Women at Work

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

From muddling mum to workaholic: my freelance journey so far

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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.