Before maternity leave, I was at director level at an IT company with over 90 staff. But after having my kids, I struggled to find a role that would let me be a mum as well as a professional. Here’s how tech companies can benefit from helping talented women return to work.
I spent over 15 years in quality testing for the tech industry. I forged a good career but had to take a break when I became pregnant with my first child because of ill health.
I was lucky to be able to step away from work temporarily – I know many people have to keep working full-time. It was hard to take time out, especially as a woman in IT. To get to a decent level and almost throw it away was quite galling. I was worried I may not get a good opportunity again, or that I may have to start over at the bottom.
There are far too many mums at the school gates who are well-qualified, but struggle to find a work-life balance. I felt I had to choose between full-time professional work with ramifications for my children, or low-paid lower-skill work. Employers need to offer more flexible working so that women don’t fall off their career paths as soon as children come along.
Searching for the right role
I returned to work when my daughter was a year old, on a contract with another established IT company. But the work-life balance was horrific. I was commuting into central Bristol, pulling eight or nine hour days and saw very little of my daughter.
One Saturday I found myself in work because a release had gone badly and my husband sent me a picture of our daughter at the zoo. I thought ‘You know what? She’ll only be this age once.’ I realised I needed to find something that would allow me to spend more time with her, without compromising my career.
But the unicorn that was a good, interesting part-time job didn’t seem to exist. I searched daily for five years and I didn’t find a single permanent role that could work for my family. So I took contracts to fill the void and keep my brain and CV ticking over.
‘There are now more women than men at CookiesHQ, and a third of us are on part-time contracts – almost unheard of in tech!’
What parents need is flexibility on working hours. An understanding that we might start slightly later in the morning, after dropoff at school, but we’ll give our all during working hours.
Most days my husband has to be in the office early and stay late because of meetings. It’s expected. If we switched that expectation up it would help get a lot of women back into the workplace. And there are plenty of dads who would love to get more time with their kids too.
As soon as I saw the CookiesHQ role, advertised on a part-time or flexible basis, it was a ‘eureka!’ moment. About 30 software testing jobs were popping up each week, and this was the first decent part-time role I’d seen. That tells you just how little flexibility there is in the jobs market.
It was the fact that founders Nic and Nathalie are parents themselves that sold it. Nathalie herself works part-time – they have three children and they understand the need for balance in life. In my interview, they understood exactly why I wanted the role and how much returning mums have to offer.
There are now more women than men working at CookiesHQ, and a third of us are on flexible or part-time contracts – almost unheard of in the tech sector! We’re also able to work from home whenever we need to – a godsend when a child is poorly or you need to get to a PTA meeting.
Improving the tech sector
Women are still massively underrepresented in the tech industry, so it’s not a priority for businesses to improve things for returners. If we want UK tech to be as good as it can be, we have to stop shutting the door on talented women when they have children. Companies spend a lot of time and money investing in employees – what a waste it is!
Smaller companies tend to be more open-minded – larger companies are slower to react to the changing job market. Startups are the most accommodating because they may not need or be able to take someone on full-time.
When you’re just starting out, you need to be really careful about who you hire. I think startups recognise that they can hire someone very qualified – with a lot of experience – for a lower salary if they offer it part-time. And workers who feel their needs are considered will be more dedicated and motivated – all the more valuable in a smaller team.
As with CookiesHQ, it’s often small companies making these changes first, before the ripple effect spreads to the powerhouses I used to work for.
‘We need to move towards more provision of flexible working in the industry, and a more welcoming culture for returning mums.’
Returners are a benefit, not a burden
Having a family turns your life upside down. You have to become more organised, more creative. What employers don’t realise is that having a break from your industry makes you hungry to get back into it – taking a break can be a good thing.
While I was off, I was staying up to date with industry developments, reading articles, and looking forward to coming back to work. I’m more keen to get into work sometimes than I was prior to having children! I’m hoping that, as my children get older and CookiesHQ grows, I’ll be able to extend my hours if I’m needed.
We need to move towards a more equal system of parenting, more provision of flexible working in the industry and a more welcoming culture for mums returning to work. Only then will we find that elusive work-life balance.
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