[published on iVillage here]
I have a confession to make.
It’s been tough deciding whether or not to open up on this matter, because what I’m about to admit may make people think less of me.
But here goes: to all the mums and dads I’ve worked with in the past, I have an apology to make.
When I was your manager, I have to admit I didn’t have much tolerance for your situation. I wasn’t a very understanding boss. This wasn’t out of any malice – it was simply because I Just. Didn’t. Get. It.
This time two years ago I was a single 30-something working 10+ hour days climbing the corporate ladder. My work defined me, and I like to think I was pretty good at it. Now, I’m a married work-at-home mum to a 12-month-old and expecting baby number two in just a few months. Wow, how life changes.
Back then, when someone in my team would ask for a different day off due to daycare, or for other family commitments, it was a pain in the a*s to me. I would vaguely think to myself, “Oh, that must be hard fitting in around X, Y and Z,” and I had a bit of empathy, in theory. But I didn’t understand the realities of it.
And, somewhat unfortunately, I don’t have a poker face. I’m the kind of person whose thoughts are written all over her face. Fellow workmates, you would have seen me sighing, panicking about how the team would manage and thinking about what wrangling I’d have to do to cover for you.
I think in other areas I was a great Manager. I tried my best to be fair, reliable, firm but flexible, lead by example and nurture talent. On supporting a family and work/life balance I did have some empathy, but I don’t think it showed.
I could make all sorts of excuses for this – we worked in a high-pressure environment, responding to constant media and political events, and long hours involving multiple deadlines per day. We were running events that were a pretty big deal and I needed to be in control with every hand on deck, 100 per cent of the time. Everything was planned out weeks in advance and I didn’t enjoy spanners being thrown. But none of these excuse my intolerance. I wasn’t bad – but I could have been better.
In 2011-12 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 53 per cent of women who had a child under five were employed, and 86 per cent of mothers who returned to work after the birth of their child used at least one flexible work arrangement to assist with the care of their child – most commonly, working part-time, using flexible working hours and working from home.
However, Australia is still behind when it comes to supporting pregnant women in the workplace. When Australian women reach the ages of 25 to 44, their participation in the workforce drops significantly. Many working mums don’t feel supported at work or that their needs are recognised. One in four women say they return to work after maternity leave ‘because they are afraid not to’ (ABS).
Flexible options should be encouraged and supported at all costs, and there should be more training for managers (particularly childless ones!) in how to better support families.
Now that I’m a mum, the juggling act is real. I decided not to go back to work when our little guy was four months old, as planned. I just couldn’t bring myself to leave him at such a young age. Before having him, I just had no idea what an impact that little human would have on my life and priorities.
I’m doing freelance work from home and would like to get back in the corporate world one day (after baby number two, of course). When I do, I hope that my manager will have more empathy than I did. Because being a working mother is probably the hardest job in the world, as is being a stay-at-home mum.
So, my sincere apologies. I was shit, and next time I’ll do better.