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A Day In The Life Of... Equality and Diversity Lifestyle Mental Health

Journey to Success: Differing Cultures, Guard Your Mind & Inspire Others

In recognition Black History Month, the Find Your Flex team wanted to speak with a black business leader. One who might be able to share some insights on what a journey from childhood to employment was like and if they ever faced conscious or subliminal adversity impacted by differing cultures.

But we got so much more than this from Robert Upright: Public Speaker and Founder of Empowered Communicator; a company dedicated to helping others overcome struggles with public speaking and gain confidence.

Robert shares his inspiring and impactful journey from childhood to adulthood. He sheds a light on moments when cultural diversity did and didn’t play a part in his journey. And how how mental health presented some barriers and how he overcame them. And finally how he came to help others overcome their barriers and how helping and inspiring others is the greatest of gifts.

What was it like growing up in London?

You know, it’s interesting. We can only ever inhabit our own skin right? And therefore you have the perspective you have. And it’s only by comparison that you realise things, otherwise you’re just living your life.

I had a very happy childhood, family oriented. My family moved here from West Africa, from Ghana, when I was very little and you only know what you know right?

But definitely, what was interesting was the embracing of the two different cultures. For example; when I was little, my parents never spoke our mother tongue too us. Because they were told it would hinder our progress and our growth.

So back then, that was the recieved wisdom. So therefore, although it was spoken in the house amongst themselves, they would speak English to us.

That was quite an interesting dynamic; that we were from a background that wasn’t from this country, hearing a language. But then that language not being directly spoken to us, and then going into school and elsewhere and speaking English.

Things like your foods which were different and which I retain to this day; a love of the West African foods and a love of the British foods. I think it was having that perspective of seeing different worlds and existing in different worlds I think was a very interesting time.

You mentioned different cultures, in terms of your education did that present any barriers or achievements?

What’s interesting is that there is a very very high premium placed on education, certainly from the West African culture. That’s not to say that there isn’t anywhere else. But I think the mentality that I inherited from my parents was that; there may well be barriers that we’ll face.

And we could see certain barriers growing up; the way people might respond to you. I could see the way they might respond to my parents. But that wasn’t ever anything that they would allow to be used to prevent us from excelling.

I think that was the overriding message; to say that it doesn’t actually matter whatever anybody else does or what anyone else thinks, or thinks of you. It was drilled into us that education was the biggest weapon or tool to fight against any kind of inequality.

And so from that perspective, for my family; it was incredibly important that we were very well educated; that we respected education and we respected study and that was really drilled in from a very early age.

I think being in a society whereby obviously you are identifiably different- obviously there are lots of differences in society, but when you are identifiably different, people can look at you and say; ‘well you’re different to what we’ve seen and what we know’. In such circumstances, there’s potential for people to judge you or pre-judge you, and that’s kind of an unfortunate truth, but it’s a truth non the less.

So you have to quickly demonstrate that you are at least on par and worthy of being taken seriously. Otherwise you risk automatically not being taken seriously, and I think that’s something that was drilled in to me at a very early age:

That you can overcome any direct, indirect, overt or subliminal differences or discrimination shall we say, and education is one of your biggest weapons to do so.

Did you embrace the pressures that came with this: the importance of education and overcoming the cultural obstacles you talked about?

Your life is from a perspective that is obviously your own and that was just the norm, that’s just what we did and what we do. It wasn’t a case of looking and comparing to see ‘oh, we do have this or we don’t have this’, it just is the way it is.

And I think that’s an important point in terms of an attitude, that I think I adopt and one everyone can adopt. One that says:

If this is where you are, then this is where you are. There’s no two ways about it.

If you’re sitting in your front room or your kitchen, there’s absolutely no point in going: ‘Oh I wish I was sitting in Hyde Park right now‘ because you’re not. So the only issue is how are you going to get from there to Hyde Park if that’s where you want to get to.

In terms of a nine-year-old, I probably wouldn’t have articulated it like that. But on reflection now certainly. However, I think as any nine-year-old, all I wanted to do was run around and watch Metal Mickey, Rent a Ghost and things like that! But behind that, I knew I was from a disciplined background, a disciplined household. But that’s just what it was.

When making the transition from education to employment, was there any discrimination from employers?

It’s an interesting one, because if they did it, they did it well enough that I would never know! To be fair, I didn’t get a sense of that and I didn’t feel that on my employment journey. But again, I think that might go down to my attitude. I’m very very pragmatic about certain things and I think that is a very important point to take away.

Because life’s experiences will give you a certain armour, I think that it will either break you or embolden you. To a point where at times you can be oblivious to certain things because it’s simply what you do and you simply get on with it.

The problem is; if you are to notice everything, it can just get too overwhelming. There is this thing in life called habituation isn’t there? Like when there’s a really bad smell in the room, you’ll notice it immediately, but the brain goes; ‘well I can’t be focusing on this all day’ so the smell just blends into the background and you don’t even notice it.

And I think in life it perhaps is one of those things where that because of my upbringing, background and therefore mentality, there’s a certain amount of armour that gives you.

If these things were going on to some extent, I just didn’t notice or it wasn’t something I would focus on. Because it wasn’t necessarily that helpful to do so, it was more helpful to carve out the path I wanted to carve.

What did you do between education and starting your own business?

I worked in the publication industry. I did my degree in psychology, which is quite interesting because around that time in my teens is when I started struggling with agoraphobia and panic attacks. It was quite a difficult period and that went on for many years.

A lot of that will inform much of my own personal experience. Which isn’t necessarily race-related per say, because anybody could struggle with that, but that was just another thing to factor in.

I was very conscious about how I would show up in places. Very conscious, being a black male that there may well be a narrative or a stereotype that wasn’t necessarily that positive, yet that’s out there in society, in the media etc. I was always aware of that from a very early age and felt that wherever I went I had to show up in a way that would combat that narrative.

There is that on your shoulders and that is something I took upon myself. But the problem with being agoraphobic and having panic attacks and anxiety and all of that suddenly coming along is:

How do you still show up that way? At your best and trying to combat a narrative?

So that was an additional kind of pressure, that I think exacerbated things at the time, and on reflection I possibly didn’t have the life experience to be able to cope with that as well as I can do now.

And in my work, where I engage with people who might struggle with things around confidence or how you show up. Because I have an intimate understanding of what they’re going through having lived that for so long. It’s the nuances around that, that you can really pick up and start to help them address their challenges.

What led you to become a Public Speaker, in spite of having phobias and mental health issues that would make this career path difficult?

Interestingly, in the workplace, what I would find is that I was functional and I could get on with things. The panic attacks and so forth, I found that I could manage them well enough that I could function and people wouldn’t really know, I would hide in places etc. But what it did mean is that for a long time I wouldn’t pursue career advancement.

I didn’t want to be in positions whereby I’d have such authority that I would be responsible. Such that, if I had a panic attack, I couldn’t show up and therefore it exacerbates the whole; ‘well you’re not showing up at your best. You’re affirming a narrative that is not very positive‘. And it wasn’t anything about who I am or what I am, it was what I was going through and that was kind of like a silent struggle.

So, that was an interesting thing, for a long time that would be going on. And then that goes into areas around; when/if you are struggling, who do you turn to? Where do you turn? That’s true in society anyway, I think everybody has their own struggles with that regardless of who you are.

There’s just that extra little bit of salt on it whereby certain communities have no space to have those conversations around your mental health. It’s just not the ‘done’ thing. So that was probably quite a bit of a pressure cooker that lead to me avoiding trying to get advancement for quite a while.

But I think the way life goes and the way it unfolds, I started looking into things around self-development, going to seminars and reading more around that subject. I studied psychology, but that was more an academic exercise, as opposed to informing how I lived my life or coped with everything. So that was a really interesting experience, that even though I studied psychology, it wasn’t that that was necessarily the breakthrough thing for me.

How did you transition from that to actually becoming a Public Speaker?

The transition I think, came when I did start to look at things around self-development, around self-empowerment. Ultimately, when you can be in control of who you are; your mind. I have a saying you know that I love, it’s one of my favourites:

Stand Guard at the Gates of Your Mind.”

I’m always saying that because it’s so important. You’ve really got to be aware of what you feed your mind and what you allow to get in. It can really start to shape your opinion of life. What you think shapes your outlook. It’s like the whole garden and the farmer analogy; what you plant, you will grow. Basically, you can’t plant a lemon seed and expect and orange tree to grow.

So realising that, there was an opportunity to go to a training on public speaking. And it was a real decision to make, thinking; ‘well I have this history, I have this background and I know I struggle with this kind of thing.’

But it got to a point whereby, your biggest opportunities and your biggest successes lie on the other side of your personal fears don’t they? And although that might be something people read and think; ‘yeah, yeah’, it’s actually so true. In that, if you remain within your comfort zone and you remain within what you know, all you will ever get is what you know. Something pushed me towards doing that training.

On the day I recall I woke up at about 4 AM for the training I was going to and I woke up in sweats at the thought of going to this thing. And I was looking for every single excuse not to go. But fortunately, I went and was able to get through it, and from there my training continued and I just really became a lot more. And then was able to then transition to who I have become today.

What is your experience of running your own business that helps people overcome some of the same struggles?

Do you know it’s the greatest gift, without sounding sounding sort of “woowoo” about it. But it really is. The thing is everybody has something extraordinary within them and about them. And the biggest shame I think in this life, in this society, is for people who don’t ever get to realise that, or see it or embrace it.

And if you can shine a light on somebody’s gift, so that it reveals it to them, then that moment is one of those incredible, beautiful and most important moments in a person’s life. It’s not that there are violins playing out there or doves flying in the air- it’s just this moment of realisation that somebody who perhaps feels like they can’t, suddenly realises that they can.

Now of course there’s work to do, it’s not a magic wand. But if you don’t believe it, if you don’t believe in you, then how likely is it that anything that you dream of will ever happen?

Once you do believe in you and once you have a kind of road map and some steps, guidance, support and belief. Because there will also be days when you don’t believe in yourself and days when you slip back a bit. So it’s really important to surround yourself with the right people; mentors, friends, your inner circle; who understand that particular journey you’re on.

But it is incredible to do and having known what it’s been like to feel quite lost, out at sea, a little bit in the dark. Now it’s like being able to perform that function of almost as a lighthouse isn’t it? Which really helps to illuminate the environment for others as to what’s possible. And then perhaps give them some tools in order to embrace that and show up in a way that is more confident, more empowered, more impactful.

What’s interesting about self development is, it’s not just about the thing that you think is stopping you, it never is just that. It’s all of the other things that radiate off that. It’s everything about who you are and who you become.

Often at times, what you find is people are existing with a kind of a shield or a front right? You don’t want the world to see you at what your perceive as your weakest. So a lot of the time people may show up as an image of themselves as opposed to as themselves.

One of the things I talk about is being confident and natural. That word natural is so important as it really goes back to; if you can just sit alone and be yourself with yourself, then you can be yourself with other people. That’s the important part of the journey that a lot of times is missed. Often times people look at the external and its not just about the tools; ‘okay do this and say this at this moment. Put up this slide or stand in this way’.

It is really a journey of self-discovery, of self-realization and of self-love really. And recognizing all the warts and the things that have happened have actually happened in order to serve you.

I know that can be a very emotive and for some people may be a triggering statement. So it is not to in any way dismiss or discount anything that has happened, or anything you may have been through. I know there’ll be people who have been through extraordinary traumas and I have worked with people that have been through extraordinarily difficult things.

The thing is, at this moment in time, are those things going to continue to disempower you? Or is there a way that by shifting one’s mind, by embracing who you are and taking those things and using them almost as fuel to empower yourself in whatever direction you wish to go. But to be empowered is the most important thing so that you don’t end up living a life of regret.

What advice would you to someone trying to reach a goal and how to overcome any barriers along the way?

Ultimately I think there is the practical side and then there is the personal and internal side. A lot of times with goals or destinations, people are quite vague about it. And if you were to articulate or tell someone your goal, could they easily repeat it back to you? Because there is that thing about; if you can make something understandable by a 7 or 8 year-old, then it’s clear.

To be clear and concise is very important, because fate, loves clarity. And if you can be clear on what it is that you want, it’s the first step in helping you to reach it. So there is that; be very clear on what it is that you want.

Then it is about milestones, there will be certain milestones that you will need to hit, referring back to the Hyde Park analogy. So for example; you might just say, ‘well just get up and go’ but, have you put your clothes on? Have you showered? Have you brushed your teeth? So they’ll be the steps, and there will be bigger steps and milestones so you need to map those out, so that you can actually see a road map.

By simply putting up a kind of map of your journey, suddenly it allows the mind to rest, and be reassured and it brings a certain element of reality. Because what you’re doing with a dreams is that you’re dreaming and there will be a part of your mind that may fight that dream, particularly if you’re struggling in this moment. So what you need to do is to bridge that gap between your current reality and the dream that you have.

And it’s those practical things that you can do and which is why it’s so important not to miss those steps. Because a lot of the time people will throw them away and think; ‘well what’s the point of writing it down? I’m here, I’m struggling, it’s never going to happen. What’s the point in putting in my milestones?’. And so once you understand the way the way that crafting your future works, then you’re a lot more likely to embrace it and do it.

From the personal side, number one: stand guard at the gates of your mind. Who have you got surrounding you? And when I say who; that could be people, it could be the media that you allow in, the messages. What messages are you allowing into your head and are they ones that support you?

Often times, this is why people go to coaches, or get help from consultants, or do various courses etc. It’s so important because what that does is; it shifts your mind and it shifts your environment. You start to surround yourself with people who perhaps believe in you more than you believe in yourself.

It’s like crabs in a barrel; you be trying to crawl out, but if you’re amongst the wrong people, they will drag you back down. So it really is about auditing your life; who you surround it with- it doesn’t mean you throw them away or anything. But recognise what impact certain people are having on your dreams. Then doing something actively to put yourself in an environment or around people who will genuinely lift you, push you and support you, towards a goal that is now crystal clear with a map to guide you along the way.

Thank you so much Robert for sharing with us your personal journey to a successful career!

We hope our readers find your story as inspiring and uplifting as we did. And perhaps gained some perspective on some of the issues, barriers and achievements you mentioned. If you want to learn more about Robert and what he does or even if you relate to some of the struggles he mentioned and require some help and guidance, you can reach out to him at Empowered Communicators here.

Robert touches upon differing cultures, to read more about this topic take a look our article on whether Culture Change starts in Schools.

Categories
Equality and Diversity Flexible Working Lifestyle Mental Health

Dogs Do Good

Why dogs can end isolation and create accessible employment opportunities for the disabled community.

Did you feel lonely, isolated or even a bit ‘stir crazy’ during the last 16 months of the pandemic?

How many of you succumbed to buying a dog as an incentive to get out of the house or just for a good, old cuddle – in these more isolated times?

Whether you’ve found it to be a positive or a negative working from home, we’re all agreed that we feel lucky to be employed after the last 18 months of increase unemployment, recruitment freezes and furlough – all creating an atmosphere of uncertainty about what our economic futures hold.

We can now have a more compassionate understanding of how it must feel to be disabled (whether visibly disabled or invisible).

You can’t take for granted that you’ll have opportunities to live as you’d like, are often cut off from community or work opportunities and can face length periods of loneliness.

Of the 8.4 Million people of working age (16-64) registered as disabled in the UK, only 53.6% are in employment.

Whilst this was an increase year on year (in Oct-Dec 2020), it is still lower in comparison to those who don’t have a disability, with just 18.3% non-disabled people being unemployed – a whopping 35% difference.

As you’d imagine, Covid certainly hasn’t helped matters.

The proportion of disabled people who are either unemployed or economically inactive has risen from 45.9% to 47.7% this year.

That’s over 4 Million people in the UK whose mental health, self-esteem and contact with the outside world, has likely been compromised, by factors completely outside of their own control.

The link between employment and improved self-esteem has long been documented: Unemployment and Mental Health

As this analysis from the Health Organisation points out, unemployment and mental health is bio-directional.

When you have positive mental health, it boosts your employability.

When your employability declines, your mental health can decline and depression and anxiety often appear as financial stresses take their unfortunate toll.

As many of us may have experienced a job loss, loss of earnings, or even just fallen privy to more financial instability during the last 18 months, hopefully we will have more empathy for anyone that’s disability has prevented them from joining the UK workforce and participation in the economy.

This is where Dogs for Good come in.

If your empathy can translate into wanting to take action, maybe as an Employer you could see how we can right some wrongs via the Dogs for Good corporate sponsorship programmes?

Dogs for Good provide assistance dogs to their service users and clients.

Their furry friends literally help revolutionise lives.

Take this story about how Eider has helped Heather go back to work:

Charitable fundraising has been hit hard in the last 18 months by the pandemic and Dogs for Good are no exception.

They’ve suffered a 25% decrease in voluntary income, as face to face fundraising and their usual ‘Challenge’ events have obviously had to be postponed.

In 2020 they qualified 17 new dogs as Assistance dogs – which is only 1/3 of what they had planned for the year.

Plus COVID’s caused an additional challenge – how to support their clients with social distancing measures in place.

Many of DFG’s clients have reported that the long periods of isolation have had a detrimental impact on their mental wellbeing and a further loss of confidence.

While people with assistance dogs have reported that their pet became even more invaluable as a real ‘lifeline’, Dogs for Good have also had to help the dogs themselves, who have suffered by being more confined to ever-shrinking local areas, due to the stricter social distancing guidelines in the first and second waves especially.

Dogs for Good have a waiting list of over 5,000 people enquiring about support dogs.

A dog would enable them to live the best version of their life possible, with far more independence, confidence and open a world of new opportunity.

This year they need to raise £3 million to fund the running and development of the training and facilitation programmes needed to help their amazing clients get back into their communities and back into employment.

Dogs for Good offer a range of corporate sponsorships starting from as little as £1,000 and more bespoke partnerships can be created.

If you have a Corporate Fundraising scheme at work and you’d like to participate in an annual scheme – the Puppy Partnership is £5,000 per year.

Your company can embark (pun embarrassingly intended) on a 12-month relationship with DFG, that will see “your puppy” go through training and socialise with their new ‘family’…. And yes I am blubbing while typing this.

Your company can even name the Puppy – one of the most ethical and brilliant forms of “product placement” I’ve come across this year.

Plus, it’s a really nice opportunity to have a wellbeing boost, amongst your Team.

Who doesn’t love knowing they’re contributing to improving people’s lives? Who doesn’t love getting pictures of dogs?

DFG will send your company regular updates on how the new partnership is going.

Plus, if you happen to help support someone back into employment through your Puppy Sponsorship, your team will ‘KNOW’, they’ve contributed massively towards helping level the playing field when it comes to reducing the number of disabled people in unemployment.

While we appreciate requests for fundraising are at all-time high, those of us working in the HR and recruitment space understand how vital it is, we help mobilise the disabled work force.

In fact, we believe that dogs and technology, (not necessarily our politicians unfortunately), present the best opportunity to change so many people’s lives for the better over the coming years.

We just need a bit of support from You – our friends working within our UK businesses.

Let’s all help benefit society and the economy by making employment accessible to as many people as possible.

Let’s focus on everyone’s ability, not their disability.

This really is the Future of Work we need to see.

A dog really is a friend for life and an actual lifeline for so many.

Get involved today and let’s make Change for Good, with Dogs for Good.

Categories
Flexible Working Lifestyle

Will Lockdown Change How and Where We Live?

Home Sweet Home. It is our shelter, our sanctuary, our escape from the world and is reputedly where the heart is. But the Covid-19 crisis has caused us to reassess how we interact with that space in so many ways including in a professional context. The rise and prevalence of remote working has shown what can be achieved without crossing the threshold of our front door. What does this mean for how and where we live?

Redefining Home Working

Few would wish to re-create the emergency lockdown makeshift of balancing computers on the kitchen table or precariously on knees whilst perching on the sofa. There have been noises and disruptions, with drying laundry scattered around, and the paraphernalia of personal life in the background. We have all suffered at times from cabin fever and sensory overload. Clearly this ad-hoc approach is not the best long-term strategy for effective homeworking and many increasingly do want to work remotely on a more sustained basis.

A designated room in the house to be used solely as an office is one solution. It presents soundproofed peace and, if carefully devised and arranged, a business-like environment. One which is separated from its domestic counterpart. There is also the chance, physically and mentally, to shut the door on work at the end of the day. And we all do need to switch off at some point. But how to magic up this space?

Space – The First Frontier

One option is for people to upgrade in their existing location which means negotiating a bigger mortgage and taking a harder hit on monthly repayments. This is not always financially viable. With the economy stuttering and redundancies afoot, it may also be a risky step.

Another route is to improve-not-move. This is done by building an extension onto an existing property or converting an attic to be used as an office hub. Basement renovations are also popular when you have no choice but to dig deep. Alternatively, open plan could be ditched with a large footprint split into two smaller rooms to create a work bubble. Once Covid is over (yes, this too will pass), builders may face a welcome upturn in demand for their services as people redesign their homes to meet changing needs.

But some are contemplating more radical solutions. The Office for National Statistics, which is tracking the impact of Covid-19, indicates that office-based employees are now willing to exchange crowded cities for pastures new. Among those planning to work from home, 12% have considered moving to a rural or costal area. Estate agents have seen more buyer registrations for properties in commuter villages and around small market towns. The temporary stamp duty holiday offered by the Chancellor, to kickstart the housing market out of its virus paralysis, has provided a further incentive to up sticks and turn daydreams into reality.

New Home, New Lifestyle

It is not merely the extra legroom that is the draw. As per Rightmove, the online property website, there is a “lure of a new lifestyle, one that is quieter and has an abundance of beautiful countryside and more outdoor space.” If people can work from home more, they may decide to live further out. Thus accepting a longer commute on certain days in return for a mode of living that is calmer, greener and less polluted. In turn this leads to a healthier and less stressful existence. It is an appealing vista.

This approach pans out on more than a personal level with a possible wider economic impact. There is a chance to rebalance house prices in different regions, to reinvigorate local economies and to promote a rural renaissance. Perhaps it is time to update the old saying to Home and Office, Sweet Home and Office.

Categories
Careers Equality and Diversity Flexible Working Lifestyle

Equal Pay Day 2020: Women Should Not Be Working For Free

What Is Equal Pay Day?

Did you know that Equal Pay Day falls on the 20th November this year? 

Equal Pay Day is recognised each year as the day in the year when women effectively, on average, stop earning relative to men. How crazy is that?

The Fawcett Society uses the full-time mean average gender pay gap to work out the day each year, which in 2020 is 11.5%, down from 13.1% in 2019. That means that Equal Pay Day has moved 6 days later in the year, compared to 14th November in 2019. The mean gender pay gap for all employees, not just those working full-time, is 14.6% this year, down from 16.3% last year.

So while most of us spend the rest of the year essentially working for free, we thought we’d take a look at some absolute badass ladies who’ve taken 2020 and smashed it against a wall.

Kamala Harris

(Image credit: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Kamala Harris just wins 2020 in our opinion. She is the first woman – and the first woman of colour – to be elected Vice-President of America. Being the first to do something seems to come naturally to Harris. In 2017, she became the first South Asian-American senator in US history, and the second African-American woman elected to the senate. For countless women and girls, Harris’ achievements represent hope, validation and the shattering of a proverbial glass ceiling that has kept mostly white men perched at the top tiers of American government.

Sundas Khalid

(Image credit: Instagram @sundaskhalidd)

Sundas Khalid is a data science leader and a passionate advocate for diversity in the workplace. She leads search engine analytics at Google and participates in their IamRemarkable initiative, empowering underrepresented communities to celebrate their accomplishments. Outside of work, Sundas volunteers with organizations that promote diversity and inclusion, including Pakistani Women in Computing and North Seattle College, and provides career coaching to help people achieve their dream jobs. 

Lizzie Valedquez

(Image credit: Today.com/Wire Image)

Lizzie is an American motivational speaker, activist, author, and YouTuber. She was born with an extremely rare congenital disease called Marfanoid–progeroid–lipodystrophy syndrome that, among other symptoms, prevents her from accumulating body fat and gaining weight. Her conditions resulted in bullying during her childhood. During her teenage years, she faced cyberbullying, which ultimately inspired her to take up motivational speaking. In addition to being a motivational speaker, Velasquez campaigns for awareness of online bullying, taking part in Kylie Jenner’s #IAmMoreThan project and supporting anti-bullying legislation across the United States.  

Munroe Bergdorf

(Image credit: The Guardian/Luke Nugent)

Model and transgender activist Munroe Bergdorf was featured in the 2020 100 Great Black Britons list and in September was featured on the cover of Teen Vogue. Bergdorf was hired as L’Oréal’s first-ever trans model in 2017 but was axed weeks later when the Daily Mail seized upon comments she had made as white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia and killed anti-fascism protester Heather Heyer. After L’Oreal sought to align itself with Black Lives Matter, the author and DJ lit into its “meaningless”, hypocritical show of solidarity and called out its “racist snakes”. Bergdorf told Vogue how her outcry prompted a phone call with the brand’s new president Delphine Viguier-Hovasse, who joined after she was fired, and the offer to be L’Oréal Paris’ diversity consultant.

Samira Ahmed

(Image credit: The Telegraph/Jeff Gilbert)

Taking home The Glass Ceiling Award this year. this award-winning journalist took the BBC to tribunal for being paid six times less than a male journalist hosting a similar show – and won the case in a landmark victory that could change the lives and salaries of so many in the future. Her move came after the BBC published the salaries of its highest earners in July 2017 under the terms of its new royal charter, which revealed that only one-third of the list of talent earning more than £150,000 were women, with all the top names being men.

Adwoa Dickson

Image Credit: Dave Benett/Getty Images for Women)

The Woman of The Year 2020 award was presented to the inspirational Adwoa Dickson by Lorraine Kelly, for her work with Amies Freedom Choir. The unique choir aims to develop the musical and cultural awareness of young women who have survived trafficking. It also helps them to explore songs and musical styles from each others’ cultures and languages.

Equal Pay For Everyone

In 2020 things really shouldn’t still be this bad. Equal pay should be a fundamental right and not something that women have to fight for.

Though there are some absolute trailblazers out there paving the way for the rest of us, we need to consider what we can all do to ensure that everyone is treated equally and paid fairly.

Article written by freelance marketer & copywriter Jessica Ross.

Categories
Flexible Working Lifestyle

Promoting Wellness At Work With Flexible Working

Flexible Working In Business: Adapt To Survive

The year 2020 brought unprecedented challenges to our personal and professional lives. The ongoing crisis has also tested the preparedness of organisations across the globe in dealing with the employees and customers in a remote working environment. Wellness at work has always been important. Now more than ever though does it need special attention.

Understandably lots of people do not want to return to busy and unsafe trains, buses, offices and workplaces. At the same time many fear being isolated at home for months on end, and worry about the impact on their jobs.

In this article we look at the ways businesses can offer inclusive practices that don’t cost the earth. 

Wellness & Mental Health

When the coronavirus pandemic forced a large part of our workforce to embrace the WFH life, it was like a dream come true for many. However, close to six months down the line, stories of WFH burnout and lack of motivation were coming through thick and fast. So, it was only a matter of time before companies and employers began devising ways to make their employees’ new work life better.

While remote workers deal with being productive in a new setting and find new ways to connect with coworkers outside of the office, maintaining physical and mental health is becoming increasingly important. HR teams can help inspire employees to take their health as seriously as their work through effective wellness programs, but these have to adapt to the current circumstances like everything else. 

The Young Entrepreneur Council shared their best strategies for leaders looking to successfully implement wellness programs in their organisations.

Wellness In Flexible Working

The whole nature of flexible working promotes wellness at work. Being happy with your work pattern and place of work usually equates to better mental health.

There are many ways to work in 2020. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, a parent looking for something part-time or returning to the world of jobs after a career break, there really is something for everyone. So it might help you to know what types of work are actually available.

Brie Reynolds of Motherly offers a brilliant list that you can work your way through and tips on how to speak to your employer as well.

Remote work: Also known as telecommuting or working from home, this option means you may work the same hours as usual but without going into an office.

Flexible schedule: This type of flex work gives a worker the ability to shift their work hours depending on the needs of the day.

Alternative schedule: This flexible work arrangement denotes a change in schedule with set hours that aren’t necessarily traditional office hours, for example, working 6am-3pm, or 12pm-8pm.

Split shift: In this flexitime arrangement, some hours are worked earlier in the day and some later. For example, you may work a first shift from 6 am to 10 am, then a second shift from 4 pm to 8 pm, leaving core daytime hours open for parental responsibilities.

Part-time: Part-time work means a reduced schedule where you work fewer than 40 hours each week.

Compressed work week: While you’ll still clock the same number of hours per week, a compressed workweek shortens the number of days on which you work. A common setup is four days of 10 hours each. If the arrangement is company-wide, the office may be closed completely one day per week.

Spread out schedule: Consider this the inverse of the compressed work week—for example, workers could work seven days per week but only for 5-6 hours per day.

Freelance: This option allows you to work as a contractor versus as an employee, which may allow for increased flexibility but perhaps at the cost of some of the benefits of full-time employees, such as health care or unemployment insurance. If you’re considering going freelance, then Crunch has some fantastic free resources available.

Remote Communication – Tech To The Rescue

In a remote working scenario, one of the biggest challenges is keeping remote employees engaged and addressing the sense of isolation they might feel from the larger group. Communication is key to the wellbeing of remote working teams. Technology provides the tools to communicate with their peers and managers easily.

Today’s remote communication platforms offer sophisticated collaboration tools that are efficient in creating vibrant opportunities for conversations and may be considered an equivalent to everyone being in the same location, in a connected environment.

We reached out to our network to find out their most recommended communication tools for collaboration and staying in touch, so naturally we wanted to share them with you!

  • Slack features Coordinate your integrations with countless other marketing tools, Effortlessly organise your communications across channels and spaces, Use mentions and tags to communicate with your team
  • Microsoft Teams Features: Email-style threaded conversations, voice/video conferencing, team chats & private discussions, In-line animated GIFs, tabs for frequently used documents, open API, @mentions, customisable alerts, and multi-factor authentication.
  • Skype Features: Chat, conferencing, instant messaging, live/video conferencing, monitoring, receiving, reporting & statistics, SMS integration, third-party integration, and voicemail.
  • Facebook workplace Features Workplace is a communication tool that connects everyone in your company, even if they’re working remotely. Use familiar features such as Groups, Chat, Rooms and live video broadcasting to get people talking and working together.
  • Whatsapp Features Using the app in business communications removes the obstacle of making employees adapt to an unfamiliar system. Quite inadvertently, it guarantees the received messages are reviewed on a regular basis.
  • Trello features Organise tasks across boards, lists, and cards, Prioritise projects with tags and labels, Integrate with a host of other marketing platforms
  • Asana features Plan and structure your projects in logical ways, Set priorities and deadlines on tasks, Follow your projects and tasks to completion, Uncover dependencies using Gantt charts
  • Monday.com monday.com is an intuitive platform where teams can track processes and workflows, communicate within and across teams, and bring all of their tools together under one system. Its simplistic design and flexible features mean teams can get started in minutes.
  • Zoom Features: Scheduling, chat/messaging, email invitations, live/video conferencing, meeting management, screen sharing, user management, reporting & statistics, company branding, video call recording, drag & drop file sharing, and synced content library.
  • G Suite Features: Email & chat archiving, auditing & reporting, custom email address, cloud file storage, @mentions, customisable templates, file transfer, shared workspace, live / video conferencing, two-way audio & video, email tracking, instant messaging, resource allocation, to-do list, and email notifications.
  • We Transfer features Send and receive 20 GB per transfer, Create Pro pages, Deliver work with branded communications

“It Is Not the Strongest of the Species that Survives But the Most Adaptable”

– Charles Darwin 

So while the government advice changes (again), we can all be sure of one thing. 

This is the new normal. 

People are re-prioritising their lives and deciding that they want more choice in their lives, and unless businesses want to lose fantastic employees to more flexible companies, they need to adapt and evolve.

Take care of your employees and they will take care of business.

Joining workingfamilies.co.uk and #WorkLifeWeek 

Categories
Flexible Working Lifestyle

The Four Day Working Week

The four day week has been touted as the “new better” for the way we work and is gaining widespread traction as a consequence of the game-changing coronavirus pandemic. A FindYourFlex survey found that 72% of respondents would welcome a four day week to turbocharge the economy with 28% against. But what does this actually entail? 

What Does A 4 Day Week Mean?

There are various forms of four day week. So, the FndYourFlex Survey further asked what kind of 4 day week people preferred.

  • Compressed schedule – complete five days of work in four, with no loss of salary. 78% favoured this approach.
  • Part-time model – work for four days and receive less pay. 18% of respondents gave this the thumbs up (4% were uncommitted to either compressed or part-time).
  • 32 hour week – more radical is the proposal made by John McDonnell of the Labour Party that the full-time working week should be lowered to 32 hours but without any loss of pay. 

A universal Monday to Thursday is unrealistic as we want to visit shops, museums, sporting venues and restaurants every day of the week, and care homes and emergency services operate round-the-clock. But the idea is that people can work differently outside the traditional norm.

Why Adopt A Shorter Week?

A truncated week is cited as offering a number of advantages as it may:

  • replenish physical resources – rest and/or leisure activities revitalise us;
  • boost mental well-being – stress and anxiety fall;
  • enhance relationships – more fulfilling time is spent with family and friends;
  • save the environment – less commuting erases part of our carbon footprint;
  • jump start volunteering – charities may see an upsurge in participation;
  • stabilise employment – redundancies are avoided by having all staff on reduced hours; 
  • widen the talent pool – those shut out by rigid timings can enter the job market;
  • capture loyalty – a talent retention mechanism to stop good workers from leaving; and 
  • cut overheads – if the office is shut for an extra day, running costs decrease. 

How Controversial Is A Shorter Week?

Objections are raised against four day patterns of whatever ilk. Flex requests have been refused for myriad reasons such as impractical personnel changes, higher costs, downgraded business performance, lower customer service, and/or the need for continuity over five days. 

But it is the 32 hour week, do-four-get-five, that is stirring particular controversy. Surely it is counter-intuitive to pay someone more for working fewer hours? Yet many of us are already paid to go on holiday through remunerated annual leave. The state offers statutory parental entitlements, sometimes topped up generously by employers, essentially paying people to look after their own children for a while. This is done because there are acknowledged social and health benefits that outweigh the pure economic expense. The ask of the 32 hour week is to push this concept one step further. 

32 Hour Week – How Much Does It Cost?

The battleground of the 32 hour week is the possible price tag associated with it. The NHS is often mentioned as a problematic situation. If you pay a nurse for five days instead of four, you must hire more staff since people are ill every day. The Conservative Party claims that the costs to the NHS would swell by £6.1 billion a year. Others assert that the NHS is a special case and not the yardstick by which to judge all sectors. 

Autonomy, a non-profit organisation, has stated that the cost of the 32 hour week is lower, as bald headline figures fail to factor in the gains from beneficial features such as reduced medical absence. As the Health and Safety Executive has estimated 57% of sick days are due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression, this is not to be ignored lightly. The difficulty is that several of the advantages, outlined earlier in this article, are not easy to quantify and are contentiously debated by those who champion one assessment methodology over another. 

What Next?

The part-time and compressed four day weeks, whilst not as widespread as they could be, are progressively being offered. However, even the most ardent proponents of the 32 hours option admit that adjustments will be incremental rather than an overnight phenomenon. There are likely to be a plethora of trial runs, setbacks and resistance. It may also not be viable in every instance. 

But it is worth remembering that changes that were initially seen as radical are accepted as standard practice. The 5 day week was once novel, annual leave was viewed as rewarding indolence, and maternity leave was regarded as an unnecessary self-indulgence. Now we expect these benefits. There is the potential to herald in a whole new future.

Categories
Flexible Working Lifestyle

Why Flex About It?

When someone commented on my “tidy and uncomplicated career”, as apparently demonstrated by my LinkedIn profile, I was astonished. Whilst I was glad that my LinkedIn entries were giving a favourable impression, my life behind them was at various junctures full of twists and turns, some beneficial and others more challenging. That simple, casual aside caused me to ponder upon the role of flexibility in my own situation and the implications of flex for the workplace and society more widely.

How And Why Of Flex

“The trouble with this flexibility lark,” I was once advised, “is that it’s all about part-time for mothers.” Leaving the matter of whether flex employees merely “lark” around (we don’t), such a narrow view overlooks the myriad respects in which work and personal life can meld together. People want a variety of adaptable arrangements, regardless of their gender or parental status. 

Although I switched to part-time after the birth of my son, before that I was full-time in varying formats – remotely from home, compressed hours and staggered start/finish. The motives for doing so ranged from fracturing my foot, caring for my father who was temporarily very unwell, undertaking voluntary activities that accorded with my values, and studying for a postgraduate qualification. There were also two instances when I took sabbaticals to be an expat spouse, accompanying my husband when he was posted abroad. 

On each occasion that a dilemma arose, I worried that I would either have to discard the job I enjoyed or compromise on other equally important concerns. After all, we are more than our CVs. Fortunately, things were made easier by having a far-sighted employer who played the long game, coupled with a line manager who was a results-watcher rather than a time-and-motion monitor. When I asked my employer why there was such understanding and accommodation across the spectrum, not only for me but the majority of my colleagues, the HR specialist responded, “we get it back in spades.”

Flex For Life

Flexible working should not be confined to the trials and travails of one person – it affects all of us. With the pension age ever increasing, we are facing a career span of 50 years. With these demographics, is it really feasible to expect people to soldier on unremittingly with set-in-stone hours for half a century? This might be acceptable if life were akin to a pleasant amble on a beach but we know that, instead, events can crash upon us in huge waves and grab us in the undertow.  

As a former Chair of a legal diversity organization, I saw the attrition rate of highly trained people who walked out for the sole reason that it was impossible to find a work pattern that suited their changing circumstances. It is a dismaying waste of talent. Sadly, in many cases, even relatively minor adjustments would have swung the pendulum in a more positive direction. 

Through being a trustee of diversity and inclusion charities, I know that flexibility is required for all groups and at every stage of a person’s life. For example, grandparents need it to help care for grandchildren as much as a young person requires it for disability issues. And it is vital to remember that flex is not only an answer to difficult situations, such as dealing with illness, but is also a liberating response to optimistic aspirations, such as having more space for oneself or one’s interests.

Ripple Impact Of Flex

Should we really care whether Jill can log on from home once a week or whether Jack leaves early on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Actually, these seemingly innocuous changes have a startling domino effect. Such tweaks result in workers being motivated to continue in jobs that best utilise their talents, instead of seeking a new employer with the upheaval that brings. Oxford Economics, for example, has calculated that replacing a staff member can be as much as £30,000, taking into account factors such agency fees, advertising, interviewing, management time etc., with a major expense being the impact of disruption.

If Jill works remotely, this minimises commuting with the attendant extra cost, exhaustion and environmental pollution. Both Jack and Jill remain in gainful employment, paying the taxes that we need for schools and the NHS, and building up pensions for their long-term security. Through flex they gain a better work/life ratio and maintain their well-being, thus cutting down on sick days and medical visits. When flexibility keeps people in jobs, in health and in balance, the ripple effect means that we all win.      

Flex Update

Reflecting on this, I rewrote my LinkedIn profile so as not to photo-shop out the significance of flex to me. Without it, I could not have engaged constructively with various aspects of my life cycle – family, health, education, volunteering, living abroad. Even worse, I might have abandoned the workplace altogether and become just another disillusioned statistic fallen by the professional wayside. This is why I advocate for others to have the advantages that I had and continue to enjoy.

Now is the time to flex and flex for all.  

 

Susha Chandrasekhar

Susha Chandrasekhar
Categories
Business Careers Lifestyle Parental

Is Career Coaching as Good as Therapy?

Most people hit a rough patch at a certain point in their lives and they feel lost, overwhelmed, and confused.

The pressure of such a slump additionally magnifies if you’re an entrepreneur who has to run a business and make tough decisions on a daily basis. No wonder that many business owners have too much on their plate, which leads to stress, anxiety, and depression.

A research study has shown that 72% of entrepreneurs are affected by mental health issues directly or indirectly.

But, regular employees also have their fair share of stress resulting from work. A highly competitive workplace paired with increased expectations

If we add a kid or two to this entire equation, it’s perfectly clear that working mothers and mompreneurs have an even greater deal of workload, stress, and pressure to handle. Moreover, if growing pains of your business and your kids coincide, you’ll most probably end up exhausted and completely drained.

One way out of this is seeking professional help from a company such as Citron Hennessey. They can provide online therapy services that allow you to talk through your problems with a trained therapist, although others would prefer to find a professional that specialises in career coaching instead.

That’s why it’s important to discuss the benefits of these two approaches and establish which one can do the trick.

Career Coaching vs Therapy?

The thing is that, although similar and partially overlapping, these two fields are intrinsically different. It’s true that your career represents a big part of your life, and as such has the power to affect your mental health to a great extent. 

In other words, you might even consider taking up both a career coach and a therapist to work on different aspects of your personal and professional life.

The main distinction between career coaching and therapy lies in the fact that the former helps you manage your career and its challenges regardless of how deep it tackles the issue. On the other hand, the main goal of therapy is to improve your mental health and resolve some underlying issues that have been bothering you.

Also, while therapy might take years, as it’s essential to unearth and uncover some hidden negative thought patterns, career coaching can be time-limited and focused on practical work. A career coach can help you develop the necessary skills for job search, learn more about your strengths, and deal with workplace issues.

Benefits of Career Coaching

Now that we’ve established that you can greatly benefit from both career coaching and therapy, let’s examine what individual advantages of both approaches are.

  • Career coaching will help you recognize your own professional value. This can be pretty challenging, as people sometimes aren’t sure what their actual professional worth is, especially after losing their job or having been rejected after numerous job interviews. Similarly, going back to work after maternity leave can be more difficult than people imagine. Maybe the company you work for underwent some changes while you were away, not to mention that many new moms feel anxiety over what they are returning to. Career coaching will offer you an insight into what your particular skill sets and abilities are, and help you articulate them properly while negotiating a job or salary. Also, with proper coaching, you’ll learn how to leave your fears aside and focus your energy on your job and caring for your baby.
  • With career coaching, it will be much easier to overcome the difficulties of a change or make some big decisions. For example, if you’re wondering whether it’s the right time to quit your 9-to-5 job and embark on an entrepreneurial journey, a career coach will point you in the right direction.
  • One of the most important purposes of career coaching is to keep you accountable and motivated, as well as to push you to reach your full potential. Your career coach will monitor your progress towards reaching your goals, keep things in check, and make sure that you’re following your plan. This way, the likelihood of straying from your career path is minimized.
  • It’s essential to make the right career choices and pick what’s best for you in the long term, and a career coach will take both your personality, professional skills, and wishes into consideration when helping you navigate the workplace landscape and your own career path.

Benefits of Therapy 

Even if you’re not facing some life-altering challenges or traumatic events, the truth is that all of us could use a little help and support when it comes to coping with everyday stress and everything that life throws at us.

Research studies have shown that even the act of verbalizing your feelings can have a therapeutic effect on your brain. The power of this simple tactic is multiplied if you’re talking to a professional who is trained to listen to your story and help you articulate, channel, and manage your feelings.

Sometimes our own personal issues prevent us from succeeding, which means that it’s essential to fix them before you can see any career improvement.

Therapy can be highly beneficial for some of the following workplace situations:

  • Help you cope with workplace-related stress and anxiety. If you feel that you’re headed for burnout or that your current job situation is making you feel miserable, it’s a good idea to talk to a therapist and see what you can do to improve it.
  • Asking for a raise. Although a career coach can be instrumental in helping you get the best deal, a therapist can work from another, deeper level, and remove certain mental barriers that prevent you from talking to your boss. If you’re too shy or can’t accept rejection, therapy is essential, while you can figure out the right script and other details with a career coach.
  • Dealing with an office bully. Not everyone can confront a toxic person without getting upset. Therapy can help you build a defense mechanism and muster up the courage to have your say clearly and loudly.
  • Improve your self-esteem. All the issues mentioned above stem from the lack of self-esteem. By understanding your own feelings bringing out your insecurities out in the light, you can work towards becoming more confident in yourself. This is particularly effective if you’ve lost confidence over your work performance and skills – which is nothing strange if you are away for a while on maternity leave. If you start drowning in self-doubt, you should remember that it’s probably just your hormones and fatigue speaking, and therapy will help you learn coping and relaxation mechanisms.

So, Is Career Coaching as Good as Therapy? 

It’s better to ask yourself which one of these two professionals you should hire in order to improve your life.

You might even decide that working with both will help you grow personally and professionally.

What’s the most important factor is, however, finding a career coach who’s keeping pace with the latest trends in psychology and the workplace. That should be a person who’s capable of guiding you towards becoming the best version of yourself.

Here’s what you should pay attention when choosing a career coach: 

  • Do they belong to a coaching organization? This will prove that they meet certain standards of the profession.
  • Ask them for their resume or professional biography, so that you can check whether the program they completed in order to obtain a certificate is legitimate.
  • Even if a certain career coach has a license to practice psychotherapy, it’s better to find some other practitioner to treat your potential mental health issues. It should be stressed that these two approaches work great in conjunction – just make sure to distinguish your sessions and work on your mental/business goals separately.
  • Ask for client references. You should talk to some of the people they worked with and understand why their approach is effective. In a nutshell, it’s not enough to simply read testimonials on the site.
  • Discuss their coaching philosophy. As career coaching, just like therapy, is a delicate matter, it’s essential to find someone whose values and philosophy are aligned with yours.

It’s safe to say that career coaching is as good as therapy, but by no means can we say that these two practices can be used interchangeably, or that one can be used instead of the other. Depending on what you want to work on and improve, you can choose either career coaching or therapy, but these two also form a powerful synergy.

Michael has been working in marketing for almost a decade and has worked with a huge range of clients, which has made him knowledgeable on many different subjects. He has recently rediscovered a passion for writing and hopes to make it a daily habit. You can read more of Michael’s work at Qeedle.

Categories
Flexible Working Lifestyle

WASPI Women.

I am one of those WASPI women.

Some of you may ask what one of those is. Sadly, in my case it is not an older, slim and gorgeous Helen Mirren type!!

A WASPI woman is a lady who reached their state pension age and sadly had their pension taken away from them with basically no warning.  How wrong you may all cry and then move on to the next article.

The reason it is so wrong, is that most of us did not have the time to put extra money in place to cover for what, for me, will be a 6 year shortfall.

I am not saying that I would have retired or even could have retired.

After 45 years of working I have paid my dues, including bringing up 3 children and never claimed benefits. Is this right or proper, I would question and my answer always comes back as a resounding NO.

I loved my years working. I was always in recruitment and HR though now due to personal health issues I find myself on the scrapheap fighting with the system, as no one wants to take a chance on this alleged old lady, which trust me, is no fun. 

I don’t have a fabulous trust fund or pot of gold (I have been chasing those rainbows!). So I have to work, as most people who are reading this will have to and your retirement date sadly will get further away the younger you are.

Trust me, plenty of us 60 plus ladies have a lot to give to the workplace, although we are often overlooked.

We don’t want to be the CEO anymore, or have the top job, we just want to work because we HAVE TO and in some cases want to!! We all added value when we were in the workplace, we can still do that – believe me.

So when you think about flexible working, don’t think part time think FLEXIBLE, think WASPI women. We are more than capable of adding huge value to your organisation.

I am lucky that Cheney Hamilton @ FindYourflex could see the value in me and my transferable skills.

So what I wanted to say to employers out there, is try looking beyond the usual recruitment paths, there is a wealth of experience out there and everyone needs to be valued.

See our years of experience and dedication, see our skills – NOT our age.

Barbara Ford , WASPI Account Executive, FindYourFlex.

Categories
Lifestyle Parental

My Dad, voted HouseWife of the year in the late 80’s

Whilst the rest of the world has transformed over the last 38 years, accepting Dad’s as full-time parents hasn’t, and neither has the way the Government perceive Shared Parental Leave. So, let’s stop giving allowances to the rich, and start giving equality to parents.

38 Years Later And No (real) Change

I was born In September 1980 and my parents had made a decision that my Dad would be the ‘stay-at-home’ parent whilst my Mum worked and continued to develop her career.  This worked for them, and based on what I know now, took some courage to do, but a lot of society was, and it appears still is, uncomfortable when it comes to Dad’s being the ones to stay at home.

For me, it was normal, and it continued until my younger sister started primary school.  I have a half-brother from my Dad’s first marriage, but in the family home, there was myself, my younger brother (18 months my junior) and my younger sister (3 years my junior). 

As a slight aside at this point, my brother and I were not what you would call planned my sister however was.  And you might think that any parents would be out of their mind to actually choose to have three children under three, however there was a reason.  At the time, and seemingly totally acceptable in the early 80’s, my Mum was told that if she wanted her promotion and was planning on having any more children, she should complete her family quickly so as not to hinder her career progression – and so my sister came along soon after.

And so, my Dad was at home with three young children and my Mum went out to work.  As a child, this was our normal.  I don’t remember thinking anything of it until I was seven and we moved back to my Mum’s hometown of Peterborough.  Before we moved, I remember my Dad volunteering at the nursery, and then walking me to school.  I remember our conversations with the lollipop lady at the school crossing and that I went to Paul’s house after school (a childminder where I had egg sandwiches almost every day and my Mum would pick me up on her way home from work).

A Stereotypical Gender Role Reversal

My Dad worked part-time in a local pub to help with some of the money as well as helping out at the nursery.  It was very much a stereotypical gender role reversal compared to most families.  The only thing I ever remember as being ‘different’ was walking across the road every morning to the house on the corner to have my bum length chocolate brown hair plaited, or ponytailed by a neighbour – my Dad had never gotten used to the hair, which probably explains why my sisters was never even when we moved to Peterborough.

When I started primary school, I was in top reading sets, and would often get cornered by parents at birthday parties who would quiz me about my reading level.  By year two in Mrs Samuel’s class I was on books from higher years.

My Dad’s focus was on the three of us instead of washing breakfast or lunch dishes, something I remember always being an argument when my Mum walked in from work whilst I watched Lassie and Gentle Ben.

But by the time we started school we could all read, write, do basic times tables and basic adding.  We knew our complete alphabet and could tie our shoes.  Dad made a shoe from cardboard and tied laces through it to help make it easier than actual shoes.

Given that three children and one salary was quite expensive, my Dad would make my Mum ‘presents’ from wooden lolly stick and he would burn messages to my Mum in them using my Grandads wood burning kit.  He would also write poems to cereal and chocolate companies and we would receive gifts and treats by way of pens, cereal bowls, cereal boxes and boxes full of chocolate as a reward for my Dad’s ingenuity.

This was life, this was our life and perhaps given my age, the comments and looks that I noticed as I grew older, were there, but I was just too young to realise.  But I don’t recall anything being abnormal until I was seven and we moved.

And Then We Noticed We Were Different…

We moved to Peterborough in the summer holidays on 1987. I was seven just a week into my new school and our new life, my younger brother was also at school.

This was when I noticed people asking why my Dad walked me to school every day.  He continued to work at the local nursery as he had before we moved and so many of the parents got to know him early on.  He also when my sister also started school would work as a lunchtime supervisor, a ‘dinner-lady’ and the kids would call him ‘Miss’, until my Dad convinced them all to call him Barrie.

And all of a sudden, all of the kids knew Barrie. All of the kids would wave at him and run over to say hello if they saw my Dad whilst we were out and about – but sometimes I would get asked what was wrong with my Dad and why didn’t he work.  I didn’t know how to respond to this – I didn’t know what they were getting at.

My Dad cooked dinner every-day and it was ready on the table every night when my Mum came in.  I remember arguments when my Mum came in late as we weren’t allowed to eat until she came home, but we would have to sit at the table from the time it was ready.

Housewife Of The Year

My Dad was the disciplinarian, the homestay, and my Mum the breadwinner.  My Dad won ‘housewife of the year’ in the late 80’s and the full page spread in our local newspaper of my Dad with the vacuum in the living room, got even more people talking. 

They say that yesterday’s news becomes tomorrow’s chip paper, but everyone seemed to remember this in our local community.  Barrie the housewife was a well-known celebrity in the local community, and even now the Swingler children are remembered by many teachers.

As the three of us got older, my Dad did a bit more locally. He was Chair of the lone parent advisory service given his organisation skills, he took on more duties at church, and at nursery, and at lunchtimes. This was our life.  He studied when my parents could afford it and when my sister was older, and it made financial sense, my Dad went into a full-time job. However, he hated it but it was what was needed.

In 1999, my parents moved house and when I was visiting one day I was in the kitchen talking to my Dad and a young child fell off their bike in front of their house.  I thought my dad would fly out of the front door – but his reaction was one of stillness with a sadness in his eyes.  Nobody in this new area knew Barrie, and the last thing he would want is to be accused of something untoward by a child he didn’t know.

Not A ‘Real Man’

But this was my Dad.  This was Barrie the housewife, the dinner-lady and the nursery teacher, but not in this new area.  He knew what people had thought about a man who spent so much time with young children whilst his wife went to work, and whilst I knew we shouldn’t talk to strangers, my Dad had never been the stranger.

And at that time, we had a frank conversation about some of the comments that had been made about him for being the one to stay at home.  He had been referred to many times as not being a ‘real man’, simply because real men didn’t stay at home. He had been asked about why he and wife decided this on this strange arrangement and what his motives were for spending so much with kids. 

But he had done what he could to fit around looking after the three of us whilst keeping himself busy and earning a bit of pocket money – the same as any mum may do in the same position.  And I felt more grateful for the way we had been brought up.

2005 And Not Much Has Changed

In 2005 I met a HRD I had been speaking to for quite some time and over coffee she told me she had an ‘odd thing going at home’ – of course I got curious.  By ‘odd’ she meant, that as the main breadwinner she worked, and her husband stayed at home with the kids – we talked a lot about my own experience and how I didn’t find it odd at all.  She shared the tough conversations, the looks and comments that she had her husband got, and the advances that her husband got frequently when he naively thought he was just going on a playdate with the kids.

2019, It’s Slightly Better But Still Dad’s Still Face Stigma For Being A Stay At Home Dad

It’s now 2019, and from what I heard at #TheBigConversation, the judgement of at home Dad’s or those families that split these duties, are still seen as odd – why is parenting odd?  It’s been happening for a very, very long time.

There is nothing odd in Dad’s looking after their children, but whilst I still hear people talking about Dad’s babysitting their kids on nights when the Mums are out – its culture and stereotypes that have to change. 

The Role Of Shared Parental Leave In Challenging Gender Stereotypes

Two of my coaching clients have embraced shared parental leave and it’s ended with the Mum’s going back to work and the Dad’s staying at home.  It works for them, but the comments and the looks continue.

My older brother and his partner are embracing shared parental leave, my sister-in law is taking six months off work and my brother the next three months.  It is normal, yet lots of people assume it’s laziness on his part.  Anyone who has been at home with a six-month-old knows there is nothing lazy about it, and we certainly wouldn’t say that to any Mum.

I don’t have an answer, but I can say, that my stereotype of genders growing up was that we are equal – my view of the world is different to a lot of people I know.  And if that’s all that comes out of Dads being at home, then even that would make it worth it.

But the reality, is that whatever is right for you and your family, is the reality you create for your kids.  Thus, whatever is right for your kids shouldn’t be questioned or judged by anyone else.

As a working Mum I’ve had my fair share of judgement myself – and to be frank it is none of any else’s business what I choose to do, and it’s also none of my business what anyone else thinks of me.

Because whilst the rest of the world has transformed over the last 38 years, accepting Dad’s as full-time parents hasn’t, and neither has the way the Government perceive Shared Parental Leave.  So, let’s stop giving allowances to the rich, and start giving equality to parents.

Now Is The Time For Change

So, my plea, let’s encourage parents to be with their kids and play an active role. Society needs to stop eye rolling the Dads who are at home and the Mum’s who are at work.  Let’s stop looking at the Dad’s like unemployed bums and accept their role as parents.  Parents, parent your own way, in whatever way you choose. Let’s turn our attention to our own families and what’s right for us.

Kelly

Author, speaker, coach, rebel and heart-centred people leader, Kelly is changing the world of work and helping HR professionals do things differently and add more value.

Founder and Rulebreaker at The Chrysalis Crew, she rips up the rule book and helps people create what’s best for them, their teams and their organisations – not what’s best for their competitors.

She’s Mum to twin sons and step-Mum to two sons – a busy home, a busy business and a busy life, but one that’s totally worth it.