Career and family, six ways women can really combine both successfully

Employees’ rights with regard to combining work with a young family have never been greater. We have decent maternity leave, we have adoption leave, we have extended paternity leave, with the prospect of even more flexible arrangements to come. We have parental leave, emergency dependents’ leave and the right to at least request flexible working.

All this is good, and further progress is always welcome, however there’s still a way to go and many women still find progressing in their career and raising a family is a challenge too far. Some decide for themselves to leave the workplace, take a more junior position or put the brakes on the career track they are on, while some find their progress is being stalled by others who doubt their commitment and ability to fulfil the requirements of a senior role.

In HR, there’s the added dimension of the profession being extremely female-dominated, making the contrast between the gender balance at entry level and at director level even more stark. Talented HR people progress in their profession, get to management level or thereabouts, and their success both coincides and clashes with the time they want to have a family.

Fortunately more and more businesses are being creative about job sharing, home working and flexible hours, all of which help redress this balance, and many are also recognising that having an incredibly talented, hard working manager three or four days a week is a fantastic asset to the organisation rather than a liability, and perhaps it is possible to hold a senior role and work part-time.

But having a family and development in a career shouldn’t be mutually exclusive and I encourage women in HR or any profession to look for other options. Here are my six tips for women in HR or any profession who want to keep the sense of fulfilment and achievement they get from their career and balance it with raising a family.

Who is family friendly?

Seeking out employers who are more family-friendly where possible. There are awards given for this, and you can do plenty of research on the internet to find which employers are more open to flexibility, or have a better gender balance on the board. Of course roles in these organisations are highly sought after, but by targeting your job search, you improve your chances of finding something that will work for you.

Present solutions

If you make a flexible working request, either in a formal way with a current employer or when looking at a new role, present it as a solution rather than as asking them for something that will be inconvenient. Find a job share partner and apply together for senior roles (there are websites that facilitate this now), anticipate potential roadblocks and make sure these are addressed in your proposal.

Trial periods are great

If a trial period might work for what you want to do, seize the opportunity with both hands, and make it work. Be utterly fabulous during the trial period, make sure it goes smoothly and that the employer is benefiting. Make it as difficult as possible for them to refuse the request after the trial.

Use technology

Being available longer hours is often a key requirement of senior roles, but you can do this wherever you are now, with it now being possible to pick up emails in the school playground (yes I do that!) and use Skype for meetings, reducing the need for travel.

Problem shared is problem halved

Encouraging fathers to take more of an active role can also help enormously. Two parents sharing time off, sharing flexible working and sharing the school runs, means half the impact on a single employer and makes developing a career and having a family seem a lot more doable. The more men take part in the traditional female family activities, the more normal this will seem and the more will feel able to do it.

Consider self-employment

I’ve found this to give the ultimate flexibility. I can do school runs, go to school plays, sports days, doctors appointments and manage my work around it without worrying about an employer. It’s not for everyone but consider it as an option if career development and flexibility are the holy grail you’re looking for. I’ve learned so much and developed so much as an HR professional since leaving full time employment so while I work fewer hours than I did previously, I certainly feel I’m getting plenty of career progression and fulfilment!

You often hear things like “you’ll never wish you’d worked more on your death bed”. Well no, probably not. And time with the family is of course vital, and everyone has to make the best decision for them and their family when it comes to work-life balance.

But for me actually it’s not about just working more or harder, it’s about having a fulfilling, exciting, challenging career as opposed to either not having one at all, or having one where you don’t fulfil your own potential. And those choices might well be the kinds of decisions one might regret later in life.

If you’re interested in talking to us about becoming a partner with face2faceHR, do get in touch.