Women have to choose between a career and a family don’t they?

As we celebrate International Women’s Day (Thursday 8th March 2019), we have some impactful news to share.

A new survey in the South West has found a majority of women still feel they have to choose between a career and a family – however the South West is bucking the national trend. 

The study, by law firm Merali Beedle, found 53% of high-powered working women in the South West believe there is an expectation to choose between family and career. Nationally, the figure was 71%.

The analysis of 2,003 professionals across the UK paints a disconcerting picture for a leading first world economy. 

In an era of growing flexible working, debate about diversity and the gender pay gap – a high proportion of women in work believe they cannot have it all. 

We spoke to a number of businesswomen locally who said the survey was not necessarily painting a true picture. They felt the issue was a little more complicated in real life…

Naomi Summers, founder of Go Get Organised, Bath.

Naomi Summers, Founder of Go Get Organised

“I believe there are ways to adapt. We live in a far more flexible time now. We are lucky, technology also helps us.

“I spent years working within the television industry, the hours were long and I changed my career when I had my children, Corey, who’s now nine, Roxy, who’s seven.

“They did their best to adapt for me, but I felt as if I was no longer able to give it my all. Having my children has turned out to be the best thing for me, not only are they amazing, but it is when I launched my own business – something I would never have done or even thought of before. 

“I have taken small steps to grow my business around my children – I make my business work around them. The normal 9am -5pm hours have gone. I work to support small businesses, and small businesses never stop working!

“I run a business which offers a full range of professional business support services on a ‘pay as you go’ basis. We started out as a team of professional mums who have skills and childcare commitments. It now seems many people want to work flexibly – they may be dads, have dogs or properties etc. We have adapted to include as many as we can. The core of us remain an army of mums!”

Sarah Baker, Content writer for digital marketing company Total Guide To and social media management expert based in Bath.

Sarah Baker, content writer

“My daughters are now 12 and 14 and the lion’s share of childcare has fallen to me since they were born. I am separated from their father who has followed a successful career in banking in London. I have been trying to do the same but with all the childcare burden/joys. 

“Stress and guilt are the major emotions. There is an overwhelming sense of not doing either ‘job’ well. Either your children are being ignored and learning bad behaviours (on their phone like you are all the time), or your clients are left waiting for answers. Family time is impacted by work and work can be impacted by family life. I can’t imagine being able to slot back in to a full-time job where I am expected to be in the office daily and coordinate all my children’s activities and so self-employment has offered me flexibility without any of the guarantees.” 

Poppy Powell, Owner of Cake Cafe, Bath.

Poppy with her two daughters

“I have three children aged 11, seven and five. My eldest daughter was born when I was 24. I have run my own businesses from the age of 14 and have been solely dependent on self-employed income from the age of 23. My experience of juggling my work and family life in a nutshell has been a positive one. 

“Ultimately, I don’t feel I have had to choose between the two. Have I made mistakes in parenting? Yes. Have I made mistakes in running a business? Yes. But that is only natural and as long as I am always striving to improve and do the best I can in both areas then I feel satisfied overall with what I have achieved to date. 

“I could have worked more hours if I didn’t have children as family life does take up a lot of time. I wouldn’t change it for anything and it just means progress is a little slower moving the business forward which isn’t the end of the world. My husband and I work together within our Cake Cafe business and so we are able to share both work and parenting duties.”

Julia Stock, Director of Be Astute Coaching, Bath.

“I probably do agree with the findings in that they’re talking primarily about people in high-powered sectors, which I presume is your old-fashioned professions.

“I ran a family training company, which my parents set up. It came to an end last summer and now I’ve set up a business with my husband. I had quite a junior position when I was pregnant – and when I came back after maternity leave after three and a half months I went part-time three and a half days a week and was promoted to a director. Then I was promoted to managing director when my son was five. So family life didn’t hold me back in terms of my career at all. After the first five years of my son’s life when I was promoted to MD I said to my husband, ‘I did the first five years, now it’s your turn’. So he gave up his job working for a big London employer and set himself up self-employed, and had a brilliant time. 

“It’s about team work. I believe very much in not having both parents working full time. They’re not kids for very long there’s not much point in having them if you don’t want to spend time with them and make sacrifices for them. My son, who’s now 16, had a great time growing up with a really active, involved dad.” 

Catherine McGuire, Business Coach and Property Specialist.

“In my experience, it’s not been the case that a woman can’t have a family and a successful career. I have both. Fortunately, in my early working life I had employers who were accepting of my family situation and valued my skills, therefore offered flexible working conditions. I wouldn’t have taken on the roles if that hadn’t been the case. Flexibility however needs to work both ways.  

“For example, when my children were young, I was a Director of Marketing and Development for a family business and negotiated working partly from their office and partly from home. In return, I agreed to work occasional Saturdays when needed as I was able to get childcare from my hugely supportive parents. 

 “We were a single parent family for many years and I solely cared for and supported my two daughters Chloe and Emily. They’re both in their twenties now, with my youngest Emily, at university and Chloe, in full time work. Emily was chronically ill and unable to attend school a lot of the time, so I decided to start my own business. Working from our family kitchen table, I built up two successful property investment and development companies. For the last five years I’ve been business coaching and mentoring other entrepreneurs to achieve similar results.  

“Juggling family life, three limited companies and time away from home working including overseas trips for speaking events, has of course had its challenges. Working with UK and International clients thankfully means my working hours have never been the out-dated nine to five routine. Flexible working hours are highly compatible around family life and along with technology, has played a massive part in enabling me to grow my career around family needs. 

My motto has always been ‘family first’ and I’ve made sure my career has fitted around exactly that.  If you’re determined, able to plan, can set and maintain time-based boundaries for family and work, then a successful career and amazing family life are both possible.” 

Follow the International Women’s Day conversation on Twitter, #IWD2019 #BalanceforBetter


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