This interview is part of my series Leaning In. My aim is to shine a spotlight on successful women who are ‘leaning in’ to their careers. By sharing the stories of other women, I hope to help change the focus from what we can’t do to what we can do and to show other women that it is possible to have it all.
If you would like to share your story, please contact me.
Vicki Jakes is a full-time working mum of one (and two cats!) living with her husband in Brighton, UK. She works for a large software company as an Account Director helping advertising and marketing agencies. She also blogs at This Brighton Mum and spends her spare time seeing bands with her husband and getting some fresh Brighton-sea air at the beach, come rain, hail or shine.
Although she doesn’t believe in ‘having it all’, Vicki is happy with the balance that she has struck. She works flexible hours, partly from home and will skip a lunch break if she needs to to get a job done! She believes that women should not be afraid to ask for what they want, even if that means asking employers to help us achieve parenting goals.
Vicki believes that women need to be authentic and honest in the workplace and not try to hide the fact that they are mothers too. I was most inspired by Vicki’s efforts to advocate for women in her workplace.
Here’s how Vicki is leaning in.
What is your job and what does your work schedule look like?
I am currently working full time for a large software company as an Account Director helping advertising and marketing agencies. The office is 10 minutes walk from where
we live which is amazing considering that I was commuting up to four hours a day to London and back the previous year.
My employer also lets me flexibly manage my time so that I can do the nursery run and lets me work from home one day a week. As my husband works in the event industry, he’s often working at weekends, so he looks after our daughter on Mondays and Tuesdays, she’s then in nursery for two days plus our day together when I work from home. That day I need to make extra effort to be able to do my job and look after a toddler but it seems to be going well and I often work into the evening to make up the time. I’ll also do the primary childcare at the weekend.
Have your career goals changed since you had children?
Yes, definitely. I had been working long hours at a digital marketing agency prior to having a child and had always equated hard work with career progression. That ethos had done me well over the years because I progressed quickly, but once my daughter came along I just couldn’t commit the time I had before and I didn’t want to either. I wanted life to be a bit simpler.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when returning to work after having children?
I went back after 9 months because I was the higher earner in our household and we needed to replenish some of our savings that had been churned through during maternity leave. I probably returned too soon. I also had to do a long commute for the first time in a long time so felt that I was missing out on family life. At the same time, I also felt like I was missing out on opportunities at work because I often had to work from home or leave early.
Have you faced discrimination in the workplace as a result of being a parent?
Luckily I have not, but I have seen it happen to others and as a senior manager I always made sure to champion flexible working hours and highlight the benefits of working parents – we’re so much better at managing our time!
Do you agree with Sheryl Sandberg’s idea that women need to ‘sit at the table’
and ‘lean in’? If so, how do you implement her ideas yourself?
Yes I do. I know it’s easy for her to say as she’s had a very prestigious career but we do need to push to be part of the conversation and we need to be better at asking for the things that we want in our careers. For example, you should never be afraid of putting your ideas to senior management, or having a tough conversation. It is of benefit to you and the women that follow you to be as authentic and honest as possible within the workplace – i.e. admit that you have to leave early to pick your kids up.
I started my job as part of a team of six who went on to grow the company to over 100 people. After two years I was asked to join the board and used my position to champion the progression of other women in the company, whether they knew it or not! I helped to develop our maternity policy and did my best to maintain balance between males and females when interviewing and recruiting new staff. I encouraged my team to pursue stereotypical male paths, such as coding and technical studies. I am proud to have been able to do these things because it set a precedent for those that followed me. My influence meant that I was able to champion the progression of other women
Do you believe we can ‘have it all’?
By “have it all” you mean endless and quality time with our children AND an amazing and illustrious career. No, I don’t think so. There needs to be some give, especially if you’re in marriage/partnership where you both have a career; however you should try to work as much as you can to get as much value out of each worlds as possible and accept that nothing is perfect.
How do you achieve balance between parenting and your career?
Pure organisation. Sometimes it all goes wrong but usually it seems to go OK. Me and my husband align diaries at the weekend for the upcoming 1-2 weeks and work out if we need to cover one another for any reason. Thankfully we have a support network around us that we can lean on for childcare when it’s not a nursery day and our work schedules clash.
When we’re all at home together I switch off from work. I won’t check email after 6pm. It makes me wonder how I was so switched on before I had a child as I was always working weekends before! That said, I make sure that my working hours are as productive as possible. I’ll often not take a lunch so that I can fit as much in as possible and I plan this too. I procrastinate very little compared to before!
What do you enjoy the most about being a working parent?
I love being able to do a great job at work and feel the pride in getting a project delivered or advising a client. When I am in my “professional” mode I feel like I always have done before having a child – accomplished and proud. I then get to go home and get the best cuddles! That is the best part of the day! I hope that by being a working parent I’ll inspire my daughter to go out into the world and do great things because she saw mummy working.
What aspect of being a working parent do you find the most difficult?
Having to drop her off at nursery when she’s clingy and she she cries and wails as I walk away. It breaks my heart whenever she does that. It’s not often, but I remember it every time.
What is one piece of advice you would give to mothers wanting to lean in?
Definitely create a career plan. Write down your goals – they look more real on paper than in your head – and be realistic about them – don’t try to be perfect. Then align them with you parenting goals and don’t be afraid to ask your employer to help you achieve both. Learn to ask if you’re no good at it. You want a pay rise – go and ask for it. Want flexible working hours – go and ask for it.
What book or blog would you recommend to working parents?
I found What Happy Working Mothers Know was a godsend during my return to work as it provided some useful info and tips about how to cope and how not to set negative expectations. Highly recommended.
Reese McMillan is a mum of two living in a small close-knit town outside…26 January, 2017