My Other Full-Time Job (Podcast)

Last month I was booked in as the âmystery readerâ at my daughterâs school. I turned out to be the most mysterious of all parent readers: I forgot to turn up.
Hong Kong Employment and HR
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Episode Description

Last month I was booked in as the âmystery readerâ at my daughterâs school. I turned out to be the most mysterious of all parent readers: I forgot to turn up.

As a working mother I prioritise the big-ticket items: keeping the children alive, my day job and personal hygiene. That doesnât leave much time for anything else, particularly reading school emails. Throw in some head lice and a round of Norovirus and the wheels start to fall off.

In the past fortnight I have been expected at two parent teacher conferences, a sports day, a spring sing-along and an open morning. Oh, and last Friday was a teacher training day so the school was closed. This is with two children in primary school. I am excited to see my calendar when my third starts in August.

Despite current statistics showing that three quarters of mothers are now in the workforce, many schools continue to operate under the illusion that mummy is at home full time. The result is working mothers spread so thinly that they find themselves questioning whether a career really is viable.

Whilst I threaten to leave my job and/or husband on a near weekly basis, somehow things always seem to come good by Sunday evening. When I reflect on why that is, the answer lies in the people surrounding me. I have a good support system at home, and I am very fortunate to work in a team that schedules calls sympathetically, accommodates my sometimes unorthodox working hours (who isnât awake at 5am?), and feeds me biscuits when Iâm exhausted.

Employers can certainly implement policies to make the mechanics of life easier for working mothers â remote working, flexible hours etc, but in my experience what encourages mothers to actually use them without fear of detriment to their career, is the culture in the office. That comes down to individuals; not a policy on the intranet.

Harneysâ Hong Kong office has several working mothers in senior positions, and theyâre excellent role models. These women make the job work around their children, firing up early if they have an Easter bonnet parade to attend mid-morning, relocating home if they need to do pick up, and sometimes choosing to finish their day once their children are asleep.

It is accepted that every team member has commitments outside of work, child-related or otherwise, and we must flex so far as is possible to accommodate one another. Given the culture this has created, it is unsurprising to see other mothers rising through the ranks. I have no doubt that a similar attitude permeates the whole Harneys network given the number of female office heads.

Some of what makes a working environment friendly to mothers is simply collective experience: there is comfort in hearing that other womenâs children are biters, or wake up at dawn, or only eat beige foods. Sometimes laughing with a colleague about how few hoursâ sleep you have both had is a great tonic to the alternative (having a little cry, which is also fine).

Further aspects can be utilised â and most organisations have scope for improvement. Occasionally scheduling BD events over breakfast, lunch, or coffee rather than in the evening over drinks means working mothers donât always have to choose between putting their kids to bed and developing professional contacts. It also signals to the client that their personal time is respected.

Then there is setting and managing stakeholder expectations. If work is urgent, it must of course be dealt with as such, but when less urgent work is consistently promised within unrealistic time frames it sets working mothers up to fail, at home if not at work. When a working mother feels they are failing as both a lawyer and a parent eventually something must give.

Invariably that will be leaving the legal profession, the alternative â leaving parenthood (aka abandoning your children) â being less socially acceptable.

All too often discussion on closing gender gaps in the workplace focuses on promoting female talent, whilst ignoring the critical importanc...

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