Being Bold on International Women’s Day
By Jude McCorry, Head of Business Development at The Data Lab
The 8th of March should be an important day in everyone's calendars. Being totally honest, I don’t think I paid much attention to it previously, as it just happened and I was busy doing the doing.
But it does mark International Women's Day, a worldwide event that celebrates women's achievements in all spheres of life. It began in the early 1900s, when almost 20,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights.
Its original aim was to achieve full gender equality for women all over the world and, sadly, it is as relevant now as it was then.
While I think many great strides have been made in Scotland in recent decades to address inequality in the workplace and to create a more level playing field for men and women, there is still more work to do. Women are still under-represented in sectors such as technology, finance and engineering. How can positive change for women come about if we are not in a position to influence that change? At the Data Lab, we are a small organisation and we pride ourselves on being part of a team that supports gender equality in the workforce, and in all the events and activities that we do, including activities with school girls.
One of the biggest barriers to progression associated with gender inequality in the workplace is the decision to start a family. For women that decision often necessitates a career break.
The global theme of this year's International Women's Day is 'Be Bold For Change'. Today, lets be bold and just stop here and talk about the “decision to start a family” and have an open and honest discussion about what it is like to be a mother in the workplace.
- When is the right time to have kids?
- Do I go for promotion and then take a break to have kids?
- Do I just go for it, and then re-start my career?
- Do I go back full time/part time?
- When do I go back to work?
- Do I go back to work?
- How do I afford the childcare?
- Can I continue to do overseas travel?
- How is dad/partner going to cope?
The list could go on…
How do us working women do it?
I could quote some leadership stuff, that kind of fluff over the “raw” and “real” feelings that we all go through as mothers. But I am going to take some inspiration from the excellent book “Hurrah for Gin” by Kate Kirby. A book for perfectly imperfect parents.
See badly drawn diagram:
Domestic goddess (just above the knee)
There are mums who don’t want to work and that’s fine, we are all different, but let’s not put each other down. I often get the looks at the school gates when I am running to drop off or just making it when the bell goes, or get to maybe one school trip a year.
The most important thing about being a good mum, who works, is making sure your own mental health and happiness is always as tip-top as it can be. Personally, I have always felt a very strong need to work, I don’t know anything but work since leaving Uni, and I also engage my passions outside of being a parent which is mostly running or cycling.
But one of the hardest things about being a working mum is spreading yourself to thin!
What is the perfect solution? There is no perfect solution, but find a solution that works for you, give yourself a break.
Sometimes your feel everything is failing, you think: I am not a good enough, wife, friend, mum. My priorities are my kids and my job, my husband can look after himself (but I cannot help myself looking after him too). I am always reminding my friends what my priorities are, I don’t know how I even have friends?
My lowest point as a working mum was when I had a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old and was studying for an MBA. I felt I was failing at everything: ill kids, ill dad (back in Ireland), untidy house, no free time, tired, etc. I remember mopping the floor (because a cleaner could not clean my house the way I do) and saying I was just giving it all up – my husband asked, “What are you giving up?” I said everything, work, MBA; I am just going to be a stay at home mum. He just said “fine, you don’t need to be a martyr.” We are still together!
I finished my MBA and continued to work, but he was “right”, although I will never admit it. I had taken on far too much, thought I was superwoman, but guess what, I am not and neither are any of you! But I survived, my kids survived, my house may have been a bit untidy and everyone got Internet shopping for Xmas presents, but it was fine.
Sometimes I think we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, but we are only human, we have many bosses (some harsher than others), it’s inevitable that we are going to mess up, and when we do, just move on, it will be fine for another few weeks!
My kids still remember my graduation, me studying and working – they, like me, will know nothing but work, and hopefully I have been a positive role model for them!
So, what can we do to support each other?
We need to have the honest conversations, understand that your colleagues are not robots; real life gets in the way!
Also how do we get the talented women who are stay at home mum’s and would like the option to come back to work and have so much to give to industry in Scotland.
We need to have the “bold” conversations and putting it in into action around flexible working conditions and refresher training in order to help talented women re-enter the workforce at a position that reflects their experience, skills and talent.
We need to send out a signal to women and employers that we are missing out on some of the most talented people Scotland has to offer if we don't find a way to give them the chance they deserve; but also, keeping the talented women like us mentally fit and happy in the work place.
You can see why the theme of this year's International Women's Day, 'Be Bold For Change', was chosen.
We also need our Government to be bold to support us, providing more childcare, support for working parents, after school support, etc. Even things like parking spaces at the train station after school drop offs (my bugbear this week).
They need us and the other women who have so much to give, so they need to support us.
So tonight, celebrate, have a gin, paint your nails, read a book, dance, have a run, eat cake, and pat yourself on the back – it’s not easy, but if it is what we want we can all make it work. Be bold and think of all the women in the world who don’t even have the chance of even an education. Now that’s another conversation.
Jude Mc Corry is a working mum of 2 girls, and is Head of Business Development at the Data Lab.