NB again I wrote this blog a year ago and a lot has changed since then but the subject matter is still close to my heart and this amazing Fellowship is still going and virtual!
I recently wrote a blog for the charity Gingerbread highlighting the challenges of childcare costs, Universal Credit and the potential impact this has on being able to progress at work and within your career. Whilst this is very much a real issue for me and so many other people, I wanted to write something from a slightly different angle, a positive piece on work progression and development. There is this expectation now that we can have it all: careers, babies and everything else in between. The problem with this is that for most people this is an unrealistic and unfair expectation. It is actually really hard to do it all and striking the right balance of everything is an ongoing challenge for most. The reality is some days I only want one or the other, and some days neither, and then there are the rare days where I want it all. The pressure and the guilt to be a good parent every single day whilst simultaneously not just show up for work but be good at it, be the best, do more, and earn more is immense and often overwhelming. However, for the past 7 months I have been fortunate enough to be part of an amazing Fellowship called Leaders Plus, aimed at supporting and developing new parents to be able to progress in their careers, reduce the inequality gap, challenge opinions and break down the barriers for parents returning to work. And what it has taught me is that it is possible to find a balance, it is possible to have both but what that looks like is personal to you and what you want. Leaders Plus has been empowering, encouraging, supportive, inspiring and thought provoking. It has encouraged me to do things I’ve been putting off for too long such as a 5 year plan, an 8 year plan, as well as thinking about my network including how to build it and use it, get a mentor and even a sponsor. Crucially it’s provided a space for me to think about myself, my career, what I want to do and how I want to balance that with my family. It’s given me the tools and environment to think about these aspects of my life and work towards them in such a way, I very much doubt I would have had or done otherwise. But most of all it’s given me the belief that it is possible. For me it has also helped me to look at these things in a realistic way. Realistic because you do have a family and sleepless nights, and some days you just don’t feel like you can do anything never mind everything. In one of the sessions we were asked to present our 5 year plan and I remember thinking and feeling that I could barely think beyond tomorrow never mind 5 years. I remember thinking that my hope for 5 years’ time at this point was that we were both just still alive. I was able to be completely honest about this in the session because it was such positive and supportive space to do this. The workshops are set up to give you the space to this and for the group to respond.
My fellow Fellows were amazing during the session as was the facilitator. I was given the space to share my thinking. We shared similar concerns and talked about helpful, practical tips and advice for breaking down a plan and making it realistic. I left the workshop skipping, I felt invigorated and inspired, I felt completely empowered. Of course you don’t feel like this forever and I still have times where I can’t see past tomorrow, but I often go back to the sessions in my mind and how I was able to completely change my thinking and turn it around.
The ideas and suggestions in the session largely came from each other, that’s the wonderful thing about it: learning from each other and the bringing together of some very talented women, women who do really big and important jobs, women who are in charge and responsible for whole organisations, cool women doing cool things who are also mums. I only mention women here because there are only women on this year’s Fellowship however it is very much open to men as well and actively encourages parents to join the fellowship, not just women. The Fellowship offers a number of hardship places for people who are self-funding rather than their employer doing so but might not be in a position to pay the full cost of the cost. As a single parent who works part time, I was fortunate enough to receive one of the hardship places after a wonderful friend recommended I apply having gone through the Fellowship the previous year. I want to be that friend to anyone reading this who has been encouraged or inspired by the information on the Fellowship and say apply too. You can find more details about the Fellowship and applications here: https://www.leadersplus.org.uk/