Become a freelance PR consultant – one of 3 options AC (after children)

On the eve of International Women’s Day, and with more women in work in the UK than ever before (just over 14 million, according to the BBC), The PR Network team is reflecting about the “real deal” of being a woman in today’s workplace. Specifically, being a woman in PR, as four of our six-strong team are mothers. This is important as career choices and remuneration are brought into stark relief once we have children, and it’s still mostly on mums to juggle, as this positive but frustrating research published in this week’s Times showed.

There is so much good stuff going on these days to encourage women back into the workplace post-children. The UK government recognises the potential value to the economy, and its Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, is charged with this brief. Initiatives such as the 30 Club headed by supermum Helena Morrisey and the Women’s Business Council are designed to redress the imbalance on corporate boards and to support women back into the workplace respectively. The Institute of Directors has just announced the winners of its first Women Changing the Business World award (congrats to Karen Mattison and Emma Stewart).  There are plenty of initiatives and campaigns to celebrate female entrepreneurship and enterprise. It’s all great.

However the problem is that many women, equal as they may be in all other respects to men, cannot offer the same time commitment to work once they have children. While much can be outsourced if the right childcare is available at the right price, the reality of juggling children, home and work usually still falls on the mother, and that can be very stressful and stunts the imperative to work. Many women have supportive husbands, myself included – but he works in London 5 days a week, often long hours. We have no family locally to help.

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That is why only 5% of board members are female, why we only have 147 female MPs (there are 507 males), and why we see a post-30 female talent drain in almost all sectors.

Our raison d’être when setting up The PR Network eight years ago was to enable myself and my partner in crime Georgina Blizzard to do freelance PR work while raising small children. Looking around us, we saw our talented compatriots in PR agencies struggling to “have it all” once they had kids. Typically they’d have one child and return to their senior position, managing board responsibilities with their parental ones. Too often the two are not mutually compatible and guilt soon sets in about letting one or the other party down. Once another child enters the picture, it often becomes untenable. This is frequently the case even when an employer is truly supportive and flexible.  Where a senior PR role cannot be successfully done part time, there are no winners.

This has created what is known in PR parlance as the “PR talent graveyard” – droves of highly skilled women, trained and nurtured over a 10 – 15 year career, consigned to the rank and file of the unemployed. Of course, many of our friends and colleagues choose to stay at home with their kids for a time – or forever – a choice that we took advantage of ourselves during our own maternity leaves, and a decision we wholeheartedly respect and encourage.

However, based on anecdotal evidence we’ve collected ourselves, at some point these women usually wish to return to work. They want to reinvigorate their PR careers, in which so much has been invested, and apply their considerable talent to an appreciative employer or client/s. At this point it becomes clear that options remain limited, unless women are prepared to work full time and the extra hours that a full time role in PR demands. This again brings women slamming against a brick wall as full time work is not compatible with home life. Even if childcare is available and financially viable, as children grow they need to be helped with homework and chauffeured to activities. Logistical challenges which seemed difficult with babies and toddlers are still there – just different.

So, what are the options?

1.    Negotiate a part time PR or comms role

As advocated by the Timewise Foundation and celebrated in the Power Part Time list, in which George and I were delighted to be included last year, this can work, providing there’s flexibility and mutual appreciation by employee and employer.

2.    Set up a freelance PR business

Obviously an option wholly endorsed and encouraged by The PR Network, but it does genuinely provide loads of flexibility, although the financial peaks and troughs and isolated work environment may not suit all.

3.    Find a PR job share

Something we’ve been pushing for ages to our own clients. Sadly still very rare, job shares can work brilliantly for both sides. The employee gets to work the hours s/he requires, while the employer gets two brains for the price of one. We think it’s a no brainer, and our contacts who have worked in this way agree.

We think these options are all valid and present a way to continue a rich and varied career alongside bringing up children. They keep brilliant people working, which certainly benefits The PR Network’s own clients, who get senior talented PR consultants working on their business. However they are often not seen in this way by employers or the market, particularly in less progressive industries.

If the UK government is serious about helping women back into work then it needs to do much more to push part time work and job shares and to encourage women to set up in business (where there is a good business case for their idea). However beyond this, it needs to radically reform its policies around childcare to make it financially and logistically possible for women to contribute to the economy without compromising their families or their own wellbeing.



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