Last week at BloomFest 2019 we discussed a topic many women and men are debating: “To Have Kids or Not To Have Kids,” because according to a US study, in 2019, one in five women are entering menopause without children. Figures of childfree women have risen from 9% to 17% over the past 30 years.
This led to the question: Do the pressures of our industry impact our decision whether or not to have children? And how do these industry pressures conflict with the societal pressures to fit into the stereotypical role of being a woman?
I sat amongst a great line-up of speakers and we untangled the roles women and men in and out of the family.
Here is my story.
My role as “woman” and “mother” has been unconventional.
I still remember the terrified look on my mother’s face when I walked on stage to accept my 2nd grade blue honor roll award in a big white t-shirt that fell down to my knees, baggy long skater shorts, and a backwards Giants hat. A tomboy at heart, I struggled to understand why my friends loved wearing flowery dresses with tights and playing tea party. You could usually find me climbing a very tall tree.
I was stubborn in my offbeat ways and still, to this day, hate the colour pink. As I reached my adult years I continued to express this “non-traditional” portrayal of a woman. I never longed for a family and stated on many occasions I would never get married – but if I did, my husband would take MY last name.
And then all of a sudden, like a wrecking ball crashing over a lit up stage, life happened. There I was, holding a tiny 7lb alien creature in my arms.
Motherhood caught me by surprise, and to be honest, it broke me – emotionally and physically. I felt like I couldn’t keep up with everyone else even though I worked so hard to be successful in my career. The balance was bitter and blurry, and I started to hate my “new self” – feeling inconvenient to my co-workers and guilt-ridden by my family.
I was trying so hard to be the person I was before that I couldn’t see the new strength I had gained.
In order to feel like myself again, I started a parenting blog where I realised there were a lot of other mums struggling through the same problems I had which later I understood was postnatal depression. So in addition to my corporate job I built a community called Happy New Mum, a platform where mums speak openly about mental health and work/life balance, and help each other through one-to-one conversations online or in-person.
I became a part of a tight knit community of social media influencers. I found power in the written word, and saw how you could use social media for good.
With my new found confidence, I became more determined and passionate than ever before, my two passions collided and within the same year I followed my gut and left my corporate job in advertising to start an “influence for good” marketing company / platform.
Now I finally have the dream job I always wanted and the work/life blend that aligns with my goals.
Today I can stand tall and say I'm proud to be a woman and a mother. For me, having children made me more brave and more successful than I would’ve ever been without.
But like my story, there are many others who find it difficult to return back to work after this life-altering transition into parenthood. Research company OnePoll, found that one in nine women do not return to work after maternity leave.
I’m not surprised.
A successful return to work requires a strong support system at work and at home, flexible hours and mindsets, collaborative and understanding managers and co-workers, and if you’re lucky, breast-pumping facilities on-site.
But in an environment where competitiveness breeds success and working long hours is seen as commitment, how does a new mum who now has to balance no sleep, leave at 5pm on the dot, take breaks to breastpump during work hours, cope with being away from the game for 6-12 months, "compete" and at the same time have open conversations about their feelings?
The workplace needs to stop valuing traits like "competitiveness" and working long hours, and start valuing people as people.
This highlights the real problem, due to a lack of support and flexibility from businesses we are losing skilled, ambitious and knowledgeable women which is perhaps why there are only 21% of women in senior roles in the UK (Source: Grant Thorton UK).
We are stunting the growth of not only the women, but also the associated businesses by not pushing for a more flexible workplace to ultimately drive a more diverse leadership group.
Researchers at UC Davis, California found that companies with the highest percentage of women execs and board members had a 74% higher return on assets than the overall group of companies surveyed.
It’s quite straight forward, more diversity at the top equals more revenue for the business.
In true Bloom style, here are three important actions we can take:
We need to champion a more open, honest and supportive culture so new mums can feel confident on their return back to work, and beyond
We need to change the perception of the roles women and men play in and out of the family. Men are no longer the "breadwinner" and women are no longer the "caretaker," we need to move past these outdated beliefs in our language, in our culture and most importantly, in our policies
We need to value people as people, not as a salary package
We need to be in a place where all men feel comfortable with the idea that they can be a Stay-at-Home-Dad or they can take longer than two weeks paternity leave, and where all women can confidently breast-pump in the office or leave work an hour early without one person batting an eye-lid or making a comment.