week which meant he then consolidated two days into one for the remainder of his week. We were not working any less but it felt like we were wading through mud. Wearing concrete boots.
A year after the arrival of our second child, the wheels came off. It was clear neither of us were happy. We sat down and discussed our options, which were slim. No childcare options were available to us to work around our hours. Our commutes were now longer. We had boxed clever with our finances while working, so we made the decision that I would be the one to leave full-time employment.
Tendering my resignation made me feel like an utter failure, compounded by the ‘Isn’t it grand for you now to be at home?’ remarks. As if I was heading off on an all-expenses-paid, luxury spa retreat. I felt defeated.
That was six years ago. Very little has changed in terms of support for women returning to work after pregnancy. Many companies still have the traditional outlook of equating productivity with presence within the workplace. Consequently, the gender pay gap widens due to women reducing their hours and being unable to advance via promotion etc. as a result of same.
There has been much talk of flexible working hours, yet many companies still retain the traditional mindset of the ‘nine to five’ culture. As a result, we see many women stepping down from positions or leaving the workforce entirely.
In the UK, Anna Whitehouse, presenter, columnist and author; along with her husband, have spearheaded their Flex Appeal campaign. It is one which seeks to overhaul the culture and make flexible working the norm. As she states: “Flexible working is not a fluffy extra. It’s not a ping-pong table in reception. It’s not a ‘bonus ball’, it’s a fundamental shift in the fabric of our working world… flexible working is not just for parents, it is for people.”