Future of Work: The Motherhood Edition

Babe at Enspiral Summer Fest

What it means for modern workplaces, and those aspiring to be one

When I joined Enspiral in 2014, many of us were volunteering or working for hourly rates as low as 7 Dollars. The majority of the people involved at the core were in our mid- to late twenties with relatively little commitments: we were renting rooms in shared houses, few of us had mortgages or children.

Since then, the demographics in the network have shifted. Not only because we haven’t managed to defy Mother Nature and have aged by four years, but because people from different ages have joined the network. In addition, we have added a bunch of commitments to our lives: marriages, mortgages and children.

It is the latter in particular that has influenced my relationship with Enspiral the most.

I know what the odds are of returning from maternity leave are: reduced earning potential (up to 15% less compared to childless women), an increased gender pay gap (up to 20% less over the course of their career than the male counterparts), fewer career prospects, let alone the juggle of daycare drop offs and emotional labour. All of this contributes to the societal inequities, like having more people named James in the Fortune 500 than women combined. (But we also know that mothers who work part time are a good deal for employers: they have proven to be more efficient, on a comparative basis, to full-time workers.)

Image via Vox.com

When I was finishing up work last July to go on maternity leave, I felt good about my prospects of returning to work, despite my paid employment with Lifehack coming to end whilst on leave—the funding was finishing up and we were preparing to wrap up the organisation. My sense of connection, experience and the reputation I had built in the four years I’d been in Wellington felt enough to prepare me for a return to paid work in the future.

Away-day babe

Returning to work was as easy as I’d hoped but I know my situation is unusual, sadly. My workplace, Enspiral Dev Academy, is child-friendly, my hours flexible, and remote work is possible. On days without childcare, I can take my daughter into meetings or into the office leaving her to roam the area, and know that students, staff and desk-renters alike will keep an eye out for her. Essentially, I’ve started to see the world as baby-inclusive spaces, even if they may not traditionally be considered those. If I have a meeting on the days I’m not working, I briefly mention that I’ll be bringing a baby, but not make a big deal out of it.

During my early months of maternity leave, I couldn’t keep up with the complexities of the network evolution and went on hiatus as a member. Still, I volunteered to keep sane. I focussed on discrete projects that suited my attention span (short and unpredictable). I proof-read Susan Basterfield’s book, I gave feedback on website content and did some research on a child-poverty intervention. Despite contributing where I could, I still missed out on opportunities — overseas speaking engagements, daytime or evening events, exciting projects, governance opportunities. More intangibly, I lacked the ability to keep in touch with friends meaningfully, and couldn’t have in-depth conversations.

Then recently, I attended a dinner party. To my own surprise, I could contribute thoughtful and sometimes even witty (I know, to my mind at least) comments to the conversation. It felt like my brain was back after, after an approximate, and conservative estimate, 1000 nightly wake-ups. It had taken about nine months and a couple of weeks of nights that were only interrupted twice.

Despite getting a bit more sleep that what I had gotten used to, I still have a lot of time with no ability to do no more than soothe a baby. But I have time to think, whilst singing the same song forty times. For this reason, I have chosen to join a board of an intervention I admire—so I can direct my thinking-not-doing-much time problems that need solving.

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Having spoken to other people in a similar position—small children, a few years’ of experience under our belt—it turns some are feeling daunted, and left out, even after taking less than a year of leave.

As an employer, what could you do?

  • Be open to reimagine what traditionally full-time roles could be done in a part-time capacity
  • Consider making hours flexible, and maybe even remote-possible.
  • Start practising a remote-first approach to meetings (with online participation, made easy through software like Zoom, a good microphone and online collaborative notes through the likes of Google docs)
  • Provide child care or dependancy-support for events and conferences.
  • If you’re happy to pay for staff drinks at the pub, consider spending some money on child-care subsidy to parents (who are less likely to attend drinks regularly but would be out of pocket if they did).
  • Allow people on parental leave to make use of the Keeping in Touch hours
  • Schedule meet-ups in the daytime, in particular if they’re focussed on professional development or networking.
  • See parental leave as a form of personal development: team members who can multi-task, function on little sleep, can prioritise and demonstrate commitment benefit every employer (great post by Adithi Pandit here)
  • If you’re looking for people to fill governance positions, consider the folks you know who are currently on parental leave
Office babe

If we’re aspiring to create a world where we reverse the trends and create equal opportunities in the world of paid work then we need to work towards those, every day—and make it less daunting or exhausting where ever possible.