For International Women’s Day, our Joint-CEOs share their experiences of balancing a leadership role with family responsibilities.
On International Women’s Day Karen and I thought we should reflect on how we have made our working lives work. There is so much in the media about women “having it all” in terms of career and kids – and we believe we’re in a pretty unique position here at YESS. Both of us working in a way that we need to support our different families.
I’m incredibly lucky. Since having kids, I have always worked part time. I chose where I worked partly for that reason. I never wanted to work in the City where the long hours culture is so prevalent, but I never wanted to stop work either.
Camilla Palmer QC (YESS founder and consultant) fostered a culture of ‘flexibility first’ from the start at YESS. Currently I work 3.5 days over 4 with 1 day a week from home and mostly I manage to pick my kids up from school 3 days a week. To be able to work this flexibly is unusual for a lawyer – and let’s be honest – for most parents who work. However, the simplicity of just saying my hours belies the immense amount of effort, additional hours and flexibility from me and my partner and our employers that goes into making the set-up work.
Firstly, and most importantly my partner shares the care and always has done. I could not work the way that I do if he had not also made career choices that meant he can work flexibly. After having both the kids he applied to work part time on my return to work and did so for several years. In both large multinational organisations he was the first man to have applied to work part time. Ridiculous! At first his application was met with laughter, then serious concern when he pointed out what I did for a living (oh the theoretical threat of a lawyer), and then acceptance. Although he now works full time hours he works flexibly, allowing him to do drop off and pick up at least once a week and often more. No one week is the same – he works away, I do another job 3 days a month, I have to swap my days to attend meetings etc. etc. We regularly have romantic evenings discussing diaries. I know most other working couples do the same. But here’s the thing, it works. We share the responsibility of making it work at home, with pick-ups, drop offs and snot wiping – just as Karen and I share the responsibility of making it work at YESS – but with a bit less snot wiping. You have to work to make it work but it works!
“Parent like you have no job, work like you have no children”. I’ve heard versions of that from working parents over the 10 years since I had my elder daughter. I’m afraid I can’t do that and I don’t know many people who manage to sustain that dual façade for very long. I parent like I work full time and I work like I have 2 children – there are compromises in both areas. I bolt out of the office door at 5:30, fortunately we have no long hours culture at YESS and I can do my job effectively in office hours, most of the time!
I’ve worked full time but pretty flexibly for the last 6 years. In 2013 my partner, like Emma’s, was the first man in his organisation to request a change to his working pattern. Between us we cover a lot of drop offs and pick-ups, but we also rely on a local child minder for some of the school runs. We both work some way from where we live and there can be work trips involving overnight stays. The most hair-raising experience was a few years ago when he got stuck in France for a day longer than expected and I had to go to Kent for the day which couldn’t be changed. Friends rallied round to cover for us that day, thankfully!
When I saw Camilla’s LinkedIn post advertising the role, I knew that YESS would be the right sort of environment for me. She wrote clearly and prominently that the role could be done less than full time with working at home built in from the outset.
I work full time, but from home 2 days a week. Living in Northamptonshire, the home days give me an opportunity to do take my children to school and fit some exercise in at lunch time (in theory if not always in practice!). Sharing the role with Emma means we split many of the responsibilities according to our different strengths and experience.
Our children know that Mummy or Daddy can’t be at every assembly or performance and we talk to them a lot about why grown-ups work, and why what we do works for us. I also think it’s important for them to know that every family does things its own way.
YESS Law was set up with flexible working built in from the outset. More established organisations will inevitably take time to get to grips with the benefits and, let’s be honest, challenges posed by departing from traditional working practices. But failing to do so means they miss out on a broader pool of candidates for roles at every level, as well as a range of other potential benefits (for example increased job satisfaction and wellbeing, or a reduced requirement for permanent office workstations). If employers want to stand a chance in the so-called “war for talent”, flexible ways of working will, in our view, go a long way to improving their chances.