It’s all about the flex

Friday, 24 February 2017, 8:07 | Category : Guest Blogger
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Mary Whenman is President of Women in PR UK, an independent networking organisation for senior women working in the PR industry which also offers associate membership for mid-career women. Click here for membership information. 

Recently I turned down a job offer. It was one of those exciting, potentially career-changing roles that only come along once every five years.

Deciding whether to accept the role really tested me. It tested my values and what is important to me and fundamentally what is right for my family. That’s the thing, you see. Once you have a partner and a family, you can’t really accept a job offer in isolation. There are other, often conflicting, needs at play. Fundamentally, I declined the role because they would not offer any flexible working.

My husband and I have three school-aged children of 11 and twins of eight. They are too young to get themselves to and from school.  While we have a great after-school and school holiday nanny in place, we choose to take our children to school in the mornings. Otherwise, we’d never enter the school gates for anything other than parents’ evening and neither of us wants to be that disconnected from our children’s lives, so we share the school run.

Back to the role I was offered. At the final meeting, I asked about flexible working. While the contracted hours were from 9.00am, the hiring manager said the norm of behaviour was to be in the office by 8.00am every day.  I said that was no problem and I could be in the office at 8.00am two to three days a week, however I’d need some flex on the other days and asked if I could start at 9.30am on two mornings a week so I could take my children to school. I was told that this was not possible.

I explained that as I live in a double-career household my husband and I needed to share the school run and I needed one hour of flexible working a week, split across two days, meaning just 30 minutes a day. The hiring manager was inflexible on this point. Disappointingly the hiring manager was a woman.

The reality is, the only way I could be in the office at 8.00am every day is if my husband sacrifices his career for mine, or we employ a live-in nanny who starts work at 6.00am or we send our three children to boarding school. None of these are options we can or want to pursue.

I was struck recently by a blog written by Louise Winmill, Head of Corporate Comms and CSR at Notonthehighstreet.com who was shortlisted in this year’s PowerPartTime list. The PowerPartTime list is a fantastic initiative celebrating part time working, organised by Timewise and fronted by Timewise’s Karen Mattison MBE. Louise talked about how she changed employer on return from maternity leave to work in a more flexible environment.

Like Louise, I am a proud PowerPartTime winner from 2014, along with Nicky Imrie and George Blizzard, founders of the PR Network, who won a joint position in the list in 2013 for their job sharing arrangement. I had worked part-time for 10 years, working my way up to Managing Director of a 60-person team in a global PR agency. It didn’t feel like a part-time role, as on more occasions than I can remember, I was first-in and last out of the office and regularly worked at week-ends.

While I now work full-time, I do work flexibly. Turning down the role was a difficult decision, but it was the right decision for me, my husband and our family. In 10 years’ time when the boys have left home, I know I won’t look back and regret the fact that I didn’t take them to school.

In the wise words of Louise Winmill, “Don’t waste time and energy into trying to convince a company that doesn’t believe in flexible working to see the light – it’s not worth going into battle with a company that fundamentally just doesn’t get it.”

@marywhenman @WIPRUK @timewisejobs @KarenMattison #PowerPartTime

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