“I think a woman can do anything in the work place but they need strong support at home. Too often the role of men isn’t considered enough”
In this week’s interview, I speak to Eithne O’Brien who works as a Journalist with RTE producing and presenting reports for the flag-ship Current Affairs programme Prime Time. Married with two children, she has worked for RTE for over 14 years.
Thank you Eithne for taking part in the interview – could you begin by telling me how many children you have and their ages?
I have two children – Ella who is 5 and Oisin who is 3.
And now could you tell me a little about your job – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
I work as a Journalist, reporting and producing with the Current Affairs programme Prime Time on RTE. I have been working here for 14 years.
What kind of hours do you work?
I work full time. On a good week you would work the normal 40 hour week but I often have to work late filming and editing for the programme as Prime Time goes out at 9.30 pm. Any extra hours I work I can take off at a later date so I save them for mid terms and school holidays.
Do you have the flexibility to work from home?
I don’t have any formal arrangement but if I had to work from home to make calls I could. A lot of the time I am filming and editing so I have to be out and about.
Do you have to travel for work?
I do travel for work. A lot of the stories I work on are based outside of Dublin so I have to travel when I am filming. The one advantage of producing my own packages is that I get to decide my own filming schedule so I choose to travel on days when I know my husband is around to look after the kids. I also make sure as much as possible that I come home the same day so I am rarely away for an overnight.
What kind of childcare do you use?
My daughter is in school and my son is in a playschool. I have a childminder who picks them up and looks after them in the afternoons. She is also very flexible and can work late for me if my husband is working late as well.
Is your childcare solution working well for you?
The childminder option is definitely the best one for me. I was very lucky when the children were smaller that I could put them in the crèche in RTE which was excellent. However it got very difficult to juggle that with the late nights I had to work. I was relying on help from family and friends to pick them up. It’s much easier to know that there is someone at home with them now who can work late if I need her to.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
My husband is in the same business so that can be difficult. When he is on the road I have to do everything on my own. Also when he is working he can’t leave if there is a problem at home. It is also very difficult for me to leave work if it is a programme day because your programme has to make air. There have been a few hair-raising dashes home when there have been problems. It can be stressful but we’ve managed so far. My biggest worry is a sick child, you can just about manage everything but if your child is sick or your childminder is sick it can all fall apart!
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I think every working mother feels guilt. It’s a conversation I have all the time with colleagues and friends. Everyone tries to do what they can to be around their children as much as possible. I am lucky that I have been able to work term time for the last 2 years which means that I am off when the children are off. So when I feel particularly guilty about a busy week where I might have missed one or two bed times I know that there is a mid-term or a school holiday coming up where they’ll have me to themselves for a whole week. I’m very lucky that way. Working part-time is not an option for me but term time really makes up for it.
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?
I’m not sure. Many mothers I talk to think that if you can afford to work part-time for a few years when the kids are young that would be ideal. You can maintain a presence in the work place but you are also there for your children.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I am pretty lucky to be in the position I am at the moment. No two days are the same and I get to meet so many interesting people and hear their stories. Working term time is the right solution for us well as a family.
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 think a woman can do anything in the work place but they need strong support at home. Too often the role of men isn’t considered enough. I think there can be a glass ceiling if a woman has a partner who has a very demanding job. It can’t be easy for children and family life if both parents are working long hours. But many women who are in top jobs have great support from their partners who are often happy to pick up the slack at home.
I think if you opt to work part-time you can limit your opportunities but that doesn’t have to be a permanent thing. You may have the option of going full-time or progressing in your chosen field when your children are older.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
Do your research when it comes to child care, and carefully choose what option is best for you. If the childcare options are working than it makes things much easier. Also don’t be too hard on yourself. The first few weeks are hard and you are guilty about everything, your kids, the state of your house, are you doing enough at work. Believe in yourself! You can always lose confidence when you are out of the work place but you will be surprised at how quickly your brain can adjust so don’t underestimate yourself, men rarely do!
Any other comments?
I couldn’t do what I do without the support of my husband. While he can be away a lot with work when he is around he is a very hands on Dad and a great help at home. He is self-employed and if he has a day off he will do the weekly shopping and organise dinner. Having that kind of support really takes the pressure off!
Eithne thank you for contributing to the interview series – I was particularly struck by what you said about having the support at home – it came up a few times, both in terms of your own husband, and your point that women can do anything they want if they have the right support. I think so too. I think if women are looking for top jobs, and have a good support structure at home, there’s nothing to stop them.
Where it falls down, I think, is when women want some kind of flexibility – either because they don’t have a partner with a less demanding job, or because they just want more time with their kids. I think that for some employers, as soon as flexibility comes into the equation, the glass ceiling closes over.
And I fully agree with what you said about the option to work part-time while kids are young – I too find that most people I speak to would like to do that. They don’t want to leave the workforce entirely, partly for fear of not getting back in, but full-time is hard when kids are small. I think your term time option is great, and I hope more employers will offer it in the future.
I love what you said about not being too hard on ourselves – particularly during those first few weeks. I think it’s hugely helpful to know in advance that it’s going to be chaos, and that then it will settle down. But when you’re in the midst of it, especially if it’s a first return to work, it can feel like that’s just how it’s going to be forever!
Thanks again Eithne for taking part.