Office Mum stories – Leisha McGrath

In my view the world is seriously missing out because employers are failing to be more creative in the types of working arrangements they offer to women.”

Leisha McGrath is an Occupational Psychologist and mum of two. Here she talks about how redundancy prompted her to start working for herself, why she still likes a mix of work and home, and how employers are getting it so wrong. 

Thank you Leisha for taking part in the interview series – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?

Leisha McGrath - office mumI have two. My little girl is six (and a quarter!), and my little boy is four (and a half!). It’s all about the increments at this age.

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?

After my daughter was born I went back on a three-day week, and two years later, when I was seven months pregnant, I was made redundant. My plan had always been to work for myself, but the timing could of course have been MUCH better. The business started slowly… first people who had worked with me in the past and only trusted me for particular types of work, would coax me back for a few days here and there. And it grew from there. Once I realised I was ready to leave the kids for a bit, I started to grow the business organically.

I’m an Occupational/Organisational/Work/Business Psychologist – so I go into businesses and help them in different capacities; Talent Management, Organisational Development and Change… whatever the need is. I also do lots of Psychometric Testing and Coaching. It depends on the demands and I really only take on work that I know I will enjoy and/or challenge me!

What kind of hours do you work?

It depends! The plan had always been to be part-time – three days, sometimes four. The business has been steadily growing organically though so sometimes it’s closer to five days. The good part though is that often times I can manage when I work. So I can do some pick-ups or drop-offs, and work a little later in the evening, post bedtimes. Although too much of that is not a good thing either.

And is this something you can do from home – or perhaps is almost always from home?

Again, it’s a total mix. I do work from home a lot, but I love full days out of the home environment too. I like putting my heels on and having a full day of uninterrupted adult conversations! For me it’s the mix that I enjoy. Too much of home or out of the home would upset me.

Do you have to travel for work?  

Funnily enough I am writing this from Heathrow as I wait for a flight, but this is by far the exception as opposed to the norm. My husband travels a lot so I do my best to keep regular hours.

What kind of childcare do you use?

We use a mix of in-house nanny/childminder, and rely too on my dad and my husband’s mum. The kids are in Montessori and school so it’s mostly the afternoons that I need to cover. Sometimes I let the TV mind them if I need to react to some emergency in my home office, but these are never proud parenting moments! And thankfully they are rare occasions.

And with one child in school, has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?

I find it’s way more pressure in the morning time. We used to leave them in their jammies having a relaxing morning, but now it’s rush, rush, rush! It’s less expensive with one in school though, so the afternoons are the only real source of childcare, unless I have early meetings, in which case the minder drops them.

On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?

Logistics! Trying to keep all of the balls in the air, and make sure I am around when they really want me, while not dropping any balls in terms of client commitments. It’s the fact that they now too have busy social lives and I very much want to be a part of that as much as I can.  When they’re sick and not in school it’s a nightmare. Our minder may not always be available at these times, and it’s horrendous if I have to leave them when they’re sick. That’s mammy guilt at its worst. At the same time if it happens on a day when I’m working from home anyway it’s more manageable, though definitely not ideal!

And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?

Yeah of course there is guilt. But when the system is working and everyone’s happy it is less. I am there more than a lot of other mums and I know how lucky I am – and I tell the kids this too! What’s horrendous is having to leave when they’re sick. I feel physically sick on those days and am just on my phone every chance I can checking in…

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 think the answer to that is deeply personal. Everyone and everyone’s circumstances are so individual and I think the ideal would allow them to cater as best they can to whatever those circumstances are. There are some women who would never want to go back, and those women who can’t wait to return to a more adult world, and everything in between. There is no judgement in any of these preferences, but in my view the world is seriously missing out because employers are failing to be more creative in the types of working arrangements they offer to women.

If I was hiring someone coming back from maternity leave I’d give them a logistics job!!(If they wanted it!).

If you could do any job, what would it be?

I honestly don’t think it would be a million miles from what I do. I am fascinated by this whole area though – women and their self-image post baby, and the effect on their careers – so maybe I’d be doing more to develop this line of understanding?

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?

Of course there’s a glass ceiling. Look around at the percentages of women “at the top”. There are more companies who are working to address this but not enough is being done. Of course it has to be about competence for the role, but there are a myriad of things that could be done to address this lack of equality that funnily enough the men aren’t driving forward.

Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier? 

Yes I do!

  1. Take the time to figure out how you’re feeling about the transition. I know in my case I was shocked about how gut wrenching I found the first while back. I just had not prepared myself for it AT ALL. If you, like me, will find it tough, maybe build up to it…I also got the nanny to send me pics during the day so I could see how things were going….
  2. Have an honest conversation with your employer about your career aspirations. Think about what you want/ don’t want, in terms of development and make it clear that you are back. This business of “mummytracking” has got to stop! Stand up for yourself and be clear about your role and about what your future could hold within the business
  3. Take some time for yourself – otherwise you are “Mummy” and whatever your job is, and that’s it! Remember to stay in touch with yourself, or you run the risk of losing sight of who you are. Meet a friend for lunch, get your nails done, whatever it is that connects you to yourself and reminds you that you are a person in your own right too!

Any other comments?

My flight is being called so best get on it and get back for a fix of my babies!!!

Thanks Leisha! It’s fantastic the way you turned your redundancy around and started your own business, especially when you were seven months pregnant. I think (I know) there are loads and loads of women out there who’d love to be self-employed and have more time with kids, so it’s great to hear about people who can make it work.

And I completely agree with your point about employers – so much talent is lost because women leave the workforce when they can’t get flexibility. There’s a strong presenteeism culture in so many Irish businesses, with people needlessly stuck at desks for a full five-day-week. I have friends who would be still working if they had been allowed even the smallest degree of flexibility; but forced to choose between full-time office-based work or resignation, they chose the latter.

I love your idea of getting more into the area of women and their self-image post baby, and the effect on their careers, and I look forward to hearing more if you go in that direction. But for now, thank you, and I wish you continued success with your business!

For more information about Leisha and her company, McGrath & Associates, check out lma.ie

 

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