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the ultimate survival guide for working mums

March 7, 2012

by Becky McMichael

In a slightly bunker-like building in central London last week, myself and around 20 very bright, successful, marketing professionals all got together over coffee, smoothies and a very stylish table to discuss a very serious topic. Surviving work and motherhood. Gin was barely mentioned.

M3 is a not for profit network so we rely on the generosity of our community to give us venues, refreshments and sponsorship towrads costs.  This session was kindly sponsored by BT and Ruder Finn.

Moderated by me alongside three fabulous speakers – Liz Fraser, Diana Norris and Victoria Megginson – we led the session whilst the audience built The Ultimate Survival Guide.  And here, for your delight and delectation, it is. And with barely a mention of gin 🙂

Working 9-5….or not….

  1. Don’t approach life as a working mum with a chip on your shoulder
  2. Change the rules when you get put in charge. Change the things you hate. Bring new policies in. Ensure a fair playing field happens on your watch
  3. Employers are much more likely to measure output rather than face time in forward thinking businesses – make sure you have a say in how and what you’re measured on
  4. Career management takes time, don’t leave it to your employer
  5. Make technology your friend. One calendar for whole life – keep it in the cloud. Be strict. Not on the calendar, doesn’t happen
  6. Skills – keep fresh and marketable.  Build a brand personality for yourself.  Keep your profile high even if you’re not there in person
  7. Don’t assume people work the same way you do.  Find out
  8. Find out what is important to other team members / staff
  9. Having kids shouldn’t be a trump card. Many people in organisation have things to leave the office for. Be respectful of that
  10. Keep your care and love for your family out of your CV and interviews. Think how you define yourself and want to be viewed
  11. Be strict with the things that are important to you
  12. Ask questions, prepare for meetings, make sure they are relevant and get through the essentials as quickly as possible
  13. Manage your time – if it can be done remotely, do it remotely
  14. Measure output. Demonstrate value
  15. Find new networks and if they don’t exist, set them up
  16. Take time out to assess your career regularly, don’t leave it to your employer to manage

Common pitfalls

  1. Guilt – the fear of missing out is deadly, don’t do it
  2. Fear – your kids are well cared for, your work is in a good state – what is there to be afraid of?
  3. Future – keep your hand in, manage your career, focus on the life you want after your children are grown up
  4. Brain – intelligence, stimulation, conversation – don’t be ashamed to admit you want a life outside of the house and family
  5. Freedom – time on the train, meetings, travel, shopping, financial freedom
  6. Break – is it better to miss your little people than to be counting down the minutes until you can escape?
  7. Network – trust, friends, family, partner, childcarers. Value your network, invest time in it
  8. Keep home life separate if you want to.  Block out time, don’t justify it – as long as you deliver what you say you will

Maternity leave

  1. Decide how you are going to manage your maternity leave.  Don’t leave it to chance
  2. Like any relationship, 12 months is a long time to take yourself out of it altogether – find away to stay present whether online, using your keeping in touch days, keep your hand in and your face known
  3. Show interest. Read. Keep up to date (as much as you can/find practical)
  4. Stay confident. Enjoy your time away
Returning to work
  1. Be honest and transparent about your working patterns. Don’t feel you have to justify them
  2. Look at job shares.  An army of part time mums would be the most kick ass company on the planet 🙂
  3. Build in time for disasters – kids always poo their nappies on the doorstep, spill breakfast on their uniform etc. at the worst time. Guarantee that your partner won’t have filled the car with petrol when you’re in the biggest rush
  4. Put your family first. There will be a few cases in your career when you have to make a hard choice – the huge event you’ve been working on for months or your ill child for example
  5. Share the load – when one of the kids is ill, why should you automatically take the day off?
  6. Build a support network. If you don’t live near family, build support through friends.  Give as much as you take

School and childcare

  1. Don’t feel guilty about school and don’t over commit (PTA etc).
  2. Do go into school and offer to run a session on work / career
  3. In the absence of training budgets etc.  recommend voluntary hours for staff to get more involved in community or kids’ lives
  4. Don’t rely on the school noticeboard
  5. Suggest an email system like Parentmail for school
  6. Manage relationships with teachers, headtreacher and nursery staff
  7. Did you know about ‘parental leave’? Each parent of under 5s allowed up to 13 weeks off work – research it. Use it
  8. Role model – you’re providing a positive example for your kids about the world of work
  9. Get a childcare plan B – a reliable one
  10. Criticism – ignore the sometimes less than positive comments at the school gates. Mums are each others’ harshest critics

Time-saving tips

  1. Remember the three Os: organise, outsource, online
  2. Use your straighteners as an iron to do your collars if you can’t stand ironing
  3. Buy a working wardrobe you can pick from in dark (or work from home and wear PJs)
  4. Take half an hour a week to plan for the following week – b’day presises, cards, home admin, school events
  5. Keep fit – it will up your propensity to cope with the juggling

Our next event is on “Building your personal brand” and is sponsored by Channel 4.  More details can be found here.


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