The pandemic is wreaking damage on working mothers – it’s an exhausting juggling act
The juggle crossed the political divide. Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns, was based in Yorkshire during the first wave with her toddler, while her husband – also a Conservative MP – was embedded with his constituents in Bristol.
“I was exhausted,” she says. “My team would be getting emails at two or three in the morning where I was trying to catch up. It was a real juggle and very emotional”.
Little wonder experts are concerned about the impact Covid restrictions might have on women’s careers. Karen Mattison, co-founder of flexible working consultancy Timewise, believes some companies might be put off from allowing staff to work from home in future.
“Although the past year has shown businesses what is possible in terms of flexible working, it hasn’t been plain sailing,” she says.
“The enforced remote working experiment was unplanned. Some didn’t have the right tech or equipment and had to cope with home-schooling.
“Businesses might think it doesn’t work because of the added pressures the pandemic created. The concern is that many could throw the baby out with the bathwater by deciding that flexible working doesn’t work after all, which would be to ignore all the positives.”
Sam Smethers, former chief executive of the Fawcett Society, also has concerns. “The real issue for so many parents, particularly women, [is] that we still think about whether someone’s doing a good job based on whether they’re there [at their desk]”, she says.
With two children in their 20s and two approaching teenagehood, she is experienced at the juggle and was always “upfront” with her bosses about what she could deliver – leaving at 5.30pm to collect her children but often picking work back up in the evenings.
It’s this kind of arrangement that Baroness Ruby McGregor Smith, who was chief executive of Mitie until 2016 and has two children, thinks is key to ensuring working women thrive in the post-pandemic world. But being out of the workplace, she says – whether on maternity leave or because of Covid – can lead to a loss of confidence.
“You have a lot more time to think by yourself and to dwell… things we know can knock confidence”, she says. “It certainly did for me.”
The peer advocates questioning “how you can work differently” – particularly when so many will be in the same boat post-Covid.
“There is no such thing, in my book, as some super mother that can have it all,” she says. “You can absolutely have an amazing career and have kids. You may not be able to do it all at the same time, but you can do it”.
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