20 years ago this week I started maternity leave. My professional future looked bright. The plan was to take 5 months’ leave as I’d worked hard, excelled in my career and was the consistent bread winner of the family.
My son was born on the first day of my Mat Leave, probably the biggest life changing moment I’ve experienced!
The world was changing too, just five weeks later 911 happened, I vividly remember breastfeeding and watching the first and then the second plane crash into the twin towers, those harrowed moments where the world watched live footage in disbelief.
Being a working mother was quite different 20 years ago, we were entitled to six months leave and my employer had agreed I could return part-time for the final month, to ramp myself back up into full time work. There would be no flexibility to work lesser / different hours.
I was exceptionally lucky that my grandmother wanted to treat her offspring to a couple of weeks away in the following January, so I visited my workplace to introduce bubba, and explained I’d like to extend my mat leave to the full six-months.
The response was something along the lines, ‘but you’re putting family first’. It didn’t take me too long to make another life changing decision. Resigning from that role.
At times it was tough financially, however I found roles which suited me and the family. Work : life balance was hugely important. I reflected I hadn’t given birth to a child to not see him between 7.30am and 7.00pm (if I was lucky, he slept 7 through 7!).
During my career in HR my clients have responded to dramatic changes in UK legislation ranging from the increase to 52 weeks Maternity Leave with 39 weeks’ pay, Paternity Leave to be paid and more recently Shared Parental Leave.
Fast forward 20 years and I’m very grateful I made that decision to spend time in those early years bringing both my sons up, I wouldn’t change anything! Yet, I sometimes question what might have been, had companies back then offered what is quickly becoming the norm.
Raising a family can be shared between both parents far more easily with gender neutral parental policies, which are becoming more and more regular. For example from this autumn John Lewis is offering both parents paid parental leave after they’ve been with the partnership for 1 year. Each being able to receive 26 weeks paid leave (14 weeks at full contractual pay and 12 weeks at 50% contractual pay). Following in the steps of other industries, John Lewis are the first retailer to offer this.
The chance to share leave would have been a game changer for my circumstances. Studies show sharing childcare can improve gender equality and reduce the gender pay gap. I am hopeful that my sons’ generation will see equality as the norm, when we consider how far forward the world has moved in 20 years, that many aspects are changing for the better.