“Two of the main things that keep people in a situation where they are less than happy are lack of confidence and that fear of change that holds many people back”
This week I talk to Dearbhalla Baviera, a mum of four, who has transitioned from a full-time role as a management consultant to setting up her own business; Clearbird Coaching & Consulting. She is a coach, facilitator and motivational speaker who focuses on working with women in business and women in transition.
I have four children – two gorgeous boys 8 and 5 and baby girl twins who are almost two.
And now could you tell me a little about your business?
I am a Business Coach, Consultant and Speaker, and I focus on working with women in business and women in transition i.e. many working mums!
What kind of hours do you work?
For the moment, I work 3-4 full mornings from 9.00am-2.30pm. Friday morning is groceries, errands and time with the babies. I attend a lot of networking events and provide a limited number of evening coaching sessions for private clients so that will typically be two evenings a week.
Like everyone, I struggle to fit everything in and could easily do longer hours but for now these are the hours that I have decided are what works for me and the kids. I have to fit in what I can into that time.
And is this something you can do from home – or perhaps is almost always from home?
When I set up Clearbird, I thought that it would be a work from home model but I found that quite hard to do. It can be difficult to focus and have clarity of thought when there is always something to be tidied! One particular morning helped me change my mind on working from home, on a conference call, with two little faces crying on the other side of glass partition doors. That was the day that I knew I needed to find an office!
What kind of childcare do you use?
I have had au pairs for the last 2 years and when people ask me ‘how do you do it?’, my answer is by having an au pair!
Is your childcare solution working well for you?
For us, having an au pair works well as I am around and about. To me, an au pair isn’t a full-time child care option. But as I’m flexible/ part-time, it is the flexibility of the arrangement that is the main benefit.
This last year we have had a wonderful French girl. She minds the girls the mornings that I work. She also does laundry and helps the house tick over with tidying etc. If there is a day that I need to work through to the afternoon, she can collect the boys from school and be there with all of them. It means that if I have to be out for evening meetings, it is very workable. It takes the stress away from both husband and myself in terms of him having to be at home early on a given day. It releases that pressure between 5pm and 7pm – even if I’m not going out!
Are your children in school and has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?
The boys are in school, in the French system (they are half French) and that really helps for my hours. They can be dropped by 8.15. The day finishes at 2.40 for everyone so we didn’t have to deal with that double collection time with junior/senior infants. I have it in me to launch a national campaign at some stage! If schools could set themselves up to allow parents to do drop children off earlier in the morning at least, that would help working parents so much! But that’s a whole other rant… I know some schools do but more should, in my view.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
Having an au pair means that balancing act is much easier. My challenge is that I could grow the business faster if I gave more hours to it but the hours I do are what I choose to do to get that elusive balance! So for now, modest growth is fine(ish). My juggling act is in my head. Being self-employed with flexibility, I seem to think that I am a full-time SAHM and can do everything that goes with that as well as growing my own business. Last year the business probably took the hit in terms of balance but this year, I’m hoping to make it work a little bit better. Organisation, focus and productivity are key!
Do you think that working for yourself makes it easier or more difficult to balance work and home? I imagine there’s more flexibility but that it’s also difficult to switch off!
It’s definitely easier to find some balance working for yourself. You have to be clear about how you set yourself up, what the parameters are and be okay with your decisions – but that applies to every job!
The flexibility is there and that is absolutely great. But for example it means that the business will have less time and focus during holiday times when kids need more time. And of course, there isn’t a fixed pay cheque at the end of the month!
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
Even though I feel that I have a good balance, I still feel guilty when the girls cry when they see pick me pick up my bag and keys. But I am going to work on that guilt a bit more this year! Guilt is a funny thing and I really think it’s part of being a mum. I try to make it part of me, hug it in and not resist it. We all make our choices and I believe that if you are happy with your choices and believe in your choices, having taken everything into account, we can use that knowledge to balance the guilt.
For example, I work because I know I will be a happier and better mum. (I’m all about happy mums=happy babies and children). Other reasons might be that working allows us to go on holidays, buy Santa presents, buy school uniforms or whatever else income goes on. Or, working because it means food on the table and a roof over our head. All of these things are good for our children. It helps to focus on the reason for what you are doing when guilt kicks in. The key is to be clear about your reasons and make sure that you are making the right choices for you and your family.
Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a mother to have a fulfilling career while being there for her children?
For me the optimal solution is a very personal thing. It’s different for everyone and it’s up to everyone to figure out what that is and then try to make it happen. Of course, circumstances influence your decision. I believe that it’s about having the clarity and owning the situation you are in, owning the decisions you make and owning your career and life rather than letting it happen to you.
I know mums who are full-time at home and very happy with that and others who are full-time at home but would love to get back to some kind of work. I know Mums who work outside the home full-time and while it is a bit of a struggle and no doubt they have that working mum guilt too, they are very happy with their career choice and would probably hate being at home full-time. And there are many full-time working mums that would like flexibility or a different way of working.
To those that are in a situation where they are less than happy, I would say that there are always options. There are different companies to work for. There may be influencing to be done. Two of the main things that keep people in a situation where they are less than happy are lack of confidence and that fear of change that holds many people back. I have worked with many people who assumed they wouldn’t get flexible working hours if they changed job. But I know others who asked (in their current or new job) and were surprised when they got some kind of flexible arrangement. There are always options.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
Exactly what I am doing!
Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours which in turn limits their opportunities?
I have a view which is too long to explain in this article so keep an eye out for a future blog/LinkedIn article from me on the subject! But in brief, whatever about a glass ceiling, I believe that the traditional, linear career model is not ideal for many women and I would love to get a national conversation going on the fact that there is a different dynamic which comes into play for many women at mid-career phase (mid-thirties to mid forties) which impacts how and when women move through to leadership positions. A non-linear career model with different acceptable options needs to be put on the table.
If companies are really interested in retaining and growing their female talent – and many are – then they, and women need to take a longer term view.
At the mid-career phase a number of factors come into play following an ambitious, focused early career phase when we had limited other responsibilities. In our mid 30s, our social context changes and priorities start to shift. For many, children start to make an appearance with all of the challenges that entails and older parents also bring increased responsibilities. But it’s not just the external factors can have a career limiting impact.
In this mid-career phase when many are moving towards senior management, politics come into play and it is no longer enough to just get your job done if you want to move to senior levels. Many, many women reject ‘getting involved with the office politics’. Many, many women, keep their head down, get the job done and are super focused as they need to leave at a certain time to pick up kids and do their ‘other’ job for the rest of the day. Many women (including me a few years ago) feel that they need to become aggressive and ‘act like one of the boys’ to progress. I wish I could tell my younger self to be more assertive. I would also tell myself to raise my own profile and be better at self-promotion. Many women in my view are uncomfortable with this and the pressure that it brings, at a time when they are struggling with family and other responsibilities so choose to step off the ladder. In most organisations, senior and leadership levels are still made up of mostly men and the culture that goes with it.
I believe that dealing with all of these things will see increasing numbers of women move to leadership positions. There are a few years where there are logistical, childcare-related challenges and costs. But our careers are long. Women and organisations should be looking at the personal development required to help more women progress. Organisations also need to take an honest look at their culture and unconscious bias in their organisation and management level and above.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
It’s not rocket science but being organised does help! Batch cook and freeze. Get a cleaner. Pick your clothes and kids clothes the night before. Have school bags, crèche bags, handbags, work bags ready the night before. It all helps. And if you have one, make sure your partner helps!
Figure out what you need to do to help you manage the transition back to work. Be clear about what your parameters are home and at work and stick to them. Have the conversations to make sure these happen – with your boss, with your partner/husband/ with your childminder…
Give yourself a break. Know that it can be hard. Remember to take care of yourself. Know what you need to do for yourself to re-charge and make the time! You can’t look after others if you don’t look after yourself. Know that working mum’s guilt is normal for many/most people and part of being a mum. Try to accept it and know that it is part of loving your child.
And finally, can you tell me a little more about your coaching and the service you provide?
Themes that come up again and again for working women include prioritising, confidence, assertiveness, personal branding and raising your profile, influencing skills and resilience. For individuals, this can mean 1:1 coaching or group workshops. For organisations where the importance of retaining and growing female talent is already on the agenda, I deliver maternity coaching, workshops and input to developing mentoring, establishing women networks, etc.
I also love working with female entrepreneurs who can struggle with focus and staying on top of strategic and daily business planning in order to keep growing their business.
For any working mums who want to take some time out for themselves to stop, reflect, re-evaluate and re-focus, I am running a Setting Yourself Up to Succeed Programme on Tuesday evenings in September in partnership with Reform Pilates Studio in Blackrock. Co Dublin. There will be another series later in the year. Either click here for details or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Website: www.clearbird.ie
Dearbhalla, as someone who knows you both professionally and personally, I’m delighted to have you take part in this series. And in particular because of your focus on the working mother juggle – a topic that is very relevant for many readers, and something about which I know you’re very, very passionate.
One sentence in particular stood out for me; “Two of the main things that keep people in a situation where they are less than happy, are lack of confidence and that fear of change that holds many people back”
I think anyone at a career crossroads can relate to that. Women who are working full-time and want to make the break to get something more flexible, but are afraid that they won’t find anything. Women who are working and want to take some time off to be with their small children, but are afraid they’ll never break back into the workforce. Women who want flexibility but are afraid they’ll be “mommy-tracked” if they ask. Lack of confidence and fear of change – that’s it, in a nutshell.
And I completely agree with your point about these few years during which childcare and logistics are a huge challenge – and as you say, our careers our long. I think the difficulty is in convincing workplaces that it’s OK for women to step out or lean back for five or ten years and then come back in. Too often, we’re being written off – to everyone’s detriment.
Thank you for taking part Dearbhalla and I wish you huge success with your business – if anyone can do it, I know you can!