Digital Mums Siobhan Freegard OBE talks #WorkThatWorks

Siobhan Freegard OBE talks #WorkThatWorks

If there is one woman that knows a thing or two about the impact flexible working can have on mums, it's the amazing Siobhan Freegard. The Founder of both Netmums and Channel Mum has long been an influential voice for the parenting and work struggle. We talked to her about why she is joining the #WorkThatWorks Movement and is proud to be one of our Ambassadors.

Why do you support the #WorkThatWorks campaign?

Women have spent decades campaigning for equality and the right to work, but working culture in the UK still reflects the needs of men who aren’t primary carers in their family. Currently working mums fall broadly into three categories. There are some mums who have careers they love, are happy to outsource childcare and can comfortably afford it. For them the status quo works, but they are in the minority. Most other mums fall into two camps. Those who enjoy working and want to keep earning, but are not comfortable leaving their children 60 hours a week, especially in the vital early years, and feel torn by their decision. And the biggest category, which is often overlooked, is mums who simply have no choice. Most families can't make ends meet on a single salary, so they are forced to work (frequently in low-income jobs).

Too many women are being forced back into full-time jobs when they desperately want to spend more time raising their children. In both latter cases, this makes for an unhappy workforce, which is bad for business and bad for staff members' wellbeing.

So to get the best for employees, employers, the nation’s economy, and to ensure everyone’s skills and talents are being fully utilised, we urgently need to value different ways of working. We always offered flexible working at Netmums and now at Channel Mum. As a nation we must recognise flexible working provides flexible answers for employers - and that mums can make the most loyal, innovative and hardworking employees when allowed to work in a role that works for them.

Digital Mums Siobhan Freegard OBE talks #WorkThatWorks

Yet here we are two years after flexible working legislation was introduced and six in 10 mums still don't have access to it. Why do you think there is still so little available?

Many bosses still believe in outdated 'presenteeism' - they believe if you are sitting at a desk from 9 til 6 then you are working. Too many old school bosses think 'working from home' means skiving and watching daytime TV while part-time working means you don’t really care about your role.

I think the biggest enemy of flexible working is fear. Employers are frightened of being 'taken for a ride' and losing control. They are also afraid of setting precedents, where 'if I do it for you everyone will want it.' But once organisations try it and see the difference it makes, the vast majority embrace it as it improves the bottom line.

Our research shows flexible working could result in a massive £62.5 billion boost to the economy - in what ways do you think allowing mums more flexibility would be a plus for businesses?

If you are miserable, your boss may be able to see you sitting at your desk but you won't be doing anywhere near your best work. I firmly believe that mums are so grateful to find an employer who understands the emotional struggle of being a mum - and who helps that employee find the best possible balance - that you get top loyalty, productivity as well as a happy workforce.

I clearly work in a 'mum' industry, but as both a boss and employer I wholeheartedly recommend mums as employees to every sector. Give them work that works for them and you will be rewarded ten-fold. Mums are the best jugglers and multi-taskers. They don't have hangovers or duvet days and rarely get sick as they have the toughest immune systems from dealing with small kids.

Digital Mums Siobhan Freegard OBE talks #WorkThatWorks

What cultural changes need to occur at businesses so #WorkThatWorks can be a reality for more women?

I started Netmums 16 years ago after leaving a high powered marketing job where flexible working wouldn’t have fitted into the company culture. In those 16 years, things have improved but there is still a long way to go.

What infuriates me most is firms paying lip service to flexible working. They may have an HR policy in place and even trumpet their credentials, but when it comes to the crunch they are often reluctant to let mums and dads work flexibly. We hear of many cases where mums have asked for a four-day week only to be told they can have it - and the subsequent salary cut - only by fitting five days work into four. Others deliberately schedule meetings at school run times or when mums would be putting a baby to bed, just to force them back into the office.

As a result, highly skilled women are being pushed out of work they are brilliant at and take jobs below their talent level simply to get family friendly hours. It doesn’t make sense for the employer as they’ll have to spend thousands of pounds recruiting another staff member and training them up - and it doesn’t make sense for the mum either. We live in a 24-hour culture now so companies need to recognise work can be spread around the clock, not sandwiched into the old-fashioned eight-hour working day.

And what advice or support would you give to some of our amazing mums who are searching for #WorkThatWorks?

If you are already in a job and want to change to work flexibly, present it as a solution not a problem your boss needs to fix. Show how you can improve your work and add value by working flexibly. And if you are looking for a job, seek out an employer that really does offer flexible working. There are lots of jobsites online that rate employers on it, and be clear at interview that this is one of the key reasons that attracted you to the firm. Some firms like McDonalds even let you schedule your own working hours so you can drop down if a child is ill or you have a school event, then do more if you need to save for Christmas or a birthday.

You’re Prime Minister for the day - what one thing would you change for mums to make work life easier?

School hours jobs are the holy grail. Offer school hours and holiday time flexibility and you will never be short of high quality employees. Mums will happily eat a sandwich at the desk instead of lunch then work remotely during their commute plus put in extra hours in the evenings to get ahead with work.

Remember if you help mum while her kids are small, you’ll have a loyal, motivated and highly trained employee ready to step up the career ladder once her children are older - and every company needs that.

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