to the Altris Blog

The working mother’s dilemma

I am often asked the question, “What do you think is the best option for work after you have a child?”

I don’t believe there is one right answer, however what I have found is that having flexibility when returning to work seems to be the preferred option, with ‘part-time’ being the most common request.

Unfortunately the reality of finding quality part-time roles or organisations where flexibility is the norm, is rare.  Recent Department of Labour research showed an overall 70% of employers having some of their employees working flexibly. However the remaining 30% of employers reported that they did not have any employees working flexibly. The research showed larger employers were much more likely to have none or only a small proportion of staff working flexibly and small firms were much more likely to have all staff working flexibly.

Many professional women spend their time managing perceptions of being ‘part-time’ as being seen as not fully committed, where ‘presenteeism’ is still seen as commitment. The true forward-thinking organisations who are future-proofing their key talent are the ones that focus on output and results as an alternative to time spent in the office.

Being self-employed and one of four Directors, I have the opportunity of flexible working because we as an organisation focus on outputs rather the time you put in.  On returning to work after my third daughter, I worked out that Friday was a day I could commit (90% of the time) to school drop off and pick up and have the day with my youngest daughter, working evenings if and when required.

So perhaps the question isn’t about whether you return ‘part-time’ and strive for the balance of family and career or commit to ‘full-time’ to ensure you don’t fall backwards on career progression.  Perhaps the question is which organisations are future-proofing themselves by focusing on maximising their talent pool by developing a diverse and flexible workforce?

New Zealand organisations need to move away from the choice of career OR family and start to offer a career AND family option.  With over 60% of graduates now being female, organisations need to face this reality or we will simply not have a good pool of high calibre leaders in 10 years’ time.

Unfortunately I continue to hear many stories of highly qualified and successful working mothers who have made the choice to leave their organisation, reduce the level of work they are capable of or do not return to the workforce at all.  For these women it becomes too hard to commit to the demands and expectations of their previous roles and at higher levels of management.

A very successful professional mum I know, who is the only female on the executive team of a multi national company and a mother of three, said to me, “having a career and a family means a continuous cycle of compromise”.  I believe once you understand what the compromise is for you and how to manage what you choose to compromise or not,  the dilemma is no longer a dilemma, but rather the mechanics of how you make it work.

Whatever you choose to do for whatever reason, my tip to you, is love what you do. At the very least, enjoy it.

Leave a comment