“I have been offered a full-time job which will require five day full-time work plus evening and weekend work at a management level. I want to negotiate two days a week working from home. I have been working in a similar role as a home-based consultant for the past 12 months so they know I deliver, but the rest of the team is in the office every day so it will be a new departure for this division. I have three young children and do not want a five-day four-hour round trip commute and believe I can do the role from home two days a week. How do I negotiate this?”
This kind of question is one that is regularly asked by women on the Workingmums.co.uk site. The site advertises new roles for companies which understand the business benefits of flexible working. But how do you convince a company that has no track record in flexible working that it makes sense to hire you on that basis? At the end of February a session entitled The Needle in a Haystack at a new careers event, the Work + Family Show, will try to tackle this question and many others relating to work life balance.
The Show is a two-day event at ExCel in London and aims to attracts over 10,000 visitors. It will take place beside the hugely successful Baby Show on 21st and 22nd February and is organised by My Family Care, providers of child and elder care solutions, and events company Clarion Events. It includes panel discussions, flexible employers and expert advice on issues like flexible working.
Under current legislation, which will be extended to all employees from April, parents and carers allows a right to request flexible working, but it can be turned down on any of eight grounds, although the employer has to show that they have given the request due consideration and not simply turned it down flat. That means when you approach a request it is a good idea to approach it like a negotiation process and make a good business case, pre-empting any concerns your employer might have. Don’t be unrealistic in what you are asking for and show that you have thought carefully about the role and its requirements. It can help if you are able to show a little flexibility yourself, for instance, being able to come in for urgent meetings on days you might normally work from home. If your employer still has doubts, you could suggest a trial run.
When Christina Leafe joined engineering firm Atkins 18 years ago as a senior consultant she wanted to work part time. The company had never had a part-time person in the role before, but she managed to convince that it could work. Although she initially worked three days a week, she was available on the mobile or laptop for urgent issues and could work in the office or at home. It helped that she had a childminder who was also very flexible.
Working flexibly and with support from a mentor, Christina has been promoted from a technical consultant to a manager to a business manager to a director. She has worked part time and for four to five years was on a term time only contract – or what she presented to her manager as a 93% contract involving two weeks off at Christmas, two weeks at Easter, school inset days and four weeks over the summer. It is only fairly recently, now that her children are older, that she has gone back full time.
In return for that flexibility she has been equally flexible back and has stayed loyal to Atkins. She says: “When I started at Atkins it was the first time they had employed someone in my position on a part-time basis, but they were willing to listen and I was willing to be flexible too and make it work. It’s important for women to have those conversations and to think about all the questions involved and the possible answers about how it will work. I feel a big loyalty to Atkins. The brand is really good which means we get the most exciting work to do and through flexible working you can have a lifelong career here. Who wouldn’t want to work for a company like Atkins?”
Other subjects likely to be addressed at the Work + Family Show’s Needle in the Haystack session are how to get back to work after a career break.
Catherine Deptford has some advice. She took 14 years out of her job as an investment fund manager when her husband left her after the birth of her second child. She kept her hand in by setting up two businesses, including the successful advice site for single parents Kate and Emily. But, like many women who have taken career breaks, she didn’t initially think she would be able to get back to anything near her old job. In fact she found that there was quite a bit of interest in her cv. She took a refresher course after securing a job at fund consultancy Thompson Taraz, which she says helped raise her confidence level, but says she found the practicalities of the job had not changed much in 14 years.
“If I were to get passionate about anything now,” says Catherine, “it would be about the number of 40 and 50 plus women who think their experience is worthless when it isn’t. That is just a question of confidence. Your cv is what it is. I had 14 years of solid experience working for big firms, a good degree and postgraduate investment banking exams. The practicalities of doing the job all came back to me once I took up the reins again. I know what I am doing. Not much changes in 10 years. And you bring lots of things to the workplace that you do not value, but employers do, like maturity and a reduced bandwidth for nonsense. If you also made something of your career break then all power to you.”