‘Flexible Working isn’t an option.’ That’s what my employer confirmed during my maternity. I had to choose, my career or my daughter? I chose my daughter, and paid the price.

When I say I paid the price I want to be clear from the off, I do not and never have regretted choosing my daughter.  Every cuddle, every tear, every moment.  The priceless gift of looking after another life… but why do you have to pay the price financially when it would be so easy to turn 37.5 hours, into 30.

I was very happy at work.  I began working age 14 part-time, 16 full-time, and I barely took a day off in 20 years.  I loved work.  I bought a house, married, and my husband and I knew that it would be likely that I would be the one working whilst he was a stay-at-home dad.  But life doesn’t always work as you planned.

Within a couple of years of my first (failed) pregnancy with my husband, I was single and pregnant with a donor.  I loved my job, was satisfied that I would look after us both and as (what I felt like) a middle aged woman I was happy with my decisions, I worked for a small, very family friendly company, where the two mothers worked around school plays and childcare.  But during my maternity leave my employer informed me that she had sold the company, but I was protected under TUPE.

As soon as I knew I would be a single mum I embarked on a law-degree.  I wanted to improve my long term salary prospects to enable me to ensure that my child did not feel the pinch of being bought up in a single parent family, but this was a long-term plan.  A ten year plan.  Something I would have shied away from in my 20s but when you are working on a new life timescale instead of your own, ten years does not seem that long.

Then came the birth of my child, an unbreakable bond that I could have never have imagined, and I was very lucky, the breastfeeding worked really well from the off.  I had a very happy and content baby, and being single really helped me to be nocturnal with her and it did not matter if we slept at 5pm.  Six months in this was still working well, I had attempted to use a pump and a bottle but this messed up the natural production on demand and I produced too much milk that was painful.  Natural was best and so I just fed her and produced the right amount of milk required.  Too much detail for some I appreciate, but it is relevant, as you will see.

I was happy to return to work, but the new location of my work, with the hours, parking etc would mean that I would need to drop my daughter at childcare at 7:30 and I would have collected her at 7pm, 5 days a week, and a shorter day on a saturday.  I would have seen this child on sundays only.  I asked my employer if I could work in a different branch (parking outside) or work reduced hours.  The cold, firm response was ‘flexible working is not an option, the hours and location are fixed and that is what is required under your contract to meet the needs of the business’.  How could I leave this baby?  She needed me, to feed her, nurture her, care for her, instinctively know if she was okay and cuddle her if she cried.  I knew her nappy cry, her hungry cry, her cuddle me cry, and her I don’t feel so good cry.

I chose my child, I had to choose, I had a strong work ethic, long-term professional development plans and I wasn’t shy of looking for work, so I handed in my notice and started looking for part-time work… oh how naïve I was – I did not know that society constructively dismisses you when you are a mother or penalises you for needing to work in school / childcare hours by paying you peanuts.

Within 12 months I had lost my property, reposessed, I was googling what support was available, I had to learn about benefits and make phone calls whereby I was immediately treated as one of life’s scroungers, I was worrying about the cost of being on hold, I was worrying about everything.  I studied and hugged my child and promised her that I would sort this out, but I did not know how hard that would be…

I found a part-time job.  I had taken a 50% paycut for the privelege of working in childcare hours.  I kept looking for better work, but all of them were really low pay, minimum wage or not much over.  I did do them but this leaves you trapped in relative poverty with the additional stress of school holidays.  I was being forced into a life of benefits, tax credits, housing benefit, debt, loans, payday loans.. all because I could not work for my skillset or salary band for 20 or 30 hours instead of 37.5.  I am pretty peed about this.

I was now a single mum on benefits with poor credit, unable to get further loans, unable to get a secure property, unable to get a decent job, I was paying for expensive properties (the only landlords that would have me!) or mouldy properties, or short-term properties, and so on.  The long-term, average rent, decent properties were let out to those not like me.  For 20 years I never complained about a chunck of my wages going missing into a pot incase I needed it one day.  I was happy that we worked that way.  I knew what it was like not to have an NHS (I had to wire £500 abroad so that my sister could get hospital treatment in my 20’s).  I was happy to chip in to a society that looked after each other.  I was happy to chip in to state school as all my friends had children,  but gosh when you need it people really tear you to pieces and make you feel like the lowest of the low, and it is a hard cycle to get out of!  I turned to pay-day loans for rent deficit and this damage is permanent.

If I accept working part-time for low pay as a permanent solution – becuase I am a mum, I will need tax credits and housing benefit for the duration of being a mum, I will need pension credits when I am older and I will never have disposable income to save a deposit to buy a property, and so will forever pay into somebody else’s estate, or the estate of the Crown.  When my friends enjoy cruises in retirement I will be paying rent until the day I die with no disposable income.  All because I could not continue my career, and my salary, part-time.

I am fortunate that with my entrepreneurial mindset I have created a company and the SMBN to help other women in similar situations, but this is because I have been forced out of the sanctuary of employment, pensions, decent salary, great skillset.  Whilst the SRA allows a 20hr per week training contract this is not realistic in the profession, and so my expectations of entering the legal profession were also naive.

I see so many posts by hundreds of women asking what work they can do in school hours.  I see women sob because they drag their babies out of bed as their employer will not allow flexibility.  I see women stressed on forums because they are breastfeeding and under pressure to move to the bottle so that they can get back to work in a few months.  Women are targeted to work from home for free.  Millions of families in the UK are forced into relative poverty becuase the parent can’t continue his/her career AND be a parent.  It’s all for the sake of a few hours, we don’t all have grandparent childcare.  Families are locked into rental properties.  We have wealthy employers and wealthy landlords because the combination of being able to charge high private rent and pay employees a low wage, because the Gov say it’s okay, but the Gov do not live on this wage or pay this rent.  We have sheep instead of leaders.

It is a very sad state of affairs where a woman is punished for doing the most important job in the world.  Taking care of you.

I’m all for shared parental leave if it works for both parents, but if a woman is nurturing and feeding well then this must be the priority in the first 12 months.  Thereafter we should all be able to work and be parents.  And 15 weeks holiday? Schools all need free summer school.

For now I help women who are forced into self-employment gain exposure to their business, because they are TRYING to make it work, where culture has really let them down, and of course PR budget is an issue with all of the above considered, so they need somebody to help them!

Jules

http://www.singlemumsbusinessnetwork.com

 

 

 

Health scare inspired me to fight for work life in sync with school

It was 2016.  I was just in the process of completing my law degree but I wasn’t feeling well.  A visit to the Dr resulted in a string of tests that identified that my body wasn’t producing enough platelets.  What we had to figure out was why?

Weeks felt like months as the Dr was carrying out tests to my bone marrow – and my brain was going haywire.  We all know that you shouldn’t turn to Dr Google under such circumstances but it was hard not to.  Why is my bone marrow not producing enough platelets I asked?  What I was reading gave me a very real feeling that my life could be under threat, and I cuddled my daughter to sleep with tears streaming down my face, praying that I could do that as long as she needed me to.

During this period of contemplation I was so full of fear; I was so sick with worry that my time with my daughter would be reduced.  I love(d) her so much and I could not bare the thought of leaving, as I’m sure no parent can… I did not care too much for ambition, the degree suddenly seemed worthless, all I wanted was to be with my daughter, every possible minute of every day.  I did not want to miss a cuddle, a tear, a moment of her amazing life.

Finally the news came, I was diagnosed with Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), not great, but not what I feared, and I now had distinct clarity that I would work whenever I could when my daughter was asleep, or in school, but that every other moment was far too precious and the future was so uncertain that I did not want to get caught up in a corporate career, to make us excessively well off, with the high price that I would miss the most important thing in the world to be alive for.  So with a very mild shadow over my life I fight for every moment with my child.  And I fight to work hard every moment that she is otherwise engaged.  It won’t be long before she no longer requires my attention.  And whilst I want to be ‘present’ for her, I also do not want her to struggle, and so I fight, and do all that I can do, without, needing to leave her for too long to do it. .

I will take the occasional early morning, and attend the occasional exhibition, naturally, there needs to be a little give; she is already enjoying more time with her friends and the prospect of a playdate so that mummy can come home late excites her, but that is all it will be for now.  I do not regret a single moment that I have struggled to spend time with her.  I will never regret spending time with my daughter instead of being wealthier sooner.  Health is such a precious thing.  Life can be stolen at a moments notice, and experiencing the reality of a health-scare really helps you to put ambition into perspective.  It’s great to be ambitious, but not if it makes you lose sight of what really matters.  I was going to quit the idea of law altogether, as I had decided that nothing was worth leaving her for, but then I decided to look for part-time legal work, and I ran a FB campaign which paid off, you have to be instrumental in making your work-life work for you, it won’t knock on your door (unless you are connected by privilege) – you have to go and find it.

I celebrate the movement towards work life in sync with school life / flexible working / part-time working, and I always promote the companies that make that possible, as long as it is for a decent wage too.  Wages have not risen in line with true inflation, and the Gov aren’t really dealing with this as they have no first hand experience of it and employers are reluctant to make changes because it is their profits, and so the responsibility is with us, the workforce, to say that ‘I will help you run your business, but you will need to adequately remunerate me, and if you can’t see this then I will have no choice but to work for myself’.  The onus is on us, to say what is no longer acceptable, until eventually people will have to come before profits.

Every person should be able to earn £2K per month for 25hours per week, at least.  That would be in-line with property and bills inflation.

Life is short, treat as you like to be treated, and treasure every precious moment, as we never know when that moment will be our last x

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Employees are Vulnerable. It’s time to step up.

I have been laying awake at night of late thinking about how a significant proportion of society are living in relative poverty, and those of you who are familiar with my blogging will know that I don’t look for things to blog about, I have very little choice in the matter, I lose sleep and the universe will not permit me to sleep again until I say what needs to be said.

Yesterday, Oxfam (via Twitter) very kindly signposted me to their hard work on tackling UK poverty (amongst other things), and perfectly quoted:

‘When a company does not ensure a living wage is paid, the most vulnerable people in its supply chain suffer as a result. This is unfair and unsustainable.’

Source: https://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/our-work/inequality/towards-a-living-wage

Now I do realise that living wage is better than minimum wage and I understand why people are taking baby steps, but then baby steps have not been taken in every other area of inflation and it is time we caught up.  Even living wage is not enough to enable people to live their lives every week, month, year, without worrying about meeting the rent or mortgage, and without being penalised by the banks or utility or insurance companies for having to pay monthly.  You will see my earlier blogs on penalised for being poor and inflation.  There is no quality of life for most people, just look at them in the supermarket, their spirit is dead and they cannot pick anything up without worrying if they can afford to include it in that week’s shop.

I came across this Guardian US tweet the other day, and whilst it is in the US it is absolutely bang on the nail for the issues faced in this country by public and private sector employees.

Please watch it here:  http://singlemumsbusinessnetwork.co.uk/useful-links/4594561112

Many company bosses will convince themselves that they are paying their staff a fair wage, mainly by comparing it with other similar salaries for similar roles, but do you remember your mum saying this ?’If somebody told you to jump in front of a bus would you do it?, no, use your own brain.

Employers must take a greater responsibility for ensuring that none of their employees are stressed about money, especially when it is as a direct result of them putting profits before people. The onus in on employers at the Gov are failing epically to look after their people, they are so out of touch that they are incapable of leading properly, and if you are waiting for them to force you to pay a higher wage then you are failing epically too.  I caught a glimpse of the Martin Lewis Money Show where MP James Brokenshire seemed to be quite chuffed with announcing the minimum wage has increased to £8.21.  (Parliament’s expenses watchdog confirmed the salary for MPs will rise from £77,379 to £79,468 from April 1. It contrasts with welfare benefits remaining frozen for a fourth year in row.  Ministers like Mr Brokenshire get a second salary on top) Now I’m sure he’s a nice enough chap, but ignorance is a very real downside humanity, you cannot lead what you do not understand, just as you cannot teach what you have not learned.

https://twitter.com/SMBN33422746/status/1113337409696149506

I am not interested in excuses.  Please do not pay your vulnerable staff a wage and then pay yourself significantly more, plus a significant bonus (and they really are vulnerable.  The thought of rocking the boat at work fills most people with fear of further poverty or hostility) .  Plus panic buy office equipment at year end to keep profits down and the tax bill low.  It happens everywhere.  You can not tell how much your staff are struggling by looking at them, but I guarantee that anything less than £10 is too little and this has to rapidly increase to £15 or £20 (support staff).

You may ask where this money will come from – if you do, please back it up with your accounts and personal expenditure v what difference the payrise would make to your bonus.  As for public sector pay.  We would all pay more tax, and there would be significantly less need for help, so this swings in roundabouts.

Employees are vulnerable.  Look after them like you would look after your own family, after all, they are helping you run your company.

I think that’s enough to let me sleep..

Although final note, I appreciate the process of working your way up the ladder, but the bottom of the ladder should not be in the gutter, as it currently is.  The only excuse for living wage is supported young / trainee people learning a trade, for a very limited period of time.

I also do not proof read my blogs, I am a passion blogger and I must press send before I read.  So apologies if typos offend you!

Jules x

 

 

 

Single Mums Business Network

I’ve been busy! See my other blog site www.singlemumsbusinessnetwork.com Slide3

I’ll still post blogs on here about all things that rattle my cage but the SMBN is taking over for now! Caring & Sharing X

Work /Life Balance – Make it Happen

As I was walking my dog in the woods this morning, protecting her from a bird of prey and taking in the beauty of the autumn leaves (I know it’s not autumn) and watching the squirrels enjoy their natural habitat I was acutely aware of how happy I am to have the flexible work /life balance that I have created.

Whilst I was enjoying my dog walk, Outlook was sending summary e-mails to my clients that I had scheduled at 11pm to send at 9:30a.m. Facebook was posting pre-scheduled posts and my washing machine was washing my clothes!  How easy we have it these days compared to our elders.

When I became a mum – all I really wanted was a secure, well paid, engaging role to keep me busy 30 hours a week whilst my daughter was in school allowing me to occasionally swap lunch for parent assembly or sports day.  The reality of how difficult this was/is forced me into a battle of creating self-employment and asserting myself non aggressively with availability.  I fought to sustain my business and utilise my skills wherever possible to help that happen.

This week I have been extremely busy with networking in my capacity as freelance BDM, seeing clients at KIH Holistics, having conference calls in my capacity as freelance assistant in Civil Litigation, planning to attend an exhibition for the KIH Bed, studying and dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

My point is that people don’t mind if you control your diary, often we are too keen to please and consequently we compromise our own wellbeing.  My clients do not mind that I am unavailable between 3pm and 7pm.  They are happy with a conference call at 2pm or 9pm.  I am happy to prepare summary e-mails at 11pm and schedule them to send at 9:30 a.m.  My BDM clients do not mind that I am only available to network for them during school hours.  What matters is that I am committed to helping them and I do what I do well.  Sometimes we fear reactions too much.

As a mum I have 30 hours in the week that I can manage my workload and 21 hours in the evening that I can prepare my workload.  I attend every parent assembly and I pick my daughter and drop her off.  I look pretty rough and it would be easy for other parents to assume I do not work, but that does not concern me, what concerns me is that I can do homework with my daughter, cook tea for her, bathe her, read her a story and accompany her to groups.

*You do have to fight for work /life balance.  It doesn’t knock on your door, you need to actively contact people and don’t be shy about your availability and fee.  I ran a Facebook campaign to find the flexible legal experience.  I targeted solicitors and such like within an hour of my home, and it paid off.  You have to make it happen.  With every 100 no’s follows a yes (ish).

*Whilst we are still fighting for work/life balance due to this stiff British mindset there are some fantastic companies out there leading the way with part-time or flexible employment that does not insult the brain or pocket, and these companies are game changers, leaders not followers, they recognise the importance of being able to juggle what matters to you without this affecting your professional output.

Don’t give up, it can take years to get the balance right and the correct fulfilling work, you just need to be honest with yourself if something is getting you down and keep looking for work that fulfils you, pays you correctly, and does not make you feel like a bum for wanting to be a ‘full-time’ mum.

Note I schedule late night emails to send in the morning as it can be very stressful to receive work e-mails in the evening, we should be free to relax unless we ‘choose’ not to, that is the difference between scheduling and email and actually sending it.  We are primitively wired to be on high alert as the day becomes night and so fight or flight response is much more likely if an email stresses us out in the evening.  Send serious (or possibly invasive) emails in the day when people are better placed to receive them.

Caring & Sharing