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Launch of first ever ‘Bar Nursery’ to support female barristers’ careers

16 Apr

The Bar Council has launched the first ever ‘Bar Nursery‘, a childcare facility in central London, to help barristers with children honour their work and family commitments.

The Bar Nursery at Smithfield House – near the Inns of Court – will offer flexible, discounted childcare from 7am to 7pm for children aged eight weeks to five years old. The idea is to “ease the pressure” on self-employed barristers, who otherwise may be put off joining the profession. The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, may open up further Bar Nurseries across the country, depending on demand.

Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar, says:”It is important that members of the profession are not discouraged from starting a family because of their work, which could have a detrimental effect particularly on the number of women choosing a career at the Bar. It could also see talented practitioners leaving the self-employed Bar for a more stable working life in employed practice, or even another profession.”

It’s not often you hear of initiatives like this that are practical and take care of short-term priorities as well as keeping a long-term view of talent and diversity. If only other professions could follow suit.

Childcare costs are becoming a luxury fewer can afford

6 Mar

Some nurseries in London cost more than the most expensive boarding schools in the UK, according to the Childcare Costs Survey 2013 from the Daycare Trust and the Family and Parenting Institute.

The research found that a place at Britain’s most expensive nursery £42,000, which is 25% more than a place at a top public school – putting childcare from the ‘necessity’ into the ‘luxury’ category in terms of working parents’ budgets.

Even once a child is at school, the costs are still racking up. Parents are paying nearly £4,000 for two children to be looked after before and after the school day – which exceeds that costs of a typical family holiday to Florida.

On average, a full-time nursery place costs £11,000. But this costs 77% more in real terms than it did in 2003, but earnings have stayed the same. This adds to the dilemma of many working mothers: can they afford to go out to work when much of their earnings are eaten up by childcare?

The Daycare Trust and the Family and Parenting say they believe that “major root and branch reforms are needed to create a childcare system that gives children the best start in life and that supports parents to work”.

Working mothers are happier than stay-at-home mums – but earn less than childless women

17 Feb

Working mothers are happier than stay-at-home mums (pic credit: istockphoto.com)

Working mothers are happier than mums who stay at home, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology. But going back to work after having children comes at a price, with research from the University of New Mexico revealing that mothers earn up to 14% less than their childless female colleagues.

The study Mothers’ Part-Time Employment: Associations With Mother and Family Well-Beingby Cheryl Buehler and Marion O’Brien from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, found that “mothers employed part time had fewer depressive symptoms during the infancy and pre-school years and better self-reported health at most time points than did non-employed mothers”. In other words, a healthy balance of work and family life makes mothers feel happier.

This excellent article from The Conversation, Work Keeps Mums Happy and Children Well-Adjusted, provides a balanced and insightful commentary on how mothers who work are more fulfilled – and counters the old-fashioned arguments that children of working mothers are somehow deprived. Drawing on John Bowlby’s attachment theory, it explains that children enjoy spending quality time with their parents, and feel happy and confident to explore the world and discover themselves as long as there is a ‘secure base’ to return to.

However, the downside of mothers going back to work is that Continue reading

Could more time be the secret to workplace happiness?

4 Oct

The beautiful weather may have prompted unseasonally sunny demeanours this week, but there’s no hiding the cloud of unhappiness that’s hanging over the UK’s workforce, according to two surveys that gauge the nation’s happiness.

The Happiness at Work Index from recruitment firm Badenoch & Clark reveals that just a third (36.5%) of workers are happy in their jobs. A quarter said they were “distinctly unhappy” – and levels of unhappiness have been falling this year. The company’s managing director Nicola Linkleter puts this down to “a lack of tangible job security, longer hours, increased financial strain at work and home, and reticence from senior management to invest in additional talent”, and says that workplace morale should be addressed as a business-critical issue.

The delicate balance between work and home is the subject of the second survey, from My Family Care. Its Working Parents & Carers Flexible Working Survey 2011 reveals that just 40% of the 40,000 respondents were happy or very happy with their work/life balance.

Interestingly, there is a correlation between flexible working and being happy with their work-life balance: two-thrids (64%) of people  who are ‘very happy’ with their working pattern say they are ‘really committed’ to their employer, compared with 23% in the ‘very unhappy’ category who feel similarly committed to their employer. Happiness links to productivity, say respondents. However, flexibility does not equal career progression, with 54% in the ‘very happy’ group concerned that that their promotion prospects may be hindered by working flexibly.

So, what’s the common denominator in all of this? There’s no magic cure to the unhappiness, but I agree with one of the conclusions reached by the My Family Care survey: that the underlying issue is the pressure caused by lack of time. Working parents have jobs, children, possibly elderly parents to take care of; so many “mandatory” elements to their lives. The survey adds: “So ways to save time and use it more productively will nearly always help; from the practical – working from home during rush hour and putting convenient childcare in place, to the developmental – training designed to help workload management and productivity for flexible working.”

Flexibility is key for working mothers to forge career – and why the US is ahead of the UK

15 Sep

Forward-thinking companies are prioritising work-family balance for women (pic credit: Istockphoto)

Working mums value the ability to work flexibly much more highly than pay or time off, according to the latest survey from US magazine Working Mother.

Its 2011 Working Mother 100 Best Companies report reveals that it’s the organisations that empower mothers to create their own weekly schedule and career path – while still delivering on objectives – that have come highest in the rankings.

The Working Mother 100 Best Companies answer 650 questions, including data on the access and use of flexible work arrangements for commuting, childcare and eldercare reasons, and the advancement of women to all levels of management. The top 10 companies are Bank of America, Deloitte, Discovery Communications, Ernst & Young, General Mills, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Prudential Financial, TriHealth and WellStar.

In the US, some of the initiatives offered by leading companies are job sharing, compressed work weeks to allow for longer weekends, and flexible start and finish times. So far, so great. However, what I find most interesting are the initiatives to allow new mothers to phase their return to work on a temporary part-time basis, the “option for employees to speed or slow their advancement without penalty to help them better balance work and home responsibilities”.

This would take a lot of planning, but it feels a healthy and honest step towards retaining talented staff and acknowledging that sometimes those in the fast lane may need to slow down and have a pit stop – without penalising their progress.

Why working women should keep mum about baby plans

4 Mar

Amstrad boss and BBC1 The Apprentice host Lord Sugar has sparked some heated debate by suggesting that women should reveal their future family plans to potential employers.

Speaking in the House of Lords about the Davies report, and ahead of International Women’s Day, Lord Sugar said that discrimination laws preventing employers from asking women whether they plan to have a baby were “counter-productive”.

He added: “As things stand, regardless of current laws and regulations, interviewers are forced to play out some kind of psychological charade where they know their obligations under law but effectively in some cases make up their mind in advance about the prospects of employing the person sitting in front of them. I say women should be forthcoming when being interviewed, declaring their status regarding children and childcare so as to pre-empt the unanswerable questions in the mind of the interviewer and then focus on the most important thing – what skills they can bring to the company and why they should be employed.”

He said he would be impressed with a women who was upfront about her baby plans, and qualified his comments by saying: “Women in business are focused, determined and ambitious. In top management positions they place little importance on building ego and simply get on with the job in hand in a very efficient manner.”

Lord Sugar  has hired a woman from the last two series of The Apprentice. Stella English won the show in 2010, while the  2009 winner, Yasmina Sladatan, is currently on maternity leave.

On many of the online forums, such as Marie Claire, comments have been primarily outraged that Lord Sugar should suggest taking women back a generation in terms of their rights in the workplace, and dismiss it as nonsense. However, the Daily Mail has included comments from men who believe that employers shouldn’t foot the bill if a woman wants to have a family!

I agree with comments made by 2010 Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Laura Tenison, founder of JoJo Maman Bebe, who told EN Magazine that Lord Sugar should keep his comments to himself.

I am stunned that a public figure wants to turn the employment law clock back, and make women feel guiltier than they often already do for wanting to balance a career with motherhood. Frankly, whether a woman has children or not has very impact on her ability to do her job – and, in many respects, being a mother helps women work more efficiently and decisively (that was my experience, anyhow).

Finally, I wonder if Lord Sugar plans to ask men about their plans to be a father – given that, from April 2011, men will be allowed to take six months’ paternity leave. I’d like to see the look on a man’s face when asked such a question at interview!

Can the next generation of working women truly have it all?

12 Dec

Interesting comment piece from Janet Street-Porter in The Independent on Sunday, reflecting on the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that reveal women in their twenties are earning 2.1% more than their male colleagues.

Interesting because Street-Porter says that those young women have her generation to thank for this new equality in pay, mainly because older women have put off having children, or haven’t bothered at all, for fear of losing their foothold on those hard-fought rungs of the career ladder.

The figures from ONS, that 20% of women aged 45 are childless, are perhaps proving her point. She says that the young high-fliers may be the first generation that can “truly have it all” thanks to the sacrifices of their older ‘sisters’.

However, Street-Porter does refer to the “small number of middle-class mums… who can afford hired help”. And I think this is the real issue here: some women just find childcare far too expensive, and therefore choose not to return to work at all, or find that every penny they earn goes to a childcare provider.

I advocate a childcare system like the one they have in Sweden, where childcare isn’t a middle-class privilege, or a nice to have, but a legal right for every parent. All Swedish women are expected to, and want to, return to work after maternity leave. And childcare in Sweden isn’t the exorbitant drain on the part-time pay packet of many working mothers in the UK, because Swedish parents only pay 17% of the gross costs of that childcare.

There is no concept of ‘housewife’ in Swedish culture – just the wish to nurture a happy, healthy family life where both parents work, and the kids have supportive, educational, affordable childcare. That, to me, sounds like families – not just women – having it all.

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