Women at work: lawyer

Copyright: Shutterstock.com/Africa Studio

Continuing my series on women going back to work after having a baby, this week we meet an ambitious lawyer who is refreshingly honest about wanting to get back to work and showing a strong work ethic to her son.

 

How did you get into law?

From a young age, my dad always told me he thought “law was a good job” and I basically followed his advice (and am thankful for it). I took the traditional route of studying law at university, then onto law school for a year followed by a two-year training contract with a law firm, before eventually then qualifying as a lawyer (which I have now been for almost 13 years).

Briefly, describe a typical day at work…

No day is ever the same – which is one of the many things I love about my job. However, typically it might look like this: Early morning tends to see some form of management meeting (maybe a Business Development meeting, firm strategy meeting or a Graduate Recruitment issue – I am also the firm’s Training Principal and Graduate Recruitment Partner). Then it’s client work, which can be anything from meetings, calls, document reviews, drafting, court applications and hearings. I am a private client lawyer and specialise in a mixture of contentious and non-contentious trusts and estates work. Lunch might be a training session or another internal meeting – or it might actually be lunch! The afternoon will be back on client work, which will see me through to the early evening and then it’s either home or it might be a networking event.

What is the best part of your job?

I absolutely love the variety of my work and the fact that I am challenged every day. I knew early on that dealing with pure transactional work was not for me, but working in a large corporate city firm means I am very fortunate with the type of clients I have. By way of example, I can be looking at succession planning for high-net-worth individuals who might hold large companies or landed estates, negotiating deals with national heritage bodies to save estates for the nation or I might be dealing with applications being brought against trustees of multi-million-pound trusts. I also feel very fortunate to work with some of the brightest lawyers and barristers and not just in the UK.

And the worst?

The hours are long and clients’ expectations are high – but then so they should be, as ultimately I work in a client-service industry. As a partner, there are also a lot of demands on you that come from other areas, such as the need to build your practice. This involves not just doing the work on your desk, but going out searching for the work too and investing time in other areas for the firm’s growth – in my case Graduate Recruitment and the development of our trainees. Juggling the demands of a busy career and making time for the important role of business development, and ensuring we recruit and retain the best talent does have its challenges and very often I feel there are not enough hours in the day!

How many children do you have?

I have one delightful little boy who is almost 21 months old.

How old was your child when you went back to work?

My son was 10 months old. I started my maternity leave three days before he arrived (which wasn’t planned, although in fairness I hadn’t left myself much time as was aiming for a week of feet up on the sofa before he arrived). Part of the reason in leaving it to the last minute was because I had decided early on to take 10 months and return to work full time, so I wanted to make sure I used all of my maternity leave with him.

How did you find going back to work after having a baby?

The honest answer is that I was actually rather desperate to get back to work. To some, this might sound horrific, but that does not mean that I didn’t find it hard leaving my son, nor do I find it easy that I don’t see him as much as I did. But I have got my own identity back and I also truly believe that it is important for my son to see me working and understand the importance of a strong work ethic.

Did you go back to the same job? Or consider a career change?

I went back to exactly the same job and never considered doing anything but this.

Who provides childcare for you?

We have a nanny for three days a week and our son attends nursery two days a week. I work from home on one of the nursery days so I can do the pickup and I sometimes leave the office before 5pm on a nanny day so I can do bedtime. This allows me to see my son one or two nights during the working week and my hugely-supportive husband is responsible for all the other days in terms of getting home on time to do pick up/relieve the nanny.

Was it easy to negotiate flexible working/returning to work?

I was in a very fortunate position, as being a partner I am ultimately responsible for my own practice. Of course, going back full time meant little was changing, but I was able to make the decision about working from home and if I want to leave early I just do – but if I do I am then in the study after bedtime logging on and catching up on emails for a couple of hours.

Would you say your attitude to work has changed since having a baby?

I still have the same career aspirations I always had and, in that regard, my career has stayed very important to me, but I do work more efficiently now and I do say no to things. I can’t go to every drinks evening (and lawyers do find themselves at a lot of these!) and I have to think carefully about travel that takes me away from home for a few days as I have other responsibilities now. However, I believe in balance and sometimes there is something in the work calendar that is very important and I have to prioritise this, and other times I cancel things to make sure I see my son.

What advice would you give to mums on maternity leave?

Make the most of the time, as it goes so quickly. Try to get out and about as much as you can. Meet new mums and make an effort. Maternity leave can be lonely and you need to have at least one person that you can be open and honest with and call on for a coffee. I would also say don’t feel guilty if you pine for the office (or equivalent). Having a baby and how that changes your life is very personal to you – my own view is that I don’t believe motherhood defines you. It certainly adds a new layer to you and brings a new element to your life that brings so much joy. But for some (and I absolutely accept it’s not for everyone) being a working mum can make you a better mum and don’t be afraid of accepting that if you fall into that category as I certainly did. If you miss work while you are on maternity leave then do whatever you can to keep in touch. Take the baby into the office, log in and check the odd email – do whatever keeps you sane! Quite frankly, maternity leave can be really hard work and yes there is coffee and cake (and sure I miss this now and again) but it’s not a breeze by any stretch.

 

 

 

Women at Work: Content Marketing Director

Profile Photo - Devon Mama

Name
Hi, I’m Hayley, a 30-year-old new mum living with my husband, one-year-old son and our dog in rural Devon.

Current profession
I went back to work part-time in January and am currently working as Content Marketing Director for a national retail company. I also write a parenting, food and lifestyle blog called Devon Mama in my spare time.

Town or county you live in: Devon!

How did you get into content marketing?
My route into content marketing isn’t the traditional one. I’ve worked at the same company since I was 13 and a Saturday girl. It’s a family company and with almost all of my family involved, I was bound to end up there. Prior to going to university to study Business and Management, I worked for 12 months as a Marketing Assistant. I credit that with being one of the best and worst jobs I had, I worked directly for the Marketing Director and would cry relentlessly as my work was never ‘good’ enough to meet his standards. It both put me off marketing and inspired me to do better.

After leaving university, I came back to the company and joined as a buyer, quite different from my previous experience! In our organisation it still allowed me to have input with product presentation and promotion, especially as I was sourcing and developing own-brand products from the Far East. Over the years I worked my way up to Procurement Manager before joining the Board as Procurement Director back in 2014. My role at that stage was overseeing all products and stock from conception through to it leaving the organisation to go to the customer, giving me a team of 15 and a budget of £25 million annually. I was still heavily involved in promotion planning and worked closely with our branding and marketing team throughout.

As time progressed we realised there was a gap for a content marketing team. Previously our copy and content product was spread across various individuals in the company, each technically employed to do another job! In 2015 I set up a small team, working directly with them to develop how we presented and promoted our products digitally. It fitted well alongside my procurement role even if it was two very different skills and sides of my brain!

When I had my son, I started to look at which parts of my role would have to go in order to accommodate a shorter working week. I realised quickly that I wasn’t prepared to lose my marketing role and with that, stepped aside as Procurement Director. Since that point, I’ve brought all content production into one team allowing us to give a clear, branded and consistent message. I actually bumped into my old boss the other day, he couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to get back into marketing!

Briefly describe a typical day at work…
A typical day at work for me starts at 7.30am. I get into the office, grab a drink and get settled in. That first 30 minutes before everyone else arrives is the golden time – I get so much done! As a Director I’m expected to still be ‘on’ when I’m at home, so I tend to do a quick pre-check of my emails the night before and first thing in the morning. When I’m in the office I start by going through my inbox and getting any quick wins out of the way first. I have sign off for all content, which means I spend a huge chunk of my day editing and proofing work before signing off; sometimes that can take minutes, other times hours.

Around 8.30am I go into a Director’s briefing where we discuss any issues arising, sales and performance. After that, it’s usually meetings with people in my team to catch up on what they’re doing, chat through ideas and sort any issues. I operate fairly openly with my team, nothing is off the table (unless it’s ridiculous), so there are always plenty of ideas and suggestions to talk through. Over lunch I’ll do a bit more copy reading, check emails and sign off adverts or marketing materials; unfortunately, part-time hours mean that a lunch break is a necessity I just don’t have time for these days.

In the afternoon we’ll have a campaign planning meeting, getting the entire team together to plan and schedule campaigns. We work 3-6 months ahead as a minimum, thankfully a habit I’m used to from my days in Buying… it can lead to being very fed up with Christmas by the time it comes round! Finally, I usually end up dealing with staff issues or a management issue such as strategy work at the end of the day. I sign off at 4.30pm to pick up my son before going home to another hour or so on the sofa later.

What is the best part of your job?
The team. One of the best bits of bringing together a relatively new team is being able to handpick them. They all come from different backgrounds and have different levels of experience and technical knowledge, but somehow it just works. I’m also very lucky to have a hugely supportive team of fellow Directors; my desk is in a corner with three of them and we’re constantly collaborating, discussing and laughing. I also love the flexibility I have. If I need to swap a day in the office, I can. If I need to leave early, I can. It’s taken some adjustment, but it works well for us at the moment.

And the worst?
Ha! Being part time also has its downsides. It’s very difficult to be in a high-level job and not be there 24/7. It’s not as if my job role ceases to function or can be covered when I’m not in the office, which means I have to be constantly available. People often think it’s easy being at the top of the management structure and while it does have huge benefits, it’s also the worst bit of my job. Ultimately, the buck stops with me. If one of my team make an error or something goes out incorrectly, it’s on me. It’s my role to develop and support those working for me and prevent mistakes from happening.

As a Director, there is no-one really above you, which means that you are expected to have the answers and the fixes. I’d often look over my shoulder as if someone more senior was going to be stood there and answer the question I’d been asked! I’ve had to make tough decisions that go against my personal feelings in order to put the company’s best interests first, including making roles of people I like redundant. It’s an incredible feeling having that responsibility; it can be very stressful, very lonely and completely exhausting.

How many children do you have?
I have a son born in May 2016.

How old was your child when you went back to work?
I planned to return to work in September 2016, but didn’t feel quite ready. I took back the Content Marketing part of my role at that stage, working from home while my maternity cover was on an extended holiday. I loved it but it just proved that I wasn’t mentally ready to return to work! From September onwards I returned to work for Board Meetings and in January 2017 I went back to work properly.

How did you find going back to work after having a baby?
Oh gosh. I found going back to work with a baby so much harder than I thought I would! Even though I felt ready, I don’t think you can ever fully be ready for that change again. It helps that my son loves his childcare, but there are days when I don’t get to see him in the morning, meaning I get an hour with him maximum. I find myself riddled with guilt about leaving him when I’m in work and guilt about not working more when I’m at home. It’s tricky!

Did you go back to the same job? Or consider a career change?
I went back to an element of my old job. I genuinely considered not returning for a long time. I looked at our finances and realised that although we could cope, we would be doing just that; coping. We wouldn’t be able to afford to do anything beyond that. I looked at stepping down from a management role but decided it would be a huge backwards step for me and leave me frustrated. If I’m going to leave my baby, I want it to be for something worthwhile.

Who provides childcare for you?
My son goes to nursery one-and-a-half days a week and to my mum for one day. I was nervous about both of those options, but he loves the nursery and has come on leaps and bounds since joining there and being among other, older, children. With my mum, it’s been wonderful to see their relationship blossom and develop. I grew up close to my grandparents and I want the same for my son.

Was it easy to negotiate flexible working/returning to work?
My work has been very accommodating of me returning to work on a part-time basis. We’ve never had a part-time Director before, so I do feel a pressure to make sure that I’m constantly over-performing in order to show it can work.

Would you say your attitude to work has changed since having a baby?
Definitely. I’m still career driven, but I now know that it’s okay to take my foot off the gas a little! I find myself far more appreciative of part-time workers and other working primary caregivers. I used to think it would be easy working part time, but now I realise it’s anything but. I don’t do 3/5ths of my old job. I just do it in 3/5ths of the time for 3/5ths of the pay! On the flip side, I’m far less tolerant of office politics. I’ve not left my own child at home to have to come and deal with ‘children’ at work. I put it down to tiredness and a lack of patience these days!

What advice would you give to mums on maternity leave?
Enjoy it! I spent so long worrying about what I was missing, whether I could go back part time and then how I’d cope, that I forgot to enjoy it half the time. Spend some time doing proper research into childcare with plenty of notice; we had to book our nursery place prior to our son even being born. Good childcare that you trust removes one of those horrible guilt-inducing stressors.

Finally, be realistic about what you can manage. It’s all very well returning to work part time, but that does mean your role needs to be adapted to suit that. Likewise, with full time, don’t over commit yourself to the point that you’re running yourself ragged. You’ve got a full-time role at home as well, parenting doesn’t change to part time or flexi hours… be kind to yourself about what you can achieve. Most of all, know that what’s right for you may not be right for another. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to be back at work (or not!). Your career. Your family. Your choice. Not the neighbour’s, the woman at Tesco’s or your mum’s. Yours.

Women at Work

I’ve decided to start a series of blog posts called Women at Work. Each one will take the form of a short interview with a working mum. I faced many challenges when going back to work after having the J and I wanted to share my own and other women’s experiences in different job roles. I also want to highlight the different options out there and to bring up some of the things mothers go through when thinking about their new working arrangements. To kick things off, I’ve answered my own interview questions.

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I don’t have any photos of me ‘at work’, so here’s a nice one of me on my 30th when I was about five months pregnant, but could just about pull off looking glam.

Georgina Probert – freelance journalist

How did you get in to journalism?
I studied English Literature and History & Theory of Art at University and, as part of my degree course, undertook a three-month internship at a contemporary art magazine. I loved the process of creating a magazine, from conception to printing, and realised that was what I wanted to do.

Briefly describe a typical day at work…
Now that I am freelance, no day is the same. On a work day, I get up early with my daughter and get her dressed, fed and off to childcare. I usually make myself a coffee and start work in my office at home. Sometimes, I go in to my local high street and work in a coffee shop. There is something comforting about being around people and I am very good at tuning out background noise. I also find that there are too many distractions at home, such as washing, cleaning and looking in the fridge (I do this a lot!).

What is the best part of your job?
The flexibility: being able to choose who I work for and when.

And the worst?
The uncertainty of how much money I will bring in each month and having periods with no work. This then leads me to panic and say yes to everything I’m offered, which means I have crazy busy times, too.

How many children do you have?
One daughter called Imogen or ‘the J’ on my blog, who is 14 months old.

How old was your child when you went back to work?
I took on some freelance work when she was eight months old, but I didn’t properly go back until she was about a year.

How did you find going back to work after having a baby?
Exciting, stressful, challenging, but all in a good way. I think it was more about changing career than being away from my daughter. Very selfishly, I like having a purpose other than wife, mother and housekeeper.

Did you go back to the same job? Or consider a career change?
Before I got pregnant I was working for an interiors magazine in London. I decided not to return to my old job, as the cost and time spent commuting just wouldn’t work with a young child.

Who provides childcare for you?
My mother-in-law looks after the J two days a week and, as my workload is increasing, she will also be going to a childminder one day each week. My Mum also gives us ad-hoc babysitting – we are very lucky to have so much support.

Was it easy to negotiate flexible working/returning to work?
I had already made my mind up that I wasn’t going to return to my old job, so there wasn’t any negotiating (apart from with my husband about whether or not to try freelancing). Returning to work was easier than I thought it would be in some ways, but it is more of a challenge juggling work, my daughter, and the general chores/life admin that come with being a grown up.

Would you say your attitude to work has changed since having a baby?
Yes, 100%. I am much more efficient now that I’ve had a child. And I’m less worried about the pressures of work. Perhaps because I am my own boss, but also because there are things in life that are so much more important than whether your boss/colleagues/clients like you. I also work harder, mainly because my time is more precious these days, but also because I am just starting out as a freelancer and want to build up my client base, so need to make a good impression.

What advice would you give to mums on maternity leave?
Don’t jump to hand in your notice. Wait until you really have to make that decision. Speak to your company and discuss flexible working, even if you think they won’t be open to it, it never hurts to ask. And if what they offer doesn’t work for you, think about a career change or look for a company that does offer flexible hours. Just because you want to go part-time, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your career.

From muddling mum to workaholic: my freelance journey so far

ilya-pavlov-87472
This is not my working desk – mine is much messier! Image credit: Ilya Pavlov/unsplash.com

 

I wrote this blog post last week, but have been really busy and so it is a week late – you will see why when you read it:

When my maternity leave came to an end, I decided not to go back to my old job in London. I was working as a Sub Editor for an interiors magazine, based in Southwark. There were a number of factors that influenced my decision, which included the fact that the other “part-timers” on my team worked four days a week and I only wanted to do two or three days. Add to that the cost of daily train fares (why they haven’t come up with a part-time workers season ticket I have no idea?), the distance/time spent travelling to and from work, and the unreliability of Southeastern trains, and it wasn’t a difficult decision.

I am lucky enough to work in an industry that employs a lot of freelancers. And while there aren’t as many local publishing companies in Kent as there are in London, I was confident I could get enough work as a freelancer. In my experience, unless you have been in a journalism role for a while and ask to cut down your hours, there aren’t many part-time permanent jobs around. It’s really full-time or freelance, and then many freelance jobs are full-week bookings. But I’ve got lots of contacts, so was hoping to utilise them to get some part-time local and remote work.

I am so lucky that I didn’t have to go back to work; I wanted to. We can just about survive on one salary, but if I decided to become a stay at home mum, we wouldn’t be able to go on holiday or do nice things and money would become a constant worry. My earnings will enable us to build up our rainy-day savings and will take the pressure off financially.

So I started freelancing in October last year and got some work quite quickly (see my previous post, Why all new parents should consider ‘swapping jobs’ for a week). Great, I thought, the work will come rolling in. It didn’t. November came and went with nothing, and then December is a write off for job hunting in general. I thought to myself, if I don’t get any bookings for January I will start looking for a part-time job, as a secretary or office admin – anything to earn a bit of cash.

January is apparently the month when every single direct debit I have ever set-up comes out of our accounts: TV license, car insurance, car tax, contents insurance etc, etc. And I didn’t get any work. I started applying for jobs that I felt I was over-qualified for and then became really downtrodden when I didn’t even get interviews for them. I also learned that flexible part-time working for highly-skilled women is a lot more difficult to find outside of London. Then, thankfully, the women’s magazine I worked for in October booked me for some work over Easter and in the summer holidays.

Phew, I was back on track. My husband is a teacher and has the school holidays off work, so I can take on full-time bookings in the hols with the added bonus of free childcare. I decided that I would need to take some full-time bookings to counteract the weeks (or months) when I don’t have any work at all. That also means finding term-time only childcare, which is a whole other subject to talk about!

I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to get any work until Easter and that was OK. Then my friend, who is launching a new business, asked me for some help with her website, which lead to fairly regular work. All of sudden things were looking up. Well anyway, I have come to realise that freelancing is the feast and the famine. I had months of nothing and then last Friday, a whole heap of work came in. Email after email came through that day with future bookings. It was really weird and overwhelming (not that I’m complaining!).

I had a request for 2.5 days work the very next week; bookings from another magazine I had worked for in the past, with loads of work in April, May and June; more bookings for the women’s magazine for the summer, as well as December and January 2018; a meeting about potential work with a local company; and a second interview for regular work from an online news-and-entertainment website. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so of course in a blind panic I said yes to everything.

Things I have learned this week after saying yes to ALL the work:

  • Don’t take on work when you haven’t got childcare sorted (and when your mother-in-law and chief-babysitter is on holiday).
  • Working from home with a one-year-old does NOT work. They can sense that you are distracted and then become clingy and wingey, and you feel guilty for being a crap mum and not entertaining them.
  • Don’t feel guilty when family and friends offer to help you. My mum and dad have been amazing this week and have helped out loads with the J. Thanks guys!
  • The J has a ridiculous social calendar, most of which I had to cancel this week. I’m not entirely sure how I am going to fit part-time work in with her numerous social engagements.
  • Your child will sense the nights when you have work the next day and will refuse to sleep and keep you up half the night.
  • Don’t expect companies to care about you, your child or your schedule. The 2.5 days I was supposed to be working on Monday-Wednesday have basically taken over my whole life this week. Finding a spare hour here and there to get things done and working late into the evening. This is partly due to my limited childcare, but also because they didn’t send me any of the work on time. I had three hours of child-freedom on Monday morning and was ready and waiting to work, and nothing came through until the afternoon – not cool!

So now I need to sit down and review the work I have booked in and whether I can actually deliver everything I have promised. And I need to organise childcare in advance. I’m certainly finding freelancing a balancing act, but it is so nice to have a purpose other than being mother, cook and housekeeper. Let’s wait until April when I’m mega busy and see if I feel the same then.