Northern Voices participant Cari Kirby went part-time after taking a career break to give birth to her first son.
But even after reducing her working hours at the creative agency she had climbed the ranks at for more than a decade, the digital marketer found juggling parental responsibilities and workplace commitments “really difficult”.
“As an account manager in the service industry, you’re at the beck and call of clients – and I felt it was quite hard to balance that with working from home,” she says.
“I felt like I wasn’t doing my job properly as I was having to rearrange meetings that I couldn’t make a lot of the time. I was having to lean on my colleagues, so I decided it was time to reevaluate.”
Not wanting to “stop completely”, Cari took on freelance projects for a year after leaving her agency role, becoming one of just under half a million professional women currently on career breaks who are likely to return to work in the future.
According to the PwC report ‘Women returners‘, three in five of those women are likely to move into lower-skilled jobs or lower-paid roles while experiencing an earnings reduction of up to a third.
Cari believes that women coming off career breaks after having children are impacted in their ability to secure the right roles for them due to being out of work for so long.
“Confidence is a massive issue because you can come out of work and then forget who you are, what you’re about and what you’re good at,” she says. “Even when you’re ready to return to work, it’s a challenge to build yourself up and put yourself forward — especially for jobs that you think you can’t do. There’s a tendency for women to shy away from jobs that they are not 100 per cent qualified to do.”
Joining the team
A recommendation of PwC’s report, creating more part-time and flexible opportunities helps widen the talent pool available to businesses. By creating more opportunities for women, this could help reduce the digital “skills gap”.
A case in point, Cari found the “ideal” role on Sheffield Digital’s jobs board — a digital marketing manager position at games design agency Team Cooper that promoted flexible working — allowing her to manage her family and professional life.
“Not many companies put the word ‘flexible’ in their job posts, so that immediately piqued my interest,” she says. “I think some are scared that people will take advantage of the situation — but it’s just a matter of trust. It makes me more focused and productive, I want it to work and I want it to be mutually beneficial.”
Cari also points to the company’s use of cloud-based tools — such as Google Drive, CRM suite Highrise and project management software BaseCamp — as something that helps facilitate remote working. But she still sees value in having face-to-face conversations.
“Personally I wouldn’t want to stop going into the office completely as it feels like you get that personal connection there,” she says. “The key to flexible working is communication, whether that’s email or the good old telephone, so that we can keep each other informed on projects and deadlines.”
Making networking work
Networking is another area of the tech industry where Cari would like to see further changes.
“Many networking events happen around 6pm or 7pm which is a headache for me because there’s tea time, then bedtime, you have to get babysitters and it’s a real juggling act,” Cari says. “There should be more of a push for parent-friendly events hosted during school-hours or allowing people to bring their children and babies to events and conferences.
“For example, Tech North offered an onsite crèche service during their digital skills gap summit – that’s a really important consideration in making parents feel like a valued sector of the workforce.”
Cari notes that progress is being made in this area, partly due to an explosion of parent-bloggers such as Mother Pukka who advocates flexible working. Another, Digital Mums, trains up mums to go into social media careers that fit around family life. Tech Mums, founded by the “amazing” Dr Sue Black, sets out to empower women through technology.
Ultimately, however, Cari calls for much greater balance between the genders when it comes to responsibility and looking after young families.
“If you look at models in Finland and other Scandinavian countries, there’s much more balance in parental leave,” she says. “I know that’s an option here, but not many fathers take it – one-in-a-hundred in fact – so it’s either not financially viable or there’s a lack of awareness about it.
“There needs to be a real cultural change, and more open conversations, so that the onus isn’t automatically on mums to stay at home.”