On Tuesday last week, I walked back in to Lansons HQ 15 months after leaving to have a baby. For someone that was only planning to initially take nine months off (that soon went out the window), it’s fair to say I was naturally apprehensive about returning to work. Yes I was going to miss my son, although the thought of being able to eat my lunch without simultaneously entertaining a toddler was definitely exciting. It was more: will I remember how to do my job and how will I fit it around nursery drop offs and toddler tantrums? (We’re at THAT stage.)
I can only talk so far from my perspective and what I think the challenges are for the industry. I would certainly be lying if I said I didn’t have a minor concern about telling clients that I’ll be working a 4-day week, and what about if I had to leave early to get my son from nursery? Yet this surely all stems from having the confidence in where you work and the support system there that is set up for you. Luckily, I had several ‘back to work’ meetings where it was made very clear I had the full backing to do 4 days a week and if I need to leave the office I just go - no excuses or apologies.
Underpinning this, I requested flexible working options to help manage my day and commute better, which were all agreed. I know in many ways this makes me ‘lucky’, but PR is a people-centric career, if we don’t invest in our people and help them when it's needed, then we’re just putting obstacles in front of them when it isn’t helpful or productive to the working relationship.
‘Flexible working’ shouldn’t be seen as some latest buzzword that will go away – because it isn’t going to – and employers who don’t help their employees work more flexibly run the risk of being seen as archaic. Campaigner and blogger Anna Whitehouse (Mother_Pukka on Instagram) has been campaigning for companies to offer more flexible working after her request for flexible working as a mother was denied for fear of ‘opening the floodgates'. She recently gave evidence to the Welsh Assembly and now it has been named as the “primary focus” for Welsh businesses. So, it isn’t a fad or a phase and it isn’t going away. PR is not a 9–5 career, and digital capabilities enable people to work on the go / remotely, so as an industry we really should have no problem embracing it and doing more than just the basics.
Does the industry go far enough yet in totally supporting working parents? Probably not, but then what industry has it totally nailed down? Things have evolved a lot in the last few years and a lot of companies are doing great work in this area, but there is always more that can be done - compressed hours, greater support for dads to take longer paternity leave, more flexibility to work out of the office, people not just being at their desk to be visible when it’s easier for them to work at home. Talking with some other mums on maternity leave, lots of companies are now embracing coaching for mothers when they are pregnant. The coaching focuses on how they position themselves on their return to work, including words they should and shouldn’t use (like not apologising if you need to leave early). For some companies, this is inbuilt in their ethos and culture. but it isn’t everywhere, so the concept of coaching should be totally embraced by employers to support women returning to work, and hopefully it is something we will see much more of soon.