Ever looked at your boss, sitting in their boss chair at their boss desk and thought ‘I can do that freakin’ job!’ The only thing is that they seem pretty comfortable in that boss chair with no intention of leaving it, getting pregnant or dying any time soon. If they aren’t going anywhere that means you need to; so you make some furtive phone calls, stick an imaginary meeting in your diary and go to see a recruiter. They seem quite interested and think they can help you take the next step to a better job.
However, there is an enormous elephant in the corner of the room. All of the jobs on their books are five days a week. You currently work a complicated arrangement of four days one week, three and one from home the next. You leave half an hour early every Tuesday because your Mum, who looks after the kids on Tuesdays, has her Spanish for beginners evening class at six and she needs to be on the bus by 5.45. But you can always come in early on Thursdays as your boyfriend doesn’t have to start till ten. Oh and you always catch up on work once the children have gone to bed.
Your recruiter’s eyes glaze over, you lost her at the Spanish class. She smiles at you and tells you not to worry about that right now and that once the employer falls in love with you as a candidate you can start to negotiate. She has no idea that after getting back from maternity leave it took you a full six whole month campaign of wheedling, manipulation and charm to get the day from home. And the Tuesday thing, well you just sort of started doing because you had been there so long and nobody seems to have noticed.
You come out of your meeting with the recruiter feeling deflated and defeated before you’ve even begun. You try to convince yourself that your job is actually fine, that you are fulfilled, and the fact that you can take your daughter to toddlers’ gymnastics every other Friday morning is satisfying enough. You don’t need to leave. Who are you kidding?
So many of us have been in this situation. So many of us have stayed in jobs which work for our families rather than ourselves. It’s exhausting, and sometimes just not possible, to negotiate the hours we want and the thought of doing it with a new employer puts us off. So we hold back our move and our careers so we can see more of our children.
Yet both are equally important. Cheering on your daughter’s collapsing roly-polies at toddler gymnastics while enjoying a cup of tea with the other mums is just as important as having an interesting, well-respected job that you love. I don’t see why the two have to be mutually exclusive.
But it is hard to negotiate your way through this. I interviewed for a full time job the other day, knowing that it would break my heart if they refused some sort of flexible hours. I didn’t mention it though as I was too anxious they would see me as uncommitted, a bit flaky or unfocussed. In fact they are a wonderful bunch of people and offered me flexible working without me having to raise it and then because I am such an idiot and because my fear of looking un-committed is so ingrained I tried to talk them out of it. Luckily they didn’t let me.
Clearly there needs to be a massive shift in how part time worked is viewed and valued and who is asking for it. Why aren’t there groups of Dads sitting in pubs moaning about flexible working over bottles of prosecco? Why, after having discussed at great length whether the new nursery assistant can actually change nappies with those nails and if Kate will ever get round to leaving Adam, aren’t they having long drunken conversations about whether they will ever find another job that offers them three and a half days a week?
This is where the fundamental shift needs to come. Flexible working needs to stop being mothers’ work and become parents’ work. Both parents should be negotiating flexibility for family time, and crucially mums have to let the dads step up to it. Only then will flexible working be the norm and only then will we mothers feel able to walk into an interview, confidently set out required hours and then move swiftly on to the business of wowing the panel with our ability.