With Mother’s Day this weekend, we spoke with some of the team to understand what it’s like to be a working mother. While motherhood can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, it also requires significant time and energy. Despite outdated bias, mothers are managing to fulfil their roles as both a caregiver and the demands of a career simultaneously.
Ahead of Mother’s Day, we spoke to two amazing mothers who are a firm part of the Nordens family. Kirsty Willis is our Finance Manager and is currently still on maternity leave with her second child, and Sophia Spyrou is our Accounts Manager and mother of 2.
Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself, the role you have within Nordens, as well as being a mother and having a career?
SS: Hi I’m Sophia and I run the Accounts department here at Nordens, now in my 11th year with the company. My workload is varied from liaising directly with clients to running the accounts teams, meeting deadlines, as well as standard accounting processes are met as you’d expect. As a mother, I would say the biggest thing for me, is time. Before children, I was full time but now with two children, it’s not feasible. Time does not feel as friendly once you become a mother, ‘the days are long, but the years are quick’ comes to mind. When it comes to organising and scheduling, I’ve had to up my game so now I fulfil my role utilising condensed hours, so I do full-time hours in three days. Fortunately, my incredible team give me the capacity and responsibility to do this effectively and I wouldn’t change my team or my life for anything.
KW: Hi I’m Kirsty, I’m going into my 12th year in September with Nordens working as the Finance Manager. Very similar to Sophia, I too was working full time before children and now I’m essentially doing the work of five days in three days effectively, so condensed hours allows me to juggle time and arrangements, this is something you just learn when being a mother. I plan my life backwards, if I know there’s a birthday party at 4 PM that day, I’ll work back from that and pencil in what I need to do in reverse. It can be very difficult and it does heavily impact your career, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Having that supportive team behind me makes it all possible, so it can’t thank them enough.
Has the pandemic, and the subsequent hybrid working model adopted by many companies including Nordens, benefitted your work and home life balance or has it made it more difficult?
KW: Hybrid working has completely changed my life, and I couldn’t live without it. I work a distance from the office, so in terms of my commute, that’s obviously a huge benefit. On average, it can take me 45 minutes to an hour to get to work each day. I then have to leave to go to nursery to collect my firstborn and then once I’m home I continue working. I’m then doing emails and doing work whilst cooking the kids dinner. There’s no respite. The only downside to hybrid or remote working is there isn’t that downtime, which you get when driving home or when you’re on your lunchbreak. My laptop shuts and I’m on to the next task. But without it, my life just wouldn’t be what it is so I’m hugely thankful to Nordens for implementing such a key structural process that helps restore some level of balance in my life and just takes the stress away.
Even for those people who don’t have children, there’s been instances where Nordens have allowed staff members to travel the world and work remotely, which has been incredible to see. I really don’t think we’d be able to find this level of flexibility anywhere else in our industry so I feel so grateful to be a part of a company and family like Nordens. That flexibility is worth its weight in gold and has allowed so many of us to have a better quality of life which is invaluable.
SS: I completely agree with Kirsty. Life is a balancing act. Before the pandemic, if my child was unwell I would’ve had to have taken that as an emergency holiday entitlement or sick leave. Whereas now I’m still able to work, my clients and team don’t suffer, I don’t feel like a bottleneck and my child is looked after at home. Admittedly, you do have to have a certain mentality to be able to work from home due to the fine line of overdoing it and burning yourself out.
A mother’s brain is genuinely like an internet browser, the number of tabs open at any given time is astounding. You need to be punctual and organised to be able to juggle all those tabs. I remember on tax return deadline day recently, I was on a video call with Panayiota (Director of Accounts) whilst cooking for the kids and going through the final returns checklists which had to be filed, to then jump back on once I got the kids to sleep to ensure I met that midnight deadline, not because I was expected to but because I had access too. I can’t express my gratitude for being part of such an incredibly supportive organisation like Nordens who just understand and lead by example. If I had a different employer, particularly in accountancy which is quite a male-centric industry, I firmly believe I wouldn’t be able to have the life I have.
In your opinion, what changes could be made within all workplaces to make it easier for mothers to juggle a successful career and motherhood?
SS: To generalise, what would make it easier would be having a supportive and empathetic leader. Once a mother becomes a mother, they’re not the same person so having the understanding around this is crucial. Having a supportive nature is so important. For example, catching those signals of a mother who is close to burning out, and talking to them to reassure that their mental health and life outside of work is more important than spending that extra hour on an assignment. I also advocate that every company should have a wellness department that is an open forum to discuss issues outside of work, which are having a huge impact on their lives.
If you’re trained and educated to know what support is needed, that’s half the battle already won. This goes for everyone, for example those with mental health issues, young members of staff who are studying, or even people who are looking after their own elderly parents. Being able to relate and empathise with people who are struggling is one of the most important aspects of leadership for me, and fortunately, Nordens have got this right consistently.
KW: I agree. That level of support needs to start earlier, you just have to look at our workforce and you can see there’s a lot of young people who no doubt in a few years, if not now, are probably thinking about having children. You don’t know if women are having fertility problems, or perhaps are going through IVF treatment. Will they get time paid for having IVF treatment at most companies in the UK? Probably not. This is something which I think needs to be prioritised alongside maternity and paternity policies, as it affects more people than you may think.
This, along with maternity policies, not only benefits the staff who work there, but also from an outside perspective it will be seen as a huge positive in attracting the best talent. In truth, how many women do you know who won’t have children because they believe either their monthly pay will be affected, or maternity policies aren’t good enough. Most businesses just offer statutory maternity and paternity pay, which to be perfectly honest is abysmal and for many people won’t even cover mortgage or rental costs. Personally, I know so many women and men in this position which is hugely detrimental to society and needs to change.
What advice would you give to women who are considering having children but are worried about the impact it may have on their career?
SS: To get rid of the notion that you have to choose one dream; a successful career or becoming a mother. Be very open with your employer and talk to your line manager. Outline your plan and what you want from life, not just from work. From there you can secure an environment which benefits your family life whilst also keeping your job safe.
Your employer will appreciate the open honesty, even if it may not be their ideal solution there’s a way to satisfy everyone. Let’s be honest and look at it from their angle; they’re essentially losing a key employee for a good 9 months to a year. This is whilst attempting to find someone to fill that role temporarily and all the training which is needed for that. This all has a monetary value and also a social value; as staff and clients alike are used to you and your character, the expectation you’ve already set.
Me being a manager myself, I go out of my way to make sure all of my staff feel they can open up and share their thoughts and life plans with me no matter what, and I would like to think they all know that by now. I’m a bit of a mother hen, and I think in the workplace there’s plenty of situations where this is really needed. So yeah, be honest and be open and don’t leave it to the last minute. Look at the maternity packages your employer is providing and plan strategically based on your home life situation. One thing is that motherhood and life doesn’t always go to your tick box plan. So being aware of that is key too. It falls back down to ‘time’. You somehow don’t think you have enough time in life to do most things, but yet it all happens, sometimes in a much longer way and others quicker. Once you’ve covered all of this, it becomes so much easier and less stressful to achieve your goals in motherhood and work.
KW: It is about having an open and truthful conversation and being able to say ‘I want children’. I had to train a member of my team to take over from myself in a very short amount of time. By law, if you’re pregnant you aren’t required to tell your employer until 15 weeks before your due date. Even then though, it’s such a small amount of time to basically tie up all the loose ends, train a member of staff to take over that role, and ensure the company is running as smoothly as possible in your absence. For over half of my pregnancy with my second child recently I was very sick, you just don’t know how you feel and you also have to look after another child on top of that. Juggling all of that, whilst ensuring my team were comfortable filling my role, was incredibly challenging and it always was going to be.
Nordens over the years knew my personal situation, so telling them I wanted to start a family was a lot easier. I think employers need to do this more, getting to know their staff as it essentially enables them to feel more comfortable opening up.
We’d like to wish all mothers a Happy Mother’s Day, we appreciate every single one of you! We also hope this has outlined the kind of challenges faced by mothers in the workplace and how this can have an impact on their career. Nordens strongly recognise these issues and we’re always working towards being the most supportive we can be for our employees with kids.
If you’d like to know any further information on anything mentioned, or fancy a career at Nordens, you can check out our careers page to see what roles we currently have available or simply get in touch.