Why I Had to Start a Flexible Working Company
It doesn’t seem uncommon for parenthood to come as a shock.
Like many of my friends, I jumped from many years of academia (thinking, reading) to a profession I felt suited me (hustling, crafting), landing squarely in Motherhoodland (wiping, washing).
I arrived at maternity leave not knowing what to expect, a reaction which characterises this generation more than any other. This isn’t surprising, unlike many before us, we are in uncharted territory, working through a structural landscape of work and home that has changed so drastically. My approach thus far had been to knuckle down without knowing exactly where I was going and hope for the best. All the years applying intense pressure on my studies, down to picking the right degree, was going to lead to the Successful Career when I got there. I expected that when the family stage happened, balance would follow.
After my daughter was born I felt the strong pull of watching her for as many hours as I could, as well as a deep down need to reach my achieving and earning potential. I looked around to see how other parents were doing it, and the warning words of Amy Westervelt reverberated. Having it all kinda does suck.
The world of work is not set up for real equality, much less parenthood. Happily, we see some corporations hitting the news with their ‘agile’ and ‘flexible’ approach to talent (we need more of this). But for the vast majority of permanent office jobs, the emotional struggles our new parent friends are going through should tell us that something is not quite right.
I saw the strained expressions of mums tolerating meandering work meetings in a new light — some afternoons, they knew their toddlers needed them, and were spending more in monthly childcare than they could pull in. For many, after the rollercoaster of maternity leave, negotiating part-time hours (inevitably leading to ‘catching up’ on their day off) didn’t work out and so many then opted for temp work taking a huge dive in pay and status level. A few I know are retraining, not because they fell out of love with their work, but Director-level employment is a full-time, all-or-nothing decision which leaves them little time to be there for their children. It goes on.
At this point I was convinced full time parents had a happier time of it. Some do. But I glimpsed a world of heartbreak there too, because of expectations placed on them by traditionally structured organisations and society in general.
I came across others. Mums with ‘my own company’ dreams. Those who had dropped out entirely, either due to part time requests being rejected, redundancy, or unfair dismissal on the basis of their very sick children. Mums who were in CEO mode in the home (raises hand).
The feeling was despair. There can’t be such a lack of options when it comes to balancing your family and work. We were taught to thrive, not abandon priorities when up against arbitrary constrictions.
When my co-founder messaged me with the idea that parents could work at the same seniority as before, but as consultants on projects they get to choose, I felt as though the clouds had parted. I was sitting in Sydney, Australia wondering how I would ever get to juggle being heavily involved as a parent, my husband’s truly border-free self-employed career, and my own ambitions — without burning out. Our Facebook Messenger discussions continued as we slowly formed the company and it felt like a balm.
Whilst more and more lobbyists and businesses fight the good fight against the inflexible hours-based structure of large corporations, we have a complementary deliverables-focused contribution. We believe in projects.
Consultancy is our way forward. Choosing when, how, where and how much you work for would allow a level of flexibility that families would love and employers could harness. Companies, start-ups, charities — so many organisations desperately need expertise to solve a specific problem. IP disputes, setting up HR systems, more hands on deck at year-end, a new marketing strategy — for some situations, a permanent employee isn’t an option.
To be able to take on as much or as little workload as you want — but still have your hours count towards your career progression and ambitions — puts less strain on an already emotional decision. Going back to work can feel like a huge step loaded with guilt, as can deciding to opt out completely. Having another baby on the way, I can’t anticipate how I will manage my own work-life balance too far into the future, but for now I know how I feel. Some of the pressures on working parents are lifted when you introduce more control and choice.
I also couldn’t feel more strongly that the freedom of flexibility is a critical path to a healthier, more rewarding and equal future.
It’s about time.
- Nathalia Chubin, Co-Founder — www.byday.co