Wednesday, 23 July 2014

CAREERS WEEK GUEST POST: Same World... different planet... What do you want now?

Kerry Hales, life coach

Kerry Hales is a ‘Professional Certified Coach’ with the International Coaching Academy. Previously a successful senior NHS Manager, Kerry has now been coaching for over ten years and specialises in empowering women to succeed. She is a mother of two young boisterous boys and lives by the sea with her partner, Labrador and ginger Tom. Life is very simple, yet very full. 

Motherhood is a strange, yet wonderful place and the extra earth shattering news is that now your values have changed too.  You don’t want the same ‘anything’ that you did before – how could you?  So who are you now, and what do you really want?  Here are five exercises on ‘Finding what you want’:   

1. Create a space where you can think.

How can you make life easier on yourself?  Setting up your life to make things as easy as possible is all about making time for you.  Be ruthless about the time you need to spend on yourself, be it at a job, studying or preparing a business plan – you are going to need time and you are going to have to put yourself first.  Here’s the test question:  Are you running your life around your children or are you showing them how to live a life they love? 

2. What is your ‘Back Story’?

Before children, who were you?  This exercise is to look at what you did before you had children and what you loved about it. Write it down.  Yep, I mean it.  Get a coffee or some kind of drink that soothes you (create a space for you) and sit and work through all that you have done – from school onwards.  What we are really looking for here is what you enjoyed.  Be as specific as you can, if it was projects, what was it about them – the time frame, accountability, the detail, the use of computers, the importance of communicating with other people?  Break it down as far as you can.  Everything is valuable in getting to know you better. 

Once you have a list you will notice certain recurring themes, some of which may come as a surprise. What we are looking for are real answers to who you are, not who you think you are or what you think you want.  Getting a clearer idea of what you want, comes from understanding what you have already done.  The trends are there and you will bring with you a feast of talent from your past.  So we always start there.  Who is this character and what can we trust her to do?

3. If you start by chasing others’ ideas of success you will never achieve it.

What you want from life is up to you.  It is your choice, your decision and you who lives it.  Make sure when you are figuring out what you want, it is ‘yours’.  Check in with yourself and see...  are your ideas of success based on someone else’s?  Your parents, siblings, BFF’s?  They will all have an impact on your ideas, as you spend so much time with them.  But this is all about you and what you want.  If your idea is to start a business, and your friends are all employed, the conversation will be towards what their ‘advice’ is.  So when you are asking for ‘advice’ (what they would do in your shoes) make sure you take notice.  It is theirs, not yours.  What do you want?  What feels right to you? 

4. But what if I really don’t know what I want to do?

Once you have had your children, one of the most frustrating things is trying to find what you want to do next, for you.  It feels like there is no time to waste.  Relax!  Life isn’t like that.  You are going to make mistakes.  Think of it like an aeroplane on its route – it’s rarely 100% on course – it’s an ongoing process of course correcting.  Try something out and check to see if it’s working for you and the family and if not – see how you can change it. The rule here is:  Is this working for ‘me’?  If not, how can ‘I’ change it? 

5.  What if I really, really don’t know what I want?

It is sometimes easier to list what we don’t want. So start there.  Make a comprehensive list about what you do not want.  We can very easily become focused on what we do not want and ‘bingo’ we get it.  So, for this I suggest you take advantage of your focus and get it down on paper, add a column next to each point and turn what was a negative into a positive – if I don’t want this, then what I really want it this.  What you end up is with a list of what you do want.  Voila!
We are also going to acknowledge and love our pessimistic side (yes we all have one).  If you do not do this it will rear its ugly head and stop any kind of creativity you had.  For this exercise we need two pieces of paper (or just turn it over!); one for your ‘creative’ side and the other for the ‘pessimistic’ one.  Both are very valuable in their own right and by the end of this exercise you will learn to love them equally... well nearly!
Q:  If I got paid to have fun – what would I be doing?
Q:  What if ‘money/time/skills/my age/’didn’t matter – what would I do?

Put the answer that comes on the right side of paper. When you have finished you will have ideas on one side and considerations on the other – all of which are invaluable, as you will need to answer both, but this will get ideas flowing.  

So there you have it – five top tips on getting what you want.  If you can think it, you can do it.  If you have written anything down... You can do it. You can! You really can, all you need is a plan and a bunch of determination and you can create anything!

If you would like to find out more about Kerry Hales' life coaching, go to

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

CAREERS WEEK GUEST POST: On why motherhood and entrepreneurship can be the perfect fit

Emily Guille-Marrett offers advice to pregnant mothers on giving their child the best start for reading

Emily Guille-Marrett  is a mother of two young boys and founder of new company Here she talks about how having a baby changed her life and gave her the flexibility, creative space and confidence to set up her own business. 

From strategy meeting to motherhood

“I have to go to the hospital for an urgent check up. I hope to be back for the strategy meeting at midday, otherwise I will be induced. I’ll ring and let you know.”

These were the last words I recall saying to my publishing director before going on maternity leave with my first baby.  I had pre-eclampsia in the late stages of pregnancy and my baby had stopped growing. My blood pressure was high and, for both our sakes, it was time to give nature a helping hand and welcome my son into the world a little early. No-one could have prepared me for this life-changing experience and its impact on my career and family.

A new life and new opportunities

Fast-forward a few weeks and I had resigned from my job, sold our family home and planned to relocate from Oxford to Whitstable on the Kent coast. All my work colleagues, family and friends were shocked. I was the last person on earth they (and I) thought wouldn’t be returning to work after having a baby. An ambitious publisher, fiercely loyal and satisfied in my job, I had found myself in an impossible situation. Unlike many mothers and fathers who manage the balance between work and home life brilliantly, I knew I would find it difficult to set boundaries between working for someone else and the demands of motherhood. Having been separated from our underweight baby at birth because he’d been in special care meant that my husband and I were unwilling to compromise on the natural-parenting style we’d unexpectedly fallen into, which wasn’t reasonably compatible with the expectations of contemporary office life.

I had spent my career inspired by incredible women in publishing such as Dame Marjorie Scardino at Pearson, Kate Harris at Oxford University Press and most recently Kate Wilson at Nosy Crow. They had taught me the importance of embracing change, accepting and learning from failure and above all being brave and resilient. It was time to apply this knowledge and find the inner strength to set up my own company and work for myself.

The story behind Reading Fairy

Having been a publisher of books and software to help children learn to read, I found that friends wanted advice and practical tips to support their child’s reading at home. What started off as a light-hearted chat with friends over coffee turned into a passion for wanting to pass on my expertise to help parents and carers give their child a head start for learning to read. I presented my ideas for Reading Fairy to entrepreneur Doug Richard’s School for Creative Start Ups and was awarded a place with funding from Kent County Council. Bookings for classes, parties and bespoke events are now available in Kent and London. 

Babies and Business – The Highs and Lows

1.     Finances

It took a while to adjust to having only one regular income. We took some of the pressure off by selling our home and relocating to Whitstable on the Kent coast. There’s no doubt that we have had to make material sacrifices in the short term. But the value of what I’m doing, as a mother, partner, provider and reading expert, far out-ways the immediate financial loss.

When I think of the loss of salary and perks of being a publisher, it can feel quite overwhelming. No regular income. No company car. No pension. No private healthcare. No maternity leave with baby number 2. No childcare support. The list goes on. But when I read in Forbes that Manhattan Nannies can earn up to $200k a year, my friends and I in a similar position to me joked that this was the amount we were saving our family on childcare. Suddenly, it didn’t feel quite so painful!

Whatever happens, don’t let motherhood stand in your way of seeking financial and business advice. Being on maternity leave is a great time to both bond with your baby and seek new opportunities. The great thing about setting up your own business whilst parenting in the way you want is that you can create your own boundaries. I have fed my newborn baby in meetings about business funding and pitched for investment with my baby in a sling. I can’t quite believe I did that now, but it certainly helped me get to where I am now.

2.     Childcare

I couldn’t have got to where I am now without the support of my husband and the grandparents in assisting with childcare. My parents-in-law generously help us with childcare on a regular basis – and my boys love being with them. My parents in Jersey were called upon to drop everything and assist with childcare during the Reading Fairy launch at Selfridges. Quite what people do without that kind of support I don’t know!  

My husband and I never feel we’ve quite got the home/work balance right between us. Setting up a business whilst raising small children is not for the faint hearted. Sleep deprivation, ambition, sacrifice, passion (and housework!) all converge to create fireworks every now and then. But we know where we are, where we want to get to and we’re proud to say we’re following our dreams – as individuals, together and as a family. All family set ups are different, and I know many successful single mothers who, with a strong network of family, friends and the right childcare support, are hugely successful in balancing work and family life.

3.      Motherhood and Sisterhood

I think it’s sad that for over a year I was deemed unemployed by society both as a stay at home mother and person setting up a business. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. And I’ve not been entitled to any childcare support as for some time I was deemed self-employed. There are many women in this situation. 

Whatever your parenting style or work/life situation, it’s important to surround yourself with supportive friends. In the early days of motherhood, I knew which of my friends were feeding their babies on demand through the night so I could support them to get sleep and vice versa. I would arrange playdates with friends who were setting up businesses and had young children. We would go to one another’s houses, talk through ideas and childcare swap. Sometimes a large cup of tea and a big hug was all we needed. Many neighbours call on us when their child is ill or needs to be collected from nursery or school – and they’re there for us too. I have a fantastic social media network of supporters and advisers – for motherhood and business. This has and continues to be invaluable. 

Get out there and meet people

The most important thing I recommend anyone embarking on motherhood or setting up a business is to get out there and meet people. Share your knowledge and others will share theirs. Network and you’ll find support. Communicate and you’ll find opportunities. If you get out there and start believing in yourself then you’ll build your confidence.

What I have found incredible is how many other mothers felt similarly to me. Many had re-located, were in the process of setting up a businesses or working freelance. All are talented and continue to experiment with ways to balance work and motherhood – for some that’s about staying at home. Whatever you do, it must make you happy, fulfilled, content and valued.  

Here are just a handful of inspiring businesses set up by talented mothers I know to inspire you. 

My Top Tips for starting a business

·         Be an expert
·         Embrace social media
·         Know the value of what you do
·         Skills swap. Share expertise.
·         Don’t be afraid of failure and learn from it
·         Trust your instincts
·         Stand focused
·         Network and connect people
·         Know when to say No!
·         Understand your customers
·         Do something creative every day
·         Believe in yourself and stay positive

Much of this can be applied to motherhood too! Good luck.

You can follow Emily on twitter @EastKentMum @ReadingFairyLtd and if you would like to find out more about Reading Fairy, go to and facebook/ReadingFairy.  

Monday, 21 July 2014

CAREERS WEEK: Q&A with Karen Mattison MBE, Co-founder of Timewise

Karen Mattison MBE

Multi award-winning Karen Mattison MBE is the co-founder and director of Timewise, along with business-partner Emma Stewart MBE. Karen was initially motivated by the skilled and experienced women she’d meet at the school gates, who wanted work to fit with family, and is now passionate about the gains for business of taking a more flexible approach, Karen both consults with employers and is building the first ever marketplace for good quality flexible jobs. The Timewise group includes Timewise Jobs, Timewise Recruitment and a careers service for women with children, Women Like Us

Karen was made an MBE in 2010; has been named as one of the UK's most radical thinkers by Nesta (the UK body for innovation) and the Observer; is a Management Today magazine ‘small business hero’ and has been listed by Real Business magazine as one of the '12 leading social entrepreneurs to watch’. Karen regularly comments on the evolving world of work in the media, having appeared most recently in Management Today magazine, the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph, BBC Breakfast and on ITN’s Tonight programme.

Here Karen answers some questions put to her by Feminist Mum.

1. What was the inspiration for setting up "Timewise”?

Ten years ago I was a senior manager with young children, looking for my next career move. I searched and searched for a source of jobs that were either part time or open to flexibility. But I couldn’t find any. When I spoke to recruiters, they told me that such roles simply did not exist.

This didn’t make any sense. Every day at the school gates, I’d meet skilled, experienced professionals, who also wanted part time or flexible work. Unable to believe that businesses wouldn’t want to recruit from this skilled pool of talent, I began to investigate.

I discovered three things. Firstly, that the term ‘part time’ suffers from a strong negative brand. Secondly, that in spite of this, many employers had considered hiring skilled part time workers: but had nowhere to go, to find the talent. Thirdly, I discovered that people need flexible work for all kinds of reasons – not just children.

There was a clear market, with needs that weren’t being met. By way of solution my co-founder Emma Stewart and I launched Timewise – an organisation designed to build the market for flexible recruitment, working closely with employers to make it happen. We now advertise around 100 jobs a day, ranging from part time finance directors, to marketing assistants, to graphic designers; for small businesses, all the way through to blue chips. We also run Women Like Us, a multi award-winning careers advice service designed to help with confidence after a ‘break’ from work, career direction and the practicalities of applying for a job and going for an interview.

2. How do you sell the skills and talents of women with children to potential employers?

As with any candidate for any job, it is about talking about the talent, abilities and experiences of that individual first, and how closely they fit with the role required. Not their childcare needs or about how long they have been out of work. That up front conversation must be about you as a professional and what you have to offer.

3. How do you think the economic downturn has affected job opportunities for women with children?

The recession had one silver lining. As businesses were forced to look at their reduced budgets and how they could be creative with them, part time working became increasingly used and visible within UK business culture. Some firms offered flexible working structures to existing staff who might want to reduce their working weeks, and could afford to do so. Others needed to recruit but did not have the budget for a full time member of staff. Hence employers became increasingly exposed to the pool of talented people in the UK who are highly ambitious, highly experienced and highly motivated – but cannot work full time. And let’s not forget that this doesn’t just include mothers, but fathers, people trying to balance work with an illness, those who simply want to work less… the list goes on. ‘What can’ be achieved on a part time or flexible business became the focus of conversation – rather than ‘what cannot’.

4. Often juggling family commitments with work seems to fall on women's shoulders. Do you think more Dads should be looking to work flexibly too?

All kinds of people in the UK need flexible work and for different reasons, 60,000 people are now registered with Timewise, and 30% are not parents. I think it’s well recognised that flexible working ‘isn’t just for women’ now. Our working lives are extending and with them, the recognition that things will happen in that timeframe, which might require a different working pattern. In addition, increasingly, the best employers are starting to see that you don’t need a 9-5 structure for every job to guarantee the best result. Sometimes, you can achieve even more, when you introduce even a bit of flexibility.

5. What are your 3 top tips for women wanting to return to work after a career break? 

Firstly, if your confidence takes a dip, take heart and know you can get past it. So many women, whether they are returning to the same job or looking for a new one, go through the same thing. Keep talking to friends and family, and don’t be afraid to seek out professional advice and guidance. The Women Like Us website is a great starting point – with free advice packs, details of our workshops and more.

Secondly, plan, plan and plan. If you are looking for a new job, be sure of what kind of flexibility you can offer and how far you are willing to compromise. And if flexibility is what you want, do register with us and keep an eye on the kind of jobs we post!

Thirdly, address that ‘gap’ openly on your CV, and keep it professional. You don’t need to fall over yourself to explain why you had to take a break and why it was XXX months/years long. Always talk about your skills and experience up front and about why you are such a good match for a role.

6. Timewise is already an award-winning social enterprise. What are your hopes for the future?

In the long term, we aim to grow the market for good quality part time and flexible work – and to shape it as we build. We want to live in a world where anyone who needs flexible work, from any kind of career background, can easily find a role to apply for at their level of skill and ability. Just 3% of job vacancies offered part time hours and salaries of £20,000+ in the UK, at the last count. It’s time to change that number. In the short term, we aim to work closely with more and more employers, to help them unlock the benefits of flexible working, and to stimulate the creation of yet more great jobs. That’s how we’ll make change happen.

To find out more about flexible work opportunities, visit Timewise Jobs, Timewise Recruitment and Women Like Us: Careers Advice for Women.  

You can follow Karen Mattison on twitter @karenmattison.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Introducing CAREERS WEEK on Feminist Mum

Credit/Howard R. Hollem - Own photograph of original

For women with children, careers can be a tricky topic. Something to steer clear of during parent & baby coffee mornings. The sighs....stressed about going back to work, can't find the right job, stuck in a rut, the childcare problem. The word "career" itself can be pretty intimidating, maybe you don't imagine yourself with a career at all. Maybe you have simply hopped from job to job or juggled several jobs simultaneously to pay the bills. On the other hand, you might be in the career you always wanted but finding juggling family needs with professional demands an unexpected headache. You might be having an identity crisis about opting out for a while (forever???) to spend more time with the kids, or contemplating setting up your own business so you can be the boss for a change.

Careers Week is about inspiring women to see the possibility out there in the world of work. Things are changing. The economic downturn means that there are fewer vacancies, more redundancies, more competition. It has also meant more part time positions (a mixed blessing perhaps, less money but more time at home), more working from home, more freelance opportunities. The latest legislation allows all employees to ask for flexible working - that's no magic bullet (they don't have to say yes!) but it indicates a sea change, a recognition that flexibility can benefit both businesses and family life.

This week, I will be publishing features from four amazing women whom I hope will inspire you to think about your options. Everyone's circumstances are different and priorities change. But sometimes, it's good to look over the parapet and think about what could be...

On Monday, Karen Mattison MBE from Timewise will be discussing how flexible working is coming to the fore and ways for women with children to find positions that give them the flexibility they need without sacrificing their skills or salary expectations. 

On Tuesday, in an excellent guest post from Emily Guille-Marrett, Founder of, we will hear how motherhood gave her the breathing space and confidence to start her own business.

On Wednesday, Kerry Hales, a life coach specialising in empowering women to succeed, will address women who actually don't know what they want to do or are stuck in a negative head-space about their skills and talents.

On Thursday, Professor Elizabeth Rouse OBE, will examine what holds women back in applying for management positions and offers advice about how to be a successful manager while juggling family life.

On Friday, we will finally consider the elephant in the room, childcare! As childcare costs rise, we know that it is a major stumbling block for families in achieving work/life balance. Childcare should clearly be the responsibility of both parents in terms of time and costs but not everyone has a supportive partner or family to share the load. We will look at recent policy and research from the Family and Childcare Trust and consider what to think about when choosing childcare, including quality, price and convenience.

Please do join me for Careers Week and share your views. Every mother is different in terms of what she wants for herself, her kids and her relationships and the resources she has to draw on. I hope these features will at least help you think about what you really want and what you need to do to achieve it.

In the meantime, do check out my Careers page for helpful links including careers advice, recruitment agencies and childcare options.

Friday, 18 July 2014

JOINT POST: On “free birth”. Tempted? Not tempted?

A woman gives birth unassisted at home. 
LaVergerrayCherie-birth, credit Lisa J. Patton, available by Creative Commons license

"Free birth”, or “unassisted birth”, can be defined as the decision by a pregnant mother to give birth unattended by medical or health professionals. This isn’t the stories we all know of babies arriving in hospital car parks or in the lift. It’s not a planned home birth when the midwives get stuck in traffic and the father ends up having to catch the baby. This is a decision to give birth in a place of your choosing with the people you want to be there. Maybe even alone.  A birth without medical supervision or intervention but not without a certain level of risk. In this joint post, Chrissy from AttachmentFeminism and Francesca from FeministMum tell us their opposing views: “tempted” and “not tempted”!


Both of my children entered the world in a hospital room.  The eldest met his first breath via my vagina with the aid of ventouse, and the second was ‘cut free’ (as my three year old likes to tell me) in a planned caesarean section after refusing to turn head down from the transverse position. But leaving aside my own births, let me first tell you why I support a woman’s right to have a free birth and, in the right circumstances, would consider one myself.

Firstly, the concept of free or unassisted birth can sometimes be a little misconstrued.  Whilst some women want to go into a dark and quiet place by themselves or outside to birth in nature, for many an unassisted birth can just mean being left in one room while attendants wait in another room.  The mother has help at hand should she need it, but can also have the peace to birth by herself if she is cool with that and all is progressing within the spectrum of normal.

Secondly, a big misconception is that women are not forearmed with the facts about the birth process before they choose a free birth.  Images of swollen-bellied hippies skipping into the forest to give birth, having done no prior research, some clovers in their hair for good luck. In reality, since most women are aware that things can and sometimes do go wrong before, during and after birth, they educate themselves on the most common ‘if’ scenarios.

Thirdly, women’s bodies are designed to give birth.  That’s not to say that all women have a difficulty-free labour and delivery but I believe it’s every woman’s right to have the opportunity to do it herself, before medical intervention at whatever level is introduced.  That’s not to say that all women will want to, but they should make that decision for themselves. Birth is a natural process that can be hugely positive and empowering.

Personal to me is the concept of the cascade of intervention. One of the reasons I ‘opted’ (cringe) for a planned c-section with my youngest was because I felt that the cascade of intervention that was probable, if not inevitable, with a transverse lie at 39 weeks would ultimately lead to the same outcome as if I planned it to begin with.  I wanted to feel in control with birthing, and whilst on an operating table one is not really in control, to be able to take the decision after weighing up the risks of both options meant I felt confident going into that surgery. I recognise that free birth in a low risk pregnancy allows women to take charge of their own birthing experience. 

The hospital environment itself can have a negative impact on natural birthing. For some mothers,  labouring for the second or third time or more, previous birth trauma can be a reason for choosing to attempt an unassisted delivery.  Being in hospital itself – or even being in a setting where the implication is that medical intervention is just around the corner – can be a pretty uncomfortable feeling for some people.  Not feeling in control, being healthy in a place designed to help sick people and the implication that something is ‘wrong’ can affect mothers in ways that we have to dig deeper to really understand.

So I advocate for free birth for women who want it and whose pregnancies have been free from complications which may make unassisted delivery a dangerous option.  I absolutely support every woman’s right to medical aid during labour and birth if she needs it, and by that I mean for every woman in the world.  We are very lucky in the UK that we have a free health service that will aid us when things don’t go as planned, and I don’t deny that for a second.  But I also want women to be fully educated about what their bodies can do, and to live in a system that facilitates that rather than scares women into thinking medical intervention is a given.

So NOT tempted…

Let me say first that I am very much in favour of women taking control of their birthing experience, be that by choosing a homebirth, a birthing centre, labour ward, or even for some, theatre. Hypnobirthing, epidural, whatever works for you. In my case, I was hoping for home births but ended up having two straightforward but not very empowering births in hospital birth centres for logistical reasons. 

But, the idea of “free birth” totally terrifies me. It’s a lovely image, baby just arriving into a calm, cosy space where his or her parents feel relaxed and at home.  A space without uniformed professionals standing by to interfere. But I can’t help feel that this image doesn’t reflect the reality that when birth does go wrong, it can go very wrong!  

Let’s be honest, the progress in Western medicine means that fewer women die in childbirth, fewer babies die in childbirth, fewer mothers and babies have lasting birth injuries.  Worldwide, a million babies a year don’t survive their first day and Save the Children’s #First Day campaign wants every birth to be attended by a trained midwife equipped with sterile equipment and medicines. Is that a misguided move on the part of this international charity or is it actually what women, who don’t have the luxury of free quality healthcare, want more than anything else?

According to free birth advocates, it is possible to get hold of the equipment you need to administer oxygen to your newborn if you need it and train yourself in various aspects of midwifery.  You can buy sterile instruments. You can feel that you are limiting the risks. But actually, what about a mother haemorrhaging? Or shoulder dystocia where the baby gets stuck? If not dealt with immediately, these situations are likely to be fatal.  If you have your partner or a friend there to assist, is it fair to put them in a situation where they may feel utterly helpless if things go very wrong?

It feels sad that birth has become so medicalised in the UK and pregnant mothers feel so dis-empowered within the system, that women feel that they need to reject what modern medicine has to offer in its entirety.  I get that, I really do. When the hospital books you in for an induction a week after your due date when you are only 8 months pregnant so you are “in the diary”. No discussion as to whether that is something you will want or need.  When the midwives are too busy to attend to you because they are short-staffed. When your partner is sent home just when you really need him to be at your side because it’s ward policy.  

But despite this, most of the time, women in the UK get through pregnancy and childbirth with no lasting damage to themselves and with a healthy baby at the end of it. And it is our dedicated and experienced midwives, obstetricians, neonatal nurses and healthcare assistants that we have to thank for that. Compassionate, experienced professionals who have the time, energy and resources they need can help us have the empowering and safe birthing experience we deserve.

NICE now advises that women with low-risk pregnancies having their second child should be routinely offered a home birth with midwife support. We need access to experienced home birth teams across the country to make it an option for every woman who wants to deliver her baby in the familiar environment of her own home.  A birth, where she feels safe and comfortable, with experienced attendants standing by. Surely it is better to work with the system to make lasting improvements that benefit everyone than encourage women to opt out and take a risk to themselves and their babies that they don’t have to take?

Francesca, Feminist Mum