“Change is happening – but it’s slow…”

After graduating with a law degree, like many other new graduates, Katy Fridman took her first steps onto the career ladder, enjoying a fulfilling job in a marketing role. As the years passed, she joined Microsoft, where she worked her way up to Acting Director of Trade Marketing. So far, so good. Then she left to have a child. And that was, as she says, a ‘total game changer’. Over to Katy…

“When I returned to Microsoft, following maternity leave, my role no longer existed and as a result I took redundancy. It was an unsettling time as I felt displaced and wasn’t sure what do next.

Friends, returning after having kids, were managing to negotiate returns to their work with flexibility, but it was so much harder to find a new role with flex. I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mum, but equally I didn’t want to go back to work full-time and miss out on being a mum.

It was a real shock, and nothing prepared me for it.  No one told me as I climbed the career ladder that everything would change, once I became a mum and that the workplace wasn’t really set up to support working mums.

Over the next few years I worked in a couple of part-time senior roles, but I quite quickly realised how difficult it was to work at this level and juggle the demands of the business with family life.

The kids were so little, and I was constantly torn between being in the office and at nursery pick-up. They were also sick a lot and I had to take time off for doctors’ appointments and to stay at home with them. I didn’t have proper childcare in place, so all in all it was unsustainable.

At that point I decided to set up my own marketing consultancy and be my own boss and that way I could determine my own hours and only have myself to answer to. 

In February 2018, feeling frustrated by the experience I’d had since having my children and the lack of support and flexible opportunities available for working mums, I set up the Facebook group – Flexible Working for Mums Like Me – to connect with other women just like me who were struggling to find their way.  I wanted to create a community for support, advice and a place where we could uncover and share flexible working opportunities with each other. 

In just six months the group grew to 11k+ members. Women joined in droves and shared their experiences. Lawyers and accountants, HR and marketing professionals, admin and PA specialists – it’s a community that embraces every discipline. 

It’s become a life-line to those women who want to get advice and support from others. It’s also become a platform for connecting with flexible employers – hiring managers and recruiters now even advertise their roles through the group..

I also now work with companies to connect them to the group and am launching my business Frankly Flexible in the next few weeks. A year on, the group is still growing at around 80 a day and will shortly hit 20k members.

There has been incredible support for the group from the members. Many have found jobs through the group and there are success stories posted all the time, which shows others that it can happen to them too. 

There still aren’t enough flexible roles being advertised though. Latest stats show that only 11% of jobs are advertised as flexible or part-time, so there’s a lot of discussion around how and when people should ask for flexible working with companies. 

 Katy Fridman - aiming to make flexible the norm Katy Fridman – aiming to make flexible the norm

Some companies are very open to flexible working arrangements and others more reticent. In many companies flexible working happens in a pocket of an organisation, depending on the manager or the team. Companies also talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. Change is happening but it’s slow and flexible working is unfortunately still viewed as a perk for working mums, whereas it really needs to be gender neutral in order for it to make real change. 

There are many barriers to flexible working in companies. One of the main reasons I hear is that there is a fear of bringing flexible working policies out into the open in case it opens the floodgates and everyone wanting to work flexibly.

There is also a trust issue when it comes to flexible working. Managers think that if they can’t physically see their employees sitting at their desks, then they don’t know what they are doing. There has to be a shift in the mindset from presenteeism to productivity.

People should be accountable for the work and results that they deliver and not the place that they work from. Technology has made it so much easier to facilitate flexible working, but for some companies this requires an investment or a new way of working, which they are not ready to embrace.  

In time, the 9-5 will be a thing of the past. We are already in the ‘always on’ age where fixed working hours and static work place is becoming a dusty relic. Companies that want to hire and attract best talent will need to embrace flexible working policies in order stay relevant.

There needs to be a societal shift in the way we think about flexible working and it needs to be gender neutral and not just about women. In fact, by making this a women’s or a mum’ s issue, my group was just perpetuating the problem and the only way to balance this was to make it gender neutral. For this reason, in February this year, I changed the name of the group to Flexible Working for People Like Me for this very reason. Society needs to make it more acceptable for men to want this.

Dads want to be present in their children’s lives but it’s not as socially accepted for men to make flexible working requests. Others want to work flexibly due to mental health issues, physical disability or to care for a parent. Whatever the reason, flexible working has to be something that is for everyone and not just for women.

There are also lots of women on the group who have struggled to work during menopause due to poor concentration, tiredness, poor memory, reduced confidence and all the other symptoms associated with it.  My advice would be not to cover it up or be ashamed – it’s a normal life-event for women, as is having children. The more we talk openly about these issues the better and the more acceptable it becomes.

Being flexible goes both ways. You can’t demand flexibility all on your terms, it needs to work for both the company and for you, it’s got to be give and take. Like any job search it takes time to find the one – there are flexible jobs out there and companies that will support flexible working, you just need to not be afraid, as so many women are, and ask for it.” 

Feeling inspired? Join Katy’s group to get more tips and find that perfect flexible job

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