Full-time to Furlough

A Guest Blog from Janey Fry, my sister-in-law, friend & Design Director in a large London agency.

My husband brought back a bag of rice, some kitchen roll and a few various cans of, well I’m not entirely sure. Just to make sure we don’t run out of anything. This was in February and I was convinced he was being over cautious, even a little bonkers. I probably said as much. It couldn’t effect our country that badly. This is life ‘BC’, Before Corona.

Fast forward one month and we’re both working from home full time, the nursery is closed and we’ve never felt so anxious. Our son had just turned 16 months old and was being pretty tricky. Fussy, teething, teary, independent but needy. Like so many people, we wondered what the hell we were going to do. The balance we had as full time designers and loving parents was gone without childcare: our new and impossible job description included childminder cum teacher amongst all the household chores, walking our dog and gardening that we used to squeeze in after work and at weekends.

The week after lockdown began, our boy took a little tumble during my ‘morning shift’ with him, and I cuddled him better. Feeling his tiny, warm body nestled towards me, by contrast I felt joy in being able to be 100% there for him. A calmness, completeness and closeness that took me back to when he was first born alongside those special, magical moments every parent keeps close to their heart.

This bliss very quickly disappeared: endless piles of laundry, cooking meals (with never ending washing up) beside a screaming toddler coupled and a casual, daily argument with my husband under the stress of it all and I’m back to feeling guilty, frustrated and ready for nursery to start. I love being a mum, but I love my job and it feels like I have to choose. I’m scared for my parents who live in Cheshire, for my parents-in-law who live in Sunderland, for my brother and his family, for my cousin and her husband who are both front line ICU consultants and countless family and friends alike. There are many people, families, communities even who are worse off than us, that have lost those dearest to them. Knowing this, I often shamefacedly ended each day with a glass of wine and FaceTime with our loved ones.

Skip to May and I’ve been furloughed. It happened. I was devastated when my Creative Director told me. To be fair, it’s a tough time for commercial interior design right now… our company’s clients aren’t looking at their store portfolios, exhibitions and retail experiences when the world has essentially closed down. I try and console myself as my new unofficial job description got a little easier, even if financial strain would increase.

But here’s the thing; I really love what I do. My job doesn’t define me but to an extent my creativity does. It’s part of me but I felt ashamed that I missed work so much, even when I have an incredible opportunity to spend more time with my beautiful boy.

So as we head to our nursery reopening there are few things I know in my heart.

First of all you cannot do it all. Teachers don’t teach, clean the house and cook at the same time. Handymen don’t fix a fence, change nappies and design stores at the same time. It’s impossible, so do your best at one thing. Together, as a team, my husband and I have learnt to shrug off what we couldn’t squeeze in each day and try to feel proud at what we could do. Even if that’s making sure our son is happy, healthy and wearing vaguely clean clothes.

Secondly, loving your job and career isn’t a crime. It’s okay to not want to be around your child all the time/when they’re acting up/when you want to have some me time/have a wee on your own. Having some time each week to call your own; to achieve something, or nothing, really is truly a gift, but also a necessity to mine and my husband’s wellbeing. We love our boy and each other but we can’t give enough if we don’t take care of ourselves as well.

And lastly but mostly, I know gratitude. We’re lucky to have each other, our health, our home and hope. We have had an incredible opportunity that we couldn’t have dreamed of. As full time employees we had to surrender spending as much time with our darling child as we wanted to. Now we’ve reconnected in ways I couldn’t have imagined. And maybe that’s the biggest gift of all.

Mr Potato Head or bleach? Furlough or innovate?

A Guest Blog from Graham Hutchings, Associate, Friend & Chief Operating Officer at Profitability Business Simulations

I have read a lot recently about authentic, transparent and vulnerable leadership. So here’s an honest, personal account of what the last few weeks have been like juggling work and home life, and some of the things we are doing to manage our business through uncertainty. If you think there might be something of interest for you here, then it’s probably a 7-minute read, assuming you resist the inevitable urge to fall asleep midway through.

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I am 32 and married, with a 1-year old daughter. We live in Henley in Oxfordshire and my wife, Emma, works for the NHS. On March 9th this year, I took over the management of ProfitAbility, which for 30 years has delivered bespoke, face-to-face learning programs for organisations all over the world. On March 16th this year, the delivery of face-to-face learning programs became impossible, for who knows how long.


The focus during the weekdays has been on balancing our respective jobs with looking after our daughter Olivia. Even though Emma is a “key worker” (but able to manage her caseload from home), Olivia’s childminder has closed. We regularly have incidents where the planned handover times fail, and Emma is on an over-running, difficult call to distressed parents of a disabled child struggling in the lockdown at the same time as I am starting a scheduled conference call. A frantic waving of arms and angry stares ensues as we silently battle for the right to conduct our respective conversations without having to simultaneously help Olivia dis-figure poor Mr Potato Head for the 1000th time that hour. I am sure these scenes, and much worse, are repeated in many households at the moment. It means a lot of very early starts and late nights trying to keep up with work and endlessly tidying up from the mayhem of each day, but that is a tiny price to pay for remaining healthy and employed.

Strangely, I have found this blurring of home and work life stress-reducing rather then stress-enhancing, as it’s hard to keep stewing over a difficult call with the accountant when you’re confronted by a naked, giggling toddler prancing around trying to drink a bottle of bleach, a la Trump. As an escapist alternative to depressing news, we have discovered WildEarth on YouTube, which live-streams game drives twice a day from the South African bush. We have also become far more grateful for our little garden and beautiful surrounding countryside – especially in light of stories from friends or on the news of those confined to flats or city centres. I defy anyone to find a more perfect setting than the sights, sounds and smells of a secluded English footpath on a warm Spring day. The weather has been amazing and it’s almost as if nature is rewarding us for extracting ourselves from our planet-and-mind wrecking 24/7 everything and nudging us back towards a life which could be altogether more fulfilling. If this had happened in November’s autumnal misery, and had Boris imposed more severe, Spain-like measures, I suspect the numbers of people admitting to have “enjoyed” lockdown would have halved.

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From a work perspective, it has also been a question of balance. At the core of this has been the fundamental dilemma of “shutting up shop and waiting for this to blow over” (furloughing everyone) or “doubling down on innovating and trying to emerge stronger” (for us, this means transforming face-to-face learning content for unique, highly experiential remote learning experiences). Whilst we have furloughed a handful of employees, we have chosen the second path for now. Given that we have clients in a range of sectors, some booming (pharmaceuticals, FMCG) and others dormant (hospitality), our case was not clear cut. Both paths have obvious risks and though leadership needs to be decisive right now, it also needs to be calm, pragmatic and not too proud to change – this situation is going to last a long time and evolve continuously! For us, the ceasing of all value creation for a period of several months would make “starting up again” very difficult as, aside from the impact on our culture and employee welfare, pipelines and workflows would have run dry and clients may have gone to competitors. Choosing the innovation route depends heavily on having the internal resources (leadership, connections, skills, time, cash) to pivot the business, and the external market displaying sufficient demand for the resultant offerings – neither of which one can be certain of in such a fast moving, unfamiliar context.

Whilst the early indications from our chosen path are promising (our team, adopting a sort of siege-mentality, has shown an incredible attitude and work-rate for innovation, and clients have requested a few virtual courses already), it is far too soon to know if it has worked or not, and major challenges and tough decisions lie ahead as our market, and the business world as a whole, works out what the hell to do. Being a small business dealing exclusively with large corporates, we remain at the mercy of our clients, and we have certainly seen the true colours of some in good ways (paying extra quickly) and bad ways (reneging on contractual payments: ***resists temptation to name and shame***).

Changes implemented

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I am racked constantly by self-doubt and concern that we’re making the right calls to protect the working lives of our employees and the prosperity of the business. However, here are some of the things that seem to have worked well for us so far, and the matrix shows the internal cultural shift underpinning this.

  • Relentless focus on “momentum over perfection”: The quicker we can get through work, the quicker our clients (and us) can see the benefit and give us feedback, the more control we have over our future
  • Move from quarterly objectives down to weekly OKRs for the company, teams and individuals: fully transparent across the business,this is to mirror the need for speed, focus and fast, measurable feedback loops to confirm what works and what doesn’t. Any time/cost resource not hitting targets can be quickly re-focused to match the ever-unravelling context
  • Doing the basic, obvious things well: clear communication timetable for the whole business and each department, with strict “meeting best practices”, on Microsoft Teams (though all internal calls are banned on Wednesdays and it’s the best day of the week); daily monitoring of cashflow/scenario plans and close liaison with the bank and accountants (there are ALWAYS ways to reduce more cost which is not generating return); over-emphasis on transparent decision making/expectation management with the Board AND employees; narrowing of focus of activities, reviewed weekly, so ALL resource is applied to just 5 or 6 things likely to generate return now.
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Continuous learning

With the internet and email inboxes seemingly more awash than ever with garbage content, it can be hard to know where to go for practical, relevant insight. Here’s what I have found useful:

  • Networking: I have found weekly sessions with my local Vistage group very insightful as a way of learning and sharing practical initiatives in managing businesses through uncertainty
  • Being mentored: Speaking regularly 1-2-1 with people you trust in other businesses/sectors is invaluable e.g. Alex Partridge at Wagestream helped me learn how to implement the weekly OKRs framework
  • Encouraging sharing: I am not a regular consumer of podcasts, TedTalks or blogs, but others in our company are, and encouraging them to share on a daily basis nuggets of value from what they have heard, watched or read has meant there is a constant stream of succinct, relevant ideas flowing into the business. For example, this interview contains an amazing story of innovation happening right now, with learnings applicable to many contexts
  • Realising quickly that decisions like furloughing, pay cuts or other cost cutting are not admissions of failure but simply the right thing to do to protect our collective future. The integrity and loyalty of our team in this respect, especially those who have been furloughed, are largely to thank for this
  • Not working normal business hours, due to having to look after Olivia. The breaks have provided invaluable reflection time and forced me to delegate things to team members far more skilled than me, and then get out of their way. I may be wrong, but I feel this has massively increased the effectiveness of my input and my ability to keep the necessary perspective. 

What next?

Who knows… some difficult decisions, more tight control of cash and perhaps evidence that we have made the wrong call on some things, but I am convinced that right now many companies, including us, are producing some seriously innovative and creative output by collaborating internally and externally in ways that would never have happened before… **”STEP AWAY FROM THE BLEACH”***

Where are all the Millennial Role Models?!

There is ongoing debate about where to draw the line between different generations. And indeed whether it matters. And if it does, why?

There’s discussion about how long a generation should last, what defines it, and whether people who grew up with land lines and fax machines should be counted in the same generation as those who can’t remember a time before the internet and smart phones? 

And the generational stereotypes rage on: “Get off your Instagram and see the real world, Millennials!” “Shut up Boomers, you ruined the planet and screwed the economy!”, “Just ignore us as you always do” says Gen-X. … And on and on it goes.

Many of my contemporaries lament the behaviour of their millennial direct reports, (“fucking Millennials” is as likely to be uttered by someone in their mid-30s as it is by someone in their mid-50s, maybe more so). In fact, we all belong to the same generation – just different ends of it. (The annoyance often stems from people being a bit tricky/annoying/young? in their first ‘real job’. I’m certain I was a nightmare to manage in my early 20s. I put this down to youthful ‘crapness’ rather than a specific generational ailment).

By some definitions, including the one below, my 42-year-old husband is a Millennial (a concept he wholeheartedly rejects as a devout ‘work hard, play hard’ Gen-X-er).

Nonetheless, in order to continue this conversation, we will have to agree a rough generational cut off between us. Give or take a few years either way, the generations and associated current ages are generally accepted as follows:Traditionalists—born before 1946 (currently over 73 years old) Baby Boomers—born between 1946 and 1964 (currently 55-73 years old) Generation X—born between 1965 and 1976 (currently 43-54 years old) Generation Y, or Millennials—born between 1977 and 1997 (currently 22-42 years old)

Generation Z—born after 1997 (currently under 22).

My personal view, and something I am working on through Pale Blue Coaching and Juggling Act consulting work is that generational stereotypes, in- fighting and ‘blame game’ warfare only holds us back in work (and the rest of our lives). So you’ll have to bear with me while I appear to immediately contradict myself.

In some cases Millennials appear to suffer from what I will call ‘delayed onset adulthood’.

There are many reasons for this, most of them financial. As a NY Times piece by Laurence Steinberg has it, “According to a large scale national [US] study conducted since the late 1970s, it has taken longer for each successive generation to finish school, establish financial independence, marry and have children. Today’s 25-year-olds, compared with their parents’ generation at the same age, are twice as likely to still be students, only half as likely to be married and 50 percent more likely to be receiving financial assistance from their parents”.

To a large extent we are all a product of the times in which we live.

The result of this is that a lot of us 22-42-year-olds don’t see ourselves as the ‘adults in the room’ when it comes to work. We do more waiting for permission than our parents did. We seem unsure as to whether it’s truly ‘our turn’ to lead yet. We can end up ‘at the effect of’ our work and our roles and our lives. Waiting for someone else to sort everything out.

These are generalisations of course and everyone has their own situation, family set up, aspirations, worldview, constraints, financial means etc., which all impact how they behave and work and see the world.

It is significant, however, that Millennials are the generation having children at the moment, and yet they may not feel like ‘grown ups’ themselves. “Adulting is hard” anyone?

What is the impact if we are not moulding our workplaces and societies to meet our needs, support our values; not leading the way for the next generation?

If we look at the current government, our work cultures or the climate crisis for example, and go: ‘how did this happen?’ I mean seriously though, how did it? How do we (those aged 22 to 42) look around and not see our reflections in the institutions we have? In the way we work?

I have been voting age in this country for nearly 20 years and yet we can see that the baby boomer generation is still running the show. At work. In government. In banks. On boards. Everywhere we look. In ways that are the most fundamental and meaningful and crucial,  the generation above us is still making the big decisions.

This is not an anti- boomer article, I would be nothing without my incredible parents and their contemporaries. Every generation has its own challenges and opportunities. But, I do see a severe dearth of millennial leadership. And that’s a problem. A massive problem.

I don’t want my toddler son growing up in a world that last had a major workplace rethink 40 years ago. One where many companies still operate working hours and practices from much longer ago than that. Industrial era work practices that were life-saving and revolutionary at the time are now terrifyingly out of touch for the needs, desires and challenges of today – let alone 30 years from now!

Those floods in Yorkshire, the fires in Australia, the lack of flexible working environments, the gender pay gap, inequality, spiralling healthcare costs, what are we doing about it?!?!

To what extent do we Millennials feel that we should be (and are) in the peak of our careers, making our mark and leading with great purpose and ambition in our 30s/early 40s? If we are not now, when do we think it will happen? For those of us that are leading now, how is that being received at work? What else can we be doing to take up the mantle of leadership, holding tight to our values and convictions and stepping into our power and creating great, positive change.

Many millennial-age friends, clients and contemporaries say to me: “where are all the role models?” I hear this a lot in Juggling Act Workshops and in the Q&A after I give talks:”Where are the men and women leading for the modern age?”

I have asked myself the same question. Where are the people our age leading by example? I’ve come to the conclusion that I need look no further than the nearest mirror.

Working Dads are taking (and enjoying) Shared Parental Leave, BUT the data doesn’t show it!

Bad news: read all about it!

“Why take-up of shared parental leave is so dismally low” proclaimed City AM at the end of November. ‘It was seen as weird’: why are so few men taking shared parental leave?’ said The Guardian’s October headline. ‘UK Named Among Least Family-friendly Countries in New Study’ warned The Independent in June this year.

Since April 2015 parents have been allowed to split up to fifty weeks of leave between them, with the 37 weeks of statutory maternity pay can be paid to either the mother or father. The intention behind this SPL deal is to improve diversity and close the woeful gender pay gap.

If we look at the data on shared leave taken through the government scheme, the picture is indeed grim. These articles continue with more bad news numbers: “When it comes to paternity leave, the UK ranked 28th in the list, offering fathers two weeks’ statutory paternity leave at £148.68 per week”, continued the Independent article. “Just 9,200 new parents took up shared leave in 2018 out of more than 900,000 who were eligible, the study found”.

Dismal news? Yes. True reflection of the situation? Not really.

Although the above is an accurate reflection of those taking up government SPL, it’s thankfully not a great reflection of what’s happening more broadly. Organisations are starting to write their own SPL policies and some of them are truly revolutionary. Many of them are tackling the biggest downfall of the government scheme: lack of paid leave.

Letting businesses lead the way on SPL

That bit above about £148.68 per week on government SPL, yeah that’s your sticking point. You don’t need to be a Londoner to find that amount of weekly government pay a little, um, limiting.

So why are we at The Juggling Act so optimistic amidst all this supposedly bad news? Simple. Because many organisations have now written and implemented their very own Shared Parental Leave policies. These policies are being advertised internally and externally. They are being celebrated in their company cultures, and men are being encouraged to take the leave and spend real time with their children. Two big things are happening as a result:

1. It’s helping women go back to work, with support in place at home and in the confidence that the child is well looked after (by the other parent). And there are no additional childcare costs.

2. The men are genuinely enjoying it and are becoming happier, more balanced and fulfilled fathers (and employees).

The Shared Parental League

Among those campaigning for fathers to take the chance to stay at home for the second six months of a child’s life is Joe Young of the blog Dad on SPL.

Joe says it is the only way forward for our society: “Gender equality in the workplace will only be achieved when men take an equal role as the primary caregiver to their children.

“It is very difficult for men to be the primary caregiver in the early months of a child’s life. The difference between being a ‘hands-on dad’ and being capable of being the ‘only-pair-of-hands dad’ and is why I focus on the second six months.”

Joe has compiled, and regularly updates, The Shared Parental League table (see below), highlighting companies leading the way in workplace gender equality. As of November 2019, the top performers were Standard Life Aberdeen, Mishcon de Reya, Linklaters, Lloyds of London, UBS, Aviva and Hammerson who all ranked as Champions League Qualifiers, thanks to their family-friendly policies of allowing either parent to take leave ON FULL PAY in months 7-12 in their child’s first year, regardless of their gender. It also applies to those who have adopted or had a child via surrogate.

What the guys say

Even in the notoriously testosterone-fueled worlds of finance and law, changes are gradually being made to encourage men to take more than the traditional fortnight.

Among the dads who have benefited from these forward-thinking policies are senior consultant John Darling who was one of the first to take advantage of the change in the law in 2015. His wife Becky took the first six months off to care for their son Arthur, then the couple switched roles for the rest of the year.

John explained: “I work for people from Sweden who said, ‘This is normal in Sweden – this is just what people do!’ Having six months off really put everything into perspective from a personal point of view.” Looking back, John says the experience made him a more confident dad: “I can’t see any blockers at all. I’d recommend it to all blokes. It’s important, it’s great fun, you will understand your child a lot more than if you hadn’t done it.

“There is probably anxiety around finances. The other thing that may play a part is the social stigmas that we still have. It certainly feels like some tasks are seen as a woman’s job or others as a man’s job. Quite frankly that attitude just needs to be knocked on the head.”

Andrew Woodhead, an associate at Knight Frank, echoed these thoughts after taking SPL when his wife returned to work seven months after the birth of their son.

“No one had taken SPL in my team,” Andrew recalled. “No one wants to feel that they are losing out when it’s not the norm in their company, and naturally might have concerns about promotions and progression but society has moved on and not taking the opportunity, should your family dynamic allow for it, is a no brainer.”

Read the full interviews on Joe Young’s blog here

Approaching a tipping point

When our son was born in 2017, my husband took 6 weeks on full pay from his banking job. That was huge at the time. In our NCT group of 10 expectant couples, only one other father took extended leave for 3 months (and it was unpaid). Today when I speak to friends – some of whom are now expecting a second child – it seems everyone is doing it.

For me, the following says it all: in a recent discussion of SPL plans with a fellow mum – who is expecting a second child in the new year – she quipped, “Now that he [her husband] has taken SPL once with our first kid, he wants to do it again, but this time for longer. The other day he joked that he wants to take the full 6 months after me – at least I hope he was joking – I said, forget it! 3 months maximum, I want to take the rest.”

When we are approaching a point where the financial and societal barriers to SPL are being removed such that parents are able to squabble over who gets to spend more time as primary care-giver, well, that’s progress in my book!

About The Juggling Act: for Parents in Leadership

The Juggling Act is a consulting agency. We work with organisations on how they can better support their working parent employees through cultural assessments and transformation. As part of this offer, we also run The Juggling Act leadership programme: a 4-part combination of coaching sessions and workshops, designed to empower parents re-entering the workplace, enhancing their focus and self-assurance as well as offering real-life practical exercises in negotiation and communication skills. 

Our mission is to make the world of work more successful and fulfilling for everyone: employers and employees, women and men, for generations to come.  

Register for the April 2020 Programme

The Juggling Act Working Parents Programme is registering now. The 2-day workshop portion of the programme will be on the 2nd & 3rd of April 2020. We will be running several in-house programmes for clients in between.

The April Programme is open to delegates (any current or expectant parent – bio or non-bio) from all organisations and sectors and takes place at the Century Club in Soho.

The Juggling Act: Working Parents Survey 2019

“After all, gender stereotypes are prisons for men too” – Stewart D. Friedman

The Juggling Act wants to understand more about women, men and the way they work and raise (or choose not to raise) families.

To this end we would love to hear your views in our 2019 Working Parents Survey. A new addition to this survey is a focus, not just on what women find challenging, but what might be blocking men as well. We ask the question: “What do you consider to be the biggest challenge for working men now?”

At The Juggling Act we are promoting a move away from a ‘zero sum game mentality’ and are instead teaching people how to negotiate towards a ‘win-win’ at work, in their communities and in their home lives.

The survey is completely anonymous and the only data questions relate to gender and location at a country level.

We are working towards a world where the employer and employee work together for mutual success and in acknowledgement of the needs of the (whole) person and those of the organisation itself.

Chris White and I will be sharing our own findings and the thematic results in our January talk for Women in eDiscovery as well as in our consulting with organisations.

The next Juggling Act Programme for Working Parents is registering now with 1:1 coaching sessions scheduled in the new year and the 2-day group leadership workshop on 2 & 3 April 2020.

The Shared Parental League & Dad on SPL

Introducing Joe Young, Dad on SPL (Shared Parental Leave) and his Shared Parental League, putting some friendly competition into great parental leave policies.

Introducing Joe Young, Dad on SPL (Shared Parental Leave) and his Shared Parental League, putting some friendly competition into great parental leave policies.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Joe and his lovely daughter in the City. Joe is in the final months of shared parental leave from his role at a London law firm. The aim of our meeting? To collaborate on our shared vision of banishing the gender pay gap to the annals of history (such that when my son and his daughter are grown up they will wonder what the fuss was all about). Underpinning this vision is the need for organisations to adopt truly robust ‘Shared Parental Leave’ Policies. Ones that aim to support both parents (where there are two) to have the experience of being the primary caregiver for an extended period of time… on proper pay.

The good news? Many organisations are starting to do just that!

As well as being the primary care giver for the last several months of his daughter’s first year, Joe has been analysing and tracking the #sharedparentalleave policies of various organisations in his Shared Parental League on LinkedIn. You can check out the current leader board below:

Accurate as at 27 November 2019. Blue highlights denote new entries and the orange denotes a promotion for Linklaters who removed their ‘birthday peg’ and were therefore moved up the ranks in accordance with Joe’s methodology.

There has been a welcome increase of late in companies introducing enhanced SPL enhanced pay, over and above statutory SPL pay.

However, behind the fanfare with which these policies are being announced lies a number of flaws with some of these policies. These nasty flaws in your firm’s policy could seriously affect your ability to share leave with your partner.

Many of the flaws are because firms are “equalising” their SPL policies to their maternity leave policies. This sounds great, but in practice the “equalising” approach creates barriers to men accessing the full benefit of a firm’s SPL policy.

– Joe Young ‘Dad on SPL’

At the Juggling Act we are thrilled to see companies being highlighted in a positive way, for doing the ‘right things’ rather than shamed for not measuring up. It also provides a bit of friendly competition by encouraging others to join in.

You can follow Joe’s adventures and insights via his blog https://www.dadonspl.co.uk/ or follow him on Instagram @dadonspl

The Juggling Act Working Parents Programme is registering between now and the end of the year. The 2-day workshop portion of the programme will be on the 2nd & 3rd of April 2020. We will be running several in-house programmes for clients in between.

The April Programme is open to delegates (any current or expectant parent – bio or non-bio) from all organisations and sectors and takes place at the Century Club in Soho.

Juggling Act 2020: Parents in Leadership – Programme structure

Women, like men, only cheaper.

The days of industrial hours working and bums-in-seats mentality need to be put behind us all. This approach simply doesn’t fit with today’s working cultures or with how we live, parent and work. It’s time for some new approaches and fresh thinking. Here Claire Fry, Founding Partner of the Juggling Act, talks pay gaps, parenting and what can be done to address these crucial issues.

As we approach the second gender pay gap reporting deadline on the 4th of April, society continues to ask the question: why does there continue to be such a gap between male and female salaries and bonuses? How we pay (or don’t pay) working mothers is a big piece of the puzzle.

The history of pay gaps

First a little background. Gender Pay Gap Reporting came into force in April 2018. Employers with 250 or more employees are required by law to publish their figures comparing men and women’s average pay across the organisation. This legislation is in contrast to The Equal Pay Act, from 1970, which made it illegal to pay women lower rates than men for the same work. The Equal Pay Act is known informally as ‘equal pay, for equal work’.

Gender Pay Gap Reporting looks instead at the measure of the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings across an organisation or sector. It is expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings. In other words, if most of your support staff are women and most of your leadership team is male, you’re going to have a big gender pay gap.

The part-time myth

In my consulting work through Pale Blue Coaching I work with organisations to help them close their gender pay gaps in a variety of ways. Now through our research for The Juggling Act, Lucy, Chris and I are seeing a continued theme: companies are pro-rating pay (and bonuses) for working mothers who are theoretically only working 3 or 4 days a week, but in fact the reality is very different. In her book, ‘Becoming’, the fabulous Michelle Obama describes the situation succinctly:

“What I didn’t realise-and this would also go into my file of things many of us learn too late – is that a part-time job, especially when it’s meant to be a scaled-down version of your previously full-time job, can be something of a trap. Or at least that’s how it played out for me. At work, I was still attending all the meetings I always had while also grappling with most of the same responsibilities. The only real difference was that I now made half my original salary and was trying to cram everything into a twenty-hour week”.

What I didn’t realise-and this would also go into my file of things many of us learn too late – is that a part-time job, especially when it’s meant to be a scaled-down version of your previously full-time job, can be something of a trap. Or at least that’s how it played out for me. At work, I was still attending all the meetings I always had while also grappling with most of the same responsibilities. The only real difference was that I now made half my original salary and was trying to cram everything into a twenty-hour week”

Michelle Obama, Becoming

Ending the pro-rating penalty

At the Juggling Act we want to see organisations ending the practice of pro-rating pay for working parents. In fact, for any employee who wants to spend slightly less time in the office. As long as the individual is delivering on stretch targets against a fully-scoped role, this will be a positive thing for all involved. So many mothers – and an increasing number of fathers – tell us how they technically work 4 out of 5 days, but that actually no one else is picking up the other elements of their role. It doesn’t get distributed to other team members. So where does it go?

Often, the answer is nowhere. It stays with you. It’s a huge negative contributor to the #genderpaygap as a result. Time and time again we hear about how working mothers are logging in every chance they get: on the weekends, when the kid(s) are in bed, when the person’s partner is around, or whenever they can snatch a moment (or several hours). It’s the female advertising exec going into the office on a Sunday (!) the fund manager-mother writing a client presentation well into the night, the HR director getting up before her toddler does to sneak in a few precious hours of email catch-up. It’s not doing the work itself – all parents know you just have to juggle as best you can with small children – it’s the not getting paid for it.

The days of industrial hours working and bums-in-seats mentality need to be put behind us all. It doesn’t fit with today’s working cultures or with how we live, parent and work. It’s time for some new approaches and fresh thinking. Anna Whitehouse’s fantastic #flexappeal campaign is a making huge in-roads to the kind of change that is needed, but getting paid for the work, however it is achieved, is the crucial next step. Child care costs a fortune, let’s stop short-changing the great employees we have, just because they happen to be parents.

#workingparents #getpaidforwhatyoudo #stopproratingpay 

Why the Juggling Act?

In 2017, shortly before their sons were born, both Claire and Lucy attended pre-natal classes with their spouses through Bump & Baby Club,
the leading independent provider of antenatal classes in London. Here they developed friendships with other working mothers. As everybody’s babies grew, the late-night whatsapp chats between them changed from conversations about feeding, burping and swaddling towards going back to work. Many of the parents shared the same conundrums:

  • Did they want to work flexibly or go back full time?
  • Could they transition slowly?
  • Would they be discriminated against or be pushed out for being parents, perhaps not able to offer the same unilateral focus to their work as they had previously?
  • And what about the exhaustion, the logistics and the guilt? 

Not a single person felt entirely confident about this next step. Some felt unsupported by their employers. Some were really excited about going back but were worried about the endless logistics.

It didn’t take long for Claire to realise she wanted to use her coaching and culture background to support these women, and the organisations they work for. She wanted the programme to help shift the culture more widely, to lead to higher quality conversations between employee and employer, conversations about how things could be better in the workplace (and at home) for both parties. Looking to partner with other coaches and trusted friends, people with complimentary skills and a different slant on things, she founded The Juggling Act with Lucy Fry and Chris White in May 2018.

Juggling Act Research

So, they knew work re-entry was proving challenging for them, their friends and their family members with children, but they wanted to know more. What were women really facing? What were their greatest challenges? To gain further insight and ensure The Juggling Act was targeting the real issues for women returning to work they ran a survey and received over 100 responses from all over the English-speaking world. Peoples’ challenges varied to some degree, but the key themes included:

It was a struggle to to find a new routine. The heartache of leaving my child when they are poorly, irritable, tired, all of the above. I feel bad leaving work late as I feel I need to rush home and collect my kid.

I want to be good at my job and good as a parent but I don’t have the time for both. I have to do a lot of work outside of work and I can’t. I don’t want to start working again at 9pm after I’ve eaten dinner because my child wouldn’t go to bed at 7pm.

Survey respondent
  • Feelings of guilt: about leaving kids, about working too much, about not working enough. There was guilt about enjoying work and guilt about not enjoying it.
  • Knocked confidence, low confidence, no confidence
  • Endless context-switching: from sometimes joyful, sometimes mind-numbing parenting to running meetings, writing papers, making presentations.

Guilt over leaving my baby is always in the back of my mind. I love my career but as there have been so many issues returning to work I feel it even more I think. I also think it’s getting in to a new routine – I really miss maternity leave… I had a strong group of mummy friends that I saw four times a week.

It’s weird not having that support network there in the same way. Regarding work specifically, I find the lack of hand over and communication about expectations really frustrating.

  • Fatigue! The tiredness, so much tiredness.
  • Many cases of women juggling everything at home and pursuing a career with not enough support from their partner, and those single mothers with no partner to support at all.
  • Bungled returns to work, with little to no prep or consideration from employers – and those who had not prepared or considered their own return to their organisation.
  • Not enough time to think or consider what they would need for themselves to make a success of their return to work
  • Struggles with boundaries, especially saying no.

I asked for part time hours, which I got, but my role never actually changed, so I ended up doing a full time job with part time hours/salary.

Survey respondent

The Juggling Act is a coaching and consultancy service that facilitates better communication and collaboration between employers and parents returning to work. It is a programme of coaching and workshops that provides the time and space, challenge and support to work through what matters most to women returning to work, amidst the circus that is their lives.


Thinking creatively about parental leave… and returning to work!

From Reed Global

*or 90% of your salary, whichever is lower. 

That’s what that asterisk refers to that you can’t see in the image above (from @reedglobal). That’s right, £136.78/week or 90% of your salary…whichever is lower

Stauatory Leave vs. Organisational Policies.

Stauatory Maternity Leave (SML) and Shared Parental Leave (SPL) financial terms, as set by the government, are a complete joke. While it’s good that the UK has some provisions for statutory leave (in the strictest sense of ‘better than nothing’), the reality is that it’s actually on very poor terms indeed. What SML – and since April 2015 SPL – actually provide is a legal starting point in the minds of employers and employees. Something that says, ‘hey organisations! when someone becomes a parent in your company here’s your legal obligation to them. What you do or don’t do over and above that is your call’. That’s right it’s up to the organisations and their people to decide on the structure and terms of leave, flexible working and transition agreements. It’s a negotiation between parties with different aims, hopes and requirements to find a solution that works for all. The government has merely provided legal grounds. The rest is down to organisational culture. 

For maternity leave, paternity leave and shared parental leave, when you’re planning family and career you really need to think about what you can negotiate with your employer, or perhaps both of your employers (yours and your partner’s where possible), as to what your ideal leave/return/sharing/transition set-up would look like, and what cards you have to play on both sides.

All too often through our work at The Juggling Act programme we see women who are already working extremely hard, then having child(ren) and saying, “well is it really worth it for me to go back to work? Given that after child care costs my salary only brings in X”. The reality is that for those families where there are two parents in the picture, it should be a calculation based on household income, household needs and ideals and not be mentally debited from only the mother.

All too often through our work at The Juggling Act programme we see women who are already working extremely hard, then having child(ren) and saying, “well is it really worth it for me to go back to work? Given that after child care costs my salary only brings in X”. The reality is that for those families where there are two parents in the picture, it should be a calculation based on household income, household needs and ideals and not be mentally debited from only the mother.

Looking at the Whole Picture. 

There are lots of great reasons for looking at leave, parenting responsibilities, career development, promotion and pay as a whole household, and as part of long-term strategy for organisations, but here are a few. With more new mothers returning to the workforce than ever before and almost three-quarters of women with children in full- or part-time work, it’s unsurprising that there is huge talent and therefore opportunity, sitting within this ever-growing pool of working mothers. For the mothers themselves, looking at what’s left after childcare costs for only one salary ignores the opportunity cost of the longer term benefits of going back to work. In other words, yes it’s a nightmare juggling act at times, especially with very young children, but as time goes on and the kid(s) go to school and eventually leave home altogether, parents will have more and more time and energy to devote to work. Or put another way, when parents first go back to work after baby – that’s the hardest bit. The reality is that although it takes time, career prospects and time to devote to work will only increase and become easier. Having your hat in the ring now is what counts, it’s what gives you the chance to be around for opportunities later. For employers this means reaping the benefits of highly motivated, highly experienced, highly focused parents who are through the most challenging parts of juggling career and kids. You trusted them, you invested in them, they stuck with you. Everyone wins.

Structuring Leave Creatively.

 Because of the way the law is set out and then any company policies on top of that, it can be tempting to just go along with it. Or to assume it will be best to take as much time with as much pay as your organisation will allow. And in some cases this will absoutely make sense. For others they feel there is a sort of ‘feast or famine’ aspect to taking a whole year. One minute you’re having coffee with other mums, dads and babies, deeply immersed in all things little people, and the next you’re expected to dump them in nursery and entirely switch your focus back to work.

So what might a smart transition look like? For some (and I am one of them), 2 or 3 months completely off to heal and bond with baby, followed by a phased return, starting to take on a project or two and gradually build back up can be a great option. Whatever is best for you and your family, there are two key things to keep in mind here: 

1. Everything is a negotiation. 

This goes for both sides. A negotiation is not a bad thing, quite the opposite. Assume nothing, break away from traditional mindsets, put yourself in your employer’s shoes and think about what you can offer – or compromise on – to help them, so you can get the non-negotiables you and your family need too. There’s a win-win in there somewhere, if you are serious about building an incredible career at a pivotal time in your life, it is worth the effort to find it. 

2. Be creative.

The most successful leave, transition, return/flex structures we’ve seen have also been a little ‘out there’, there’s been some thinking outside the box from both sides – employer and employee – and it has resulted in an agreement that really suited both sides. Empathy is displayed. Listening happens. Possibility steps in. These are the conversations that have been open and honest, equal, non-defensive and results-driven. The respect the employee gains for the employer is huge, and vice-versa. It makes both sides want to do better and be better for the success of the organisation. And eventually, there will be no ‘sides’ at all. Just people. Just organisations. Trying to be better, more innovative, more successful, more customer-centric, more equal. That’s the Juggling Act vision. 

#sharedparentalleave #planningparentalleave #structuringparentalleave #winwin #considerbothsides #becreative #everythingisnegotiable #loveworkloveparenting #organisationaldevelopment