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So what do working women want? Flexibility

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Family matters: Caroline Dee Brown enjoys playtime with her sons Cormac, six, and Luke, four, at their Rathmines home

Family matters: Caroline Dee Brown enjoys playtime with her sons Cormac, six, and Luke, four, at their Rathmines home

Family matters: Caroline Dee Brown enjoys playtime with her sons Cormac, six, and Luke, four, at their Rathmines home

More and more women are returning to work. This year, for the first time, 60pc of women in Ireland are in the workplace. A recent poll here found that what women want most is financial security. But does working actually make women happy?

A new UK survey found that the women who were happiest of all were those in part-time jobs. They were more content than women in full-time jobs, and than those who stayed at home.

The British Household Panel survey, which questioned 3,800 couples over eight years, found that it wasn't just mothers who felt happier working part-time. It was true for childless women too. But men, in contrast, were happiest when they worked full-time.

Greg Dalton, a job coach with Q1etc, sees lots of women who want part-time work. "Women returning to work often want that flexibility," he says. "I have a client at the moment, a solicitor, who wants to work from 10am until 4pm. She wants her work to fit around her child, and does not want the pressure of full-time work."

That's all very well, but are there any part-time jobs out there? "Absolutely, there are," says Greg. "My client is spoilt for choice. There are so many options. It can be hard to place senior executives part-time," he concedes, "but for administrative jobs; for telephonist, and secretarial there are lots of part-time jobs available."

The reason, he says, is that companies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit good staff, and even more difficult to keep them. "There is a shortage of workers," he says. "So companies are being forced to become more flexible."

According to Finola McDonnell, a Social Policy Executive with IBEC, companies are looking at their whole recruitment package. "They are realising that the more accommodating they can be about flexible work practises, the better it will be for them.

"People are increasingly looking for flexibility. They want a job where they can take career breaks; they want to know if training is available, and what the prospects for promotion are.

"Enlightened employers are trying to hang on to their talent. With the high cost of childcare, many women drop out after the birth of their second child; employers need to look at ways to bring them back in at a good level, rather than making them work their way up the career ladder again."

Sally McEllistrim from Newbridge would love to work part time. The 41-year-old who runs Tosca, a designer swap shop, as well as running Connections PR, says she's fed up with her long days and her six-day weeks.

"I'd love to cut down a bit," she says. "That is my aim and my dream."

Part-time work, however, doesn't always end up being the ideal solution. Take Mary as an example. She went part-time two years ago so that she could be at home to care for her two children who are now aged seven and four.

"I wanted a career break," she says, "but that wasn't an option. The company said that I was valuable to them, and they asked me to work every morning as a compromise. It isn't really satisfactory. I feel you are left doing a full-time job. The company reduces your hours but not necessarily your workload. You are left carrying the same workload for half the money. It's not just me," she says. "I know a number of people in the same position. And they're not happy either.

"You are neither one thing nor the other. Stay-at-home mums see you as a working mum; working mums see you as a stay-at-home. You lose your identity. Stay-at-home mums say, 'isn't it well for you working,' and working mums say, 'isn't it well for you being home in the afternoon'. It is not well for me," she says. "It is not all rosy.

"If it worked properly, it would be perfect. But at work, people sigh and say, 'another half day?' The greatest stress is when work keeps calling me in the afternoons. I would love to be left alone to have quality time with my children. I will probably give up work completely," she says.

"Then I will possibly retrain, and pick a career where part-time work is a real option."

Caroline Dee Brown loves working part-time. A solicitor with ComReg, and mum to Cormac, six, and Luke, four, she feels she has the best of both worlds.

"After Cormac was born I went back to work full-time," she says. "But I then changed employer, and after I'd had Luke I went back part-time. That suited me much better.

"I enjoy my career; I enjoy contributing to the family, but my role as a mother is important to me too. This way I get the balance between the two.

"Initially I worked three days a week, but when Cormac started school I wanted to pick him up and be there to help him with his homework. I hated the idea of paying someone else to do that for me.

"Now I work from 7.30am until 12pm five days a week and that's perfect. I leave before everyone else gets up; my husband George takes the children to school. I collect Luke from Montessori at 12.30pm; I give him lunch and have time with just him before we pick up Cormac at 2.30pm. It suits me, and it suits the company better too, having me there every day.

"I am very good at managing my time. Knowing I have to leave at 12pm makes me more productive. I am flexible though. If the company need to call me in the afternoon they can; and occasionally I will go to afternoon meetings.

"I'm expecting my third child at the end of the year," says Caroline. "My intention is to go back part-time afterwards. My children will need picking up from school until they reach secondary school. So I'd say I will be doing this for a long, long time."

Carmel Kelly from Sallins gave up work when her son Oisín was born nine years ago. She loved being at home for him, but recently felt the urge to return to work. Meanwhile, she had become involved in the community; she was on the residents' committee and had helped set up a youth group. When Michael Fitzpatrick, FF, got a nomination to run in North Kildare, she worked on his campaign.

"After the election I thought I'd have the summer off to enjoy with Oisín; then I thought I would look for a part-time job," she says. "But when Michael got elected to the Dail, he said, 'I assume you will work for me'. I admire him and adore politics, so I said yes at once.

"I work from 10am until 3pm. I walk my child to the bus and I'm in the office for 10am. Oisín finishes school at 2.45pm and walks to my office.

"It is, definitely, for me, the best of both worlds."