Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

How to have a tech career and still be a brilliant mum

March 24, 2017

This Sunday, most of us Brits will be celebrating the people who arguably have a bigger impact on our lives than anyone else: our mums.

It got me thinking…I’ve been working at Cisco for a few years now, and in that time I’ve met plenty of women who’ve managed to do brilliant work and have amazing careers while juggling the most challenging and time-consuming job you could ever have.

It’s hard not to be inspired by their stories, but how do they do it? I thought I’d catch up with a few to find out the challenges they’ve faced and how the right technology and company culture has helped them achieve the balance they need.

Here’s what they had to say…

The difficulty in juggling two worlds

The biggest challenge for most of the mums I spoke to – perhaps unsurprisingly – is time. A lack of it, to be precise.

Helen Saunders described it as “trying to be in two – or more – places at once.”

“Even with the best childcare in place,” she said, “I still need to be there at set times to drop off or pick up. Being tied to one working location would make this impossible at times.”

Dianne Amphlett echoed Helen’s thoughts, highlighting the fact that most childcare facilities close at 5:30 – hardly ideal for someone working full time.

“There have been times when I’ve felt like a bad mother,” she added. “Rushing my son around in the mornings – worrying about being late for work.”

And as our CTO Alison Vincent said, this juggling of two worlds makes it challenging to be “truly present in both zones” in a way that provides “an excellent outcome for both employer and family.”

So how do working mums overcome these hurdles?

Workplace technology, it seems, is a big part of the answer…

How technology helps make it possible

As Kirstie Neill put it, technology “saves time and allows us to work more effectively and efficiently, therefore giving us more time for family.”

Helen suggested its value comes from helping her not be tied to one place of work, referring back to the idea of trying to be in multiple places at once as a working mother.

“At Cisco we’re equipped to work from anywhere,” she said. “Which means I can accept a meeting request with colleagues in the US and be on time to collect my girls without a nail-biting commute in heavy traffic, fearful of getting there too late.

Helen did stress however, that without the right digital tools, the ability to work at home or outside the office is pointless.

“But with them,” she said, “I can genuinely work productively from anywhere at any time.”

And this idea of being productive outside of the traditional office space is something Diane elaborated on.

“Working from home most of the time means I can actually work longer hours,” she said. Although she was keen to stress that this shouldn’t interfere with valuable family time. “Although I do work quite late some days,  as soon as I switch off my laptop I can focus on my son.”

And this ability to nurture relationships with your children while still having a huge contribution at work seems to be one of the key benefits digital mobility brings, as Diane put it:

“I can take my son to school one day a week and still be at my desk ready to start work well before 9am. In the mornings we can read together, go through his homework or even play a game before he goes to school – that time together is very precious.”

Flexibility is key, too, as Alison pointed out:

“Technology allows me to easily shift my day if needed – to be able to take my child to that orthodontist appointment that’s only available in the middle of the working day, for example.”

Clearly technology is having a massive twofold impact: helping mums be more productive and effective without needing to sacrifice the relationships they have with their children.

But technology alone can never provide the whole answer. Without a company culture than encourages flexibility and work-life balance, all the tech in the world won’t help mothers achieve the above.

Why company culture matters

A huge part of this comes down to trust. As Alison put it, when you’re unavailable due to unavoidable mothering duties you need your employer to be supportive and trusting that you’ll be there and respond later.

Helen certainly seemed to agree with Alison’s sentiment on trust and flexibility being big factors in getting the culture right for working mums.

“At Cisco we’re treated as individuals – adult ones at that – and judged on our results,” she said. “Flexibility is an integral part of our culture – there’s no asking for permission to work from home, for example, which allows us to plan around our work and home commitments in the best way possible.”

And as Dianne pointed out, having this kind of culture in place doesn’t only benefit working mums. It can have a positive effect on companies, too.

“I think most people are willing – and more able – to work harder for an understanding, flexible employer.

“But flexibility is good for everyone,” she added. “Not just parents. I also look after an elderly relative, and I’m sure there are other carers at Cisco who welcome not having to travel long distances away from unwell loved ones every day. And generally speaking we all have loved ones we’d like to spend more time with if possible.”

Kirstie echoed those thoughts, saying it’s great to work for a company that “has respect for work-life balance regardless of whether you’re a parent or not.”

Final words of wisdom

Finally I asked whether any of our mums had any tips for other women currently struggling to find the right balance between doing their job and raising their kids.

First and foremost, Diane said, you have to “be proud of what you’ve achieved and the example you’re setting to your children.”

She suggested working at home in sight of your children could actually help set a good example to them about the important role mums and other women can play in the workplace.

Sadly, however, many employers are still stuck in their old ways, which can be hugely damaging to employees trying to juggle their job with parenthood.

“Some workplaces are completely inflexible and it can affect your whole life,” Diane said. “It’s not always easy, but if you can you should try to look for a more flexible employer.”

Finally, Kirstie had a simple but powerful message for working mums everywhere:

“Don’t feel guilty.”

Are you a working mum? Can you relate to any of the above? We’d love to hear your story in the comments below…

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  1. I have a 17month old son. Great words of wisdom in your blog!