#BalanceForBetter: what does it mean in the workplace?

This International Women’s Day (IWD) ACEVO’s head of policy Kristiana Wrixon talks about what #BalanceForBetter means in the workplace

The IWD website says ‘Balance drives a better working world’, but how can we create balance in the charity workplace for parents?  As the mother of two young children this is a topic very close to my heart, and something I think ACEVO does incredibly well. So to mark both IWD and the fact I have had at least five hours sleep every night for the last week (the first time I have been able to say that since August 2017) I thought I would share my thoughts.

I found out I was pregnant with my second child about a month after I joined ACEVO. Like many women in a similar situation, I was worried about the reaction of my new employer. 77% of working mums have encountered negative or discriminatory treatment at work and I didn’t yet know this organisation well enough to feel confident I wouldn’t be one of them. Also knowing that 40% of employers say they would avoid hiring a woman of childbearing age (exactly to avoid this kind of situation) I felt I was somehow letting down the sisterhood. However, thankfully, my fears were unfounded.

As I found out I was pregnant just after taking up post it wasn’t unusual for me to be having introductory meetings with external stakeholders while visibly pregnant. More often than not the person I was meeting would nod towards my growing stomach and say ‘I bet they were thrilled about that’. This showed me in a way that I didn’t see with my first child how maternity discrimination is expected by the majority of people.

Halfway through my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes which meant fortnightly consultant appointments, monthly growth scans and testing my blood four times a day. At this point the value of having decent remote working capabilities meant the difference in me being able to continue doing my job as before or missing large chunks of work. And while our digital capability isn’t without fault (that’s a separate blog!), it does usually enable me to work from anywhere with an internet connection. Technology is a huge part of creating an inclusive workplace, and that if nothing else should make it a priority for all charities that haven’t quite got round to improving their digital capabilities.

Before I signed off for maternity leave I had a chat with Vicky about how I wanted to be contacted over the following eight months (personal email address) and what kind of updates I wanted to be sent (staff changes, information about strategic planning). During maternity leave I kept in touch meetings, often bringing my son in his sling while my daughter was at nursery. I was involved with staff recruitment and attended a board meeting towards the end of my maternity leave. Not everyone on parental leave will want to or be able to attend meetings but having the choice is important.

I came back to work four days a week when my son was seven months old. But he was still barely sleeping and most days I was functioning on less than four hours sleep. Having colleagues who genuinely cared about how I was doing made the world of difference. They asked how I slept and offered to make coffee. I felt valued and included despite occasionally walking into glass doors.

Then there are the various childcare crises that inevitably spring up for all parents. If your childminder/nanny is sick or if your child is unwell then someone needs to stay home and look after them. Thankfully I have a partner who also has an understanding workplace and we are able to split these days. But working flexibly during these occasions was also essential.  My colleagues never made me feel guilty for needing to work from home suddenly, or for taking short notice annual leave. And although I sometimes had to cancel some external meetings, the majority of people said they had been there too.

As I get towards the end of this blog I am starting to worry that my tales of cancelled meetings, hospital appointments and sleep deprivation is not doing much for the case of parents, and in particular mothers, in the workplace. But despite the challenges, I have achieved a lot this year and while I have days where I need to shove the self-doubt down with a stick, deep down I know that I am actually quite good at my job and I give back to ACEVO what it gives to me.

The balance I think we should be trying to achieve this IWD is a balance between organisation and individual. Equality legislation, technology and flexible working are the essential ingredients but it’s culture that binds them together. As we say in our Leading with Values report, culture is modelled from the top and created through action. How you as leaders model your charitable and personal values in the workplace matters, it is seen and it will trickle down to all levels of the organisation.

There needs to be an equilibrium between the organisation and the individual to create #BalanceForBetter in the workplace. When that happens we can achieve equity for all working people, parents included.

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