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Parents in the workplace: Finally, time to relax...just in time for sunrise

With women in the workplace being the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, we hear from the ABI’s Abigail Cartledge on how best to support parents returning to work.

Abigail Cartledge

Having worked at the ABI for 10 years I have seen my fair share of female colleagues go on maternity leave. In 2013 it was my turn. Off I toddled, unaware how much my life was about to change. Fast forward 11 months and it was time to return to work. I was anxious going back to the ABI but I shouldn’t have been. The ABI was very supportive with my return to work and happily accepted my request to work part-time. Over the next few years the usual juggling ensued with my husband and I racing home from work to collect our son from nursery. It all seemed doable and we made it work.

2 years later I waddled off pregnant with twins (yes I was the size of a small country). Returning to work this time around was a very different experience. Primarily as working and caring for three little people, was (and still is), at times an extremely challenging task. Keep-in-touch days were a vital tool for me to a) feel I hadn’t lost touch with the real world and b) get back up to speed with what the ABI was doing. Luckily, working on the ABI's website means if I need to, I can work remotely to get my work to-do list actioned. Don't ask me about the never ending family to-do list though!

My biggest challenges as a working parent are the lack of hours in the day and the societal expectation of visibility in the office. Ideally there would be more hours in the day, but that’s not an option. But there are more productive ways to work. The visibility issue can certainly be a thorny one. There’s societal pressure to work like you don’t have children, and parent like you don’t have a job. This doesn’t help. But when there’s also pressure to be ‘deskbound’ you lose a lot of flexibility.

Employers can help to empower their working parents by actively encouraging working from home. Training is also key in making sure working parents don’t feel overwhelmed with everything that is asked of them. If they have the tools and knowledge to do their job effectively there is less chance of them feeling pressure to leave the workforce. There are lots of informal parent’s networks (Cityparents is a great network) out there that provide great support and advice but many employees don’t know they exist. Employers can improve this by promoting these groups internally and hosting sessions with the organisers of these groups.

I am fortunate to have a very supportive husband, who is happy to share the family workload, and an employer that is forward thinking enough to enable me to be a working parent. However, this is not just a women’s problem or just one that new mother’s face. If we want to encourage greater diversity at all levels of employment then it’s how you support everyone to reach their potential and goals, both men and women who are trying to give family and work 100%.

We must stop the glorification of having to ‘look’ busy at our desks and focus on productivity.

Last updated 14/03/2017