By Jessica Heagren-CEO of That Works For Me
Six years ago, I was strategy and distribution director for one of the UK’s largest insurance companies. I managed 600 people. I travelled around the UK. I went to lots of important meetings. I had founded the business’ diversity committee and headed up the gender and working family strand.
So, when I fell pregnant with my first child, I thought I would be fine.
I had a plan to go back to work on a flexible working arrangement from Monday to Thursday and have Friday’s off with my baby.
I totally and utterly underestimated the physical and emotional impact that would have.
I found being the only one on my team working from Monday to Thursday really tough. I found not seeing my baby even tougher. I fell pregnant with my second baby a year later, and at that point I knew that I wouldn’t be going back to the company.
The first eight months were great. We had lots of lovely play dates, lots of lovely walks. And then as I started to feel like me again, I realised just how much of my self-worth I had been attaching to my career and my job title. I had to do a lot of soul searching and figuring out what it was I wanted to do.
I’d always known I wanted to run my own business at some point, and so when I met more and more women like myself who’d fallen out of the workplace because they didn’t fit the Monday to Friday, nine to five model anymore, I saw a problem that I really wanted to fix.
I met lots of business owners who were doing incredible things, but didn’t have access to the skills and experience that they needed to make their businesses grow, so I made it my mission to bring those two groups of people together, and that’s how we created That Works For Me.
I’m working my dream job, and I love it! But I know that for so many women out there, that really isn’t the case. I say all this because I think it’s so important for other women out there to know they aren’t alone.
Just because your pre-motherhood life, your old job, doesn’t fit you anymore, it doesn’t mean you have to change who you are or give up on what you want.
When I started my business, I made five vows to myself to ensure that I didn’t do that, and that I would do things my way. These vows continue to serve me well, and they are vows that I would love to pass on to the future female leaders of our world. So, stick to your guns, and know that there is always room to do things your way. Make some vows to yourself here and now.
- Don’t work with arseholes
This doesn’t need too much explaining. But is a reminder every day that I don’t need to tolerate people that lack perspective, that devalue women, and who see families and caregiving as a negative.
I have stuck to this rigidly and have terminated a number of working relationships as a result. But I’m emphatic about it.
- Family first
This does not mean I am not committed to my business. I absolutely am, 100%. But it does mean that I’m very vocal about where I am and why. For example, I don’t work between 3:30 and 7:30. I do the school runs. I do homework. And I spend all day on Fridays with my pre-school babies.
- Passionately advocate for people with caring responsibilities.
Whether that’s children, parents or anyone else, it’s time we accepted that these caregivers make the world go round. The creators of the next generation and protectors of the previous generation are what holds society together. But this isn’t all they are about. They have so much value to add and so much to bring to businesses – make it work for them and see the benefits.
- Keep work-life balance
I have found my equilibrium. People often ask me how I do it. It’s a lot but generally, contrary to what people think, I don’t feel like I’m juggling. I don’t feel like everything is going to drop. And I don’t feel like I don’t deserve all these things.
It’s not a big secret, there are some things that make this possible.
One is a supportive partner. I don’t say this to brag, I know I’m fortunate to be in a mutually supportive relationship. But equally, don’t call me lucky.
This is all by design.
This is an arrangement with my husband that we continually review and discuss. We are equals whose opinions and ambitions hold equal weight. I get annoyed when other women tell me how lucky I am. This isn’t luck. This is our relationship – and it could be anyone’s. My challenge to many women I speak to is to be more demanding.
We live in a world where men have the same rights to ask for flexible working as women. Men have the same right to be parents. Children, elderly parents and other relations have the same rights to their fathers, sons & brothers as the women in their lives. But the onus is on us to ask.
If you just spent the last 18 months home-schooling while your partner’s life didn’t really change, ask why. Then change it.
- No Mum guilt
My epiphany was enlightening for a number of reasons. I learnt through experience that me wasn’t me without challenge, achievement and interaction.
The second I made the decision to start a business, I had purpose. I was driven. I had something to think about that wasn’t childcare arrangements or dinner menus.
I knew that I needed something of my own to feel like me. And that didn’t make me a bad mother, in fact it made me better.
I was once asked in an interview how I deal with mum guilt. I didn’t really answer it. Reflecting on it, it’s because I don’t really have it. Of course, I worry about whether I handle motherhood situations well – tantrums, fights etc., but I don’t feel guilty about how I spend my time.
My balance now enables me to be the best I can in both of my worlds. Often, they bleed into one another but that’s OK. I have that flexibility. I feel good about the time I spend with my children, and I enjoy it. I know my children are balanced and happy.
They have a version of me that I’m proud of. They have a female figure who is a doting mother, a present carer and, I hope, an inspiration for them as they grow.
I believe that everyone owes their children this. To show them how it can be. That’s why this time we find ourselves in is so monumental. We can change how things work for the next generation by shouting louder and being more demanding of our employers, our partners and our colleagues.
We need to demonstrate to our daughters that they can have it all. To our sons that this is what it looks like. To our parents that we built on their foundations.