Just under a year ago I launched MABLI, http://www.mabli.co.uk a children’s knitwear brand that I run from my home in Carmarthenshire.
Before this, I worked in London as a women’s knit Designer. My daughter was 2 and I’d been back in work around a year, when my partner and I decided to make a big change and move to Wales (back home for me, but a totally new part of the world for him).
We loved so many aspects of being in London, and it was not an easy decision to make.
But the clichéd aspirations of the perfect ‘work-life balance’ were so far off that something had to change. It was one day after work, sitting on the floor in tears when the ‘screw this’ moment came, and my experience as a working Mum in the fashion industry had lead to this.
The fashion industry is full of women. In every company I’ve worked for it’s probably at least a 90/10 split. But what I realised once I became a Mum, was there was a strange gap in the office of women in the same situation as me. So where had they all gone? Did they have a ‘screw this’ moment too?
I decided to leave ultimately because of the lack of support and flexibility available in order to be both successful and happy. This was not just a problem with one particular employer. In my experience it was an industry standard.
When being interviewed for a new role, I was asked whether I was planning on having any more children, because ‘they were a small company and having people go off on maternity leave was hard for them’. That may be the case, but this was still discrimination. I felt compelled to say I did not want any more children. Unsurprisingly I did not get that job. I must have been too much of a risk!
Another role was a strict 9-5.30. I explained in the interview that sometimes I would need to leave 10 minutes earlier or I would not make it home in time for nursey pick up, but would of course make up the time. Whist my manager let me do this, I could see the fear behind her eyes regarding how the big boss would react to this, and so it was a worried dash down the corridor every time, hoping I wouldn’t run in to him and I guiltily ‘shirked off’. Teams would regularly have 7.30am meetings, and it would be the norm for some to stay until 10pm. I could not compete.
I spent every day with a mild panic through me, which is a horrible underlying feeling to have. That everything was balancing by a thread, and I felt unable to fulfil the demands of my job, or those of being a parent.
Even when I worked in a role with a flexible hours contract, I was still criticized for utilizing that flexibility. I was fighting a losing battle.
This sort of scenario was quite normal, and I am sure like many other aspirational industries to work in, to give a little bit of your soul is a standard requirement. To spend all waking hours in the office, translated to being perceived as dedicated and passionate about your work.
But here is where the problem lies. Here’s what the bosses need to recognise. In my time as a working Mum, I had never worked so hard in my life. Never had I been so productive in those precious hours that I could be in the office. Never had I dedicated so much time to working at home, and to fine-tuning every part of my day down to the minute to get a million more things done that I ever thought imaginable.
Passion, dedication, ambition. All still there, but with the ‘one size fits all’ ways of working this really wasn’t recognised. And because of this, companies lose their experienced 30 somethings that were not so long ago those 20 somethings who worked so hard to get to where they are in their careers.
It’s a waste of a workforce, some of whom may never return.
So this experience lead me to where I am now. In less than a year since launching MABLI the brand has gone from strength to strength. I sell all over the world, have received an award for ‘Best New Startup’ at the South Wales Business Awards, and am just about to start designing my fourth collection. I’ve also had another baby during this time.
As MABLI grows and will soon go on to employ staff, my goal is to ensure I am an employer that adopts a supportive and flexible working environment for everyone, especially working Mums.
By Lisa, from MABLI.