I’m one of the lucky ones to have made it. A lot of hard work and determination and I was working on my first national newspaper – the Daily Mail – by the time I was 24.
I was “on the road” – a real reporter being dispatched at the drop of the hat to any breaking story across Britain and abroad. I was living the dream.
Moves to other papers were followed by promotions and eventually taking on the huge role of Health Editor at the Daily Express.
This involved long hours, a massive daily story count, early press conferences and not leaving the office until 7pm on a good day, with meetings with contacts numerous evenings a week.
Why am I telling you this? Because it became clear around four years ago, having just got married and wanting to start a family, that this lifestyle just wasn’t going to work for me in the long-term.
I loved my job without question. But I knew I needed to start thinking about how I could make working work for me.
National newspapers are pretty unforgiving places when it comes to many things, but particularly flexible working.
The very nature of the job – and the contract you sign – is that you work set hours, but more whenever required by the job.
And in a world of 24-7 news… you get the picture. Those “more hours” happen most days.
A big story “on your patch” breaks and nothing else matters.
That means just as you’re (finally) walking out the office. And at the weekend. Being sent (sometimes away from home) on a story at the drop of a hat with no prior warning. The phone is never off. The emails never stop. Even on holiday. Even on honeymoon (I’m not kidding).
It’s almost impossible to be in the thick of the daily news agenda and be able to work around the hours childcare dictate.
There can be no “I haven’t finished the story for the next edition but I need to leave.”
And quite simply, childcare hours don’t fit in with newspaper hours. Nurseries where I live shut at 6pm. On the dot. With fines for being even a minute late.
I know if I had wanted to go back to work at the newspaper after becoming a mother, we would have needed a full-time Nanny.
And that alternative – as many of my friends can attest to – would have meant almost every penny of what I did earn going straight to pay someone else for looking after my child.
A nonsensical dilemma that women across Britain face after helping to keep the human race alive and kicking.
Some women choose to take a break from work until their children start school.
For others, the maths just doesn’t add up and they find themselves in the unenviable position of giving up their much-loved career or putting it on hold, often losing their personal identity along the way, because of inflexible and uneconomic choices foisted on them.
Many face another equally unpalatable situation – their “job” is no longer “theirs”, they “share” it with someone else, or their “role” has mysteriously disappeared while they were on maternity leave.
Or they become invisible at work – the forgotten “Mummy” who surely can’t do her job properly because she only works part time/leaves early/takes time off to look after sick children/*fill in any other negative connotation here!
One friend who, before her first maternity leave had been in a senior position with a large team of staff under her, suddenly found, after returning from her second maternity leave and a few reshuffles on, that she was now seated with the 21-year-olds fresh from university, side-lined and virtually forgotten about.
When a senior role that she was more than qualified for came up, she was put forward by, ironically, one of the very people she used to manage.
The response from the – female – boss? “Oh, I didn’t even think about you for this.”
Another felt she had no choice but to enrol her child into full-time nursery rather than work part-time, Monday to Thursday.
Because the reality would have meant working into the late evening, on days off and at weekends in order to tackle the unforgiving workload which would not have reduced to match her reduced hours.
I chose to leave my job to set up my own media consultancy business which has been a thriving success since my first week of trading.
I also still freelance for a range of national newspapers.
By happy coincidence I fell pregnant very quickly after leaving the highly rewarding, but stressful job on the newspaper.
Now, I have the best of both worlds. I am able to look after my child. I am around for those precious milestones.
But just as importantly, as a proud and dedicated career woman, I am able to work if and when I want.
To some this is “part time work”. A phrase I dislike immensely.
My clients get a bespoke, highly-dedicated service, with 100 per cent of my focus solely on them.
They get a quick turnaround tapping into my expertise which they would normally not have access to.
I put in the hours not just that are required, but even more.
It’s just the hours I work are usually not between 9am-5pm – a working-pattern world we no longer live in.
In fact, I am writing this at 6.10am, while my house is silent and I have time to work unhindered.
The idea that we need to be sat in an office between set hours is outdated in the modern, digital, broadband, hyper-connected world we now inhabit.
That being present in an office is a way to ensure quantity or quality of work is old-fashioned and short-sighted.
My reputation and entire business rely on excellence. What time of day I carry out the work is irrelevant as long as my client receives what they need, when they need it, to the highest of standards. This is why I am so proud to be a member of The Difference Collective – I have found an organisation full of like-minded people with this ethic at the heart of it.
Call it what you like: flexible working, agile working. Whatever description is used, it shouldn’t be seen as a second-class service. Far from it.
We have a long way to go in this country to not only help women get back to work and still look after their family, but also to ensure EVERYONE – male or female, parent or childless – is able to work when – and how – they want. Flexible working is the future we ALL need.
About the author
Jo has been a journalist for almost 20 years, working across a range of national newspapers from the Daily Mail to The Sun. She is now a highly sought after communications specialist offering media strategy and content development expertise as well as media training both for in-house teams and spokespeople and is an expert facilitator for advisory boards and meetings. She also still works as a freelance journalist writing for titles including the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times and The Sun.