Saturday 21 April 2018

Chrissie Russell: Why becoming a mam has made me better at my job

Chrissie Russell with her son, Tom
Chrissie Russell with her son, Tom

Chrissie Russell

Before I had Tom two years ago, I had no idea what a luxury time was.

Now I do. With time at a premium, I'm a more focused writer, more productive and concise. I get more done in the time I have simply because I have to. I can't let a task drag on - not when I'm dependent on someone minding my child or working when he's asleep.

I worry more about bills and providing for his future. I think of commissions in terms of nappies, birthday presents, heat and food. Money matters more. I never saved a cent for myself, but Tom already has a reasonably healthy bank account.


Chrissie Russell said her son Tom has made her a more focused writer

Being a mum often gives me an instant shared bond chatting to other parents, whether they're celebrities or case-studies, and I believe my personal experience renders me infinitely more able to write about parenting than my pre-child self.

I'd never dream of saying that I'm a better journalist than someone who hasn't had kids. But in many ways I'm better than the writer that was childfree me.

- Chrissie Russell

Can being a mum really give you the edge in the workplace?

As it turns out, it would seem that Andrea Leadsom's comments on how being a mum might make her a better Prime Minister have been enough to rule her out of the job altogether.

But as unpalatable as many may have found the sentiment, and notwithstanding the howls of outrage with which it was met, was Andrea actually on to something? Could there be some truth to the notion that being a mother might make you a better worker?

Several studies would suggest this is, in fact, the case. Research carried out for Microsoft a few years ago found that nearly two thirds of working mums surveyed felt they were better at multi-tasking since having children.

Almost half believed their time management had improved and one in four felt they had become more organised.

It's one thing to have parents assessing their own productivity, but interestingly, the research also revealed that employers felt the same.

The study found that more than half (57pc) of bosses reckoned mothers made better team players than women who didn't have children. Almost one third saw their employees' team-work improve when they became mums and 35pc viewed their workers' multi-tasking skills as better post-partum. One in three also reported that mums appreciated their clients and colleagues more.

A further study, carried out in 2014 in America, found that, in general, mothers were more productive in their jobs, while additional research, published in the Journal of Societal Issues, revealed that parents in the workplace were perceived as warmer than their childless counterparts.

Earlier this year, Amanda Brunker spoke about how becoming a mum to Edward (9) and Setanta (8) had a positive impact on her work ethic. "I've probably become a little bit more focused on work since the kids," she explained. "A mortgage and having to pay for endless football boots, etc definitely makes you more motivated about earning a crust."

Even Benedict Cumberbatch reckons that being a dad opened up a new perspective on families that enabled him to be a better Hamlet.

Recruitment Consultant Caroline McEnery, founder of the HR Suite, says it's not about mums being 'better' for a job, but about more mums now recognising that their parenting skills are valuable, desirable and transferable assets.

"Lots of mums at interviews now will draw on their experience as a parent to demonstrate core competencies," she explains. "A lot of the skills you need for jobs - problem solving, the ability to juggle tasks, managing time effectively - are ones that you'll have as a parent."

According to Caroline, it's not about ticking a box that says being a mum makes you a more desirable candidate for a job, but it's no different to another woman saying she is excellent at time management because of a role in another job.

British politician Andrea Leadsom (left) suggested that being a mother gave her an edge over childless rival Theresa May.
British politician Andrea Leadsom (left) suggested that being a mother gave her an edge over childless rival Theresa May.

"Where they might have honed their skill set is different, but the core-competencies are the same."

However, from an employers' perspective, she's not aware of any industries that would actively seek out mums as employees. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Association declined to comment on whether they viewed it as preferable for an employee to be a mother herself if working in the field of maternity.

"Every one of our team of recruitment consultants says the issue of whether someone is a parent of not never comes up," adds Jim Murray from Prosperity, a marketing, media and design recruitment company. "It's just not a concern with employers."

Equality legislation obviously means it would be impossible to state on job criteria that a mother is preferred for the role, but it would be interesting to see if this always pans out in the recruitment process. Hiring bias can be subconscious, but often culminates in those in positions of authority appointing people who resonate most with their own characteristics. Men tend to hire men. Do working mothers seek out other mums?

At the World Economic Forum in March this year, Carolyn Everson, Facebook's vice president of global marketing, said she believes mothers make formidable executives. "I have a bias that working mothers are the best people you can hire because they can multi-task and do things that are pretty extraordinary," she said.

"Now that may be an unfair bias to women who don't have children, but who are completely fantastic."

Toronto writer Reva Seth's book The Mom Shift contains an abundance of anecdotes from over 500 working mothers that contend becoming a parent made them better in their jobs, encouraging them to be more ambitious, more productive, less willing to put up with negatives in their work and more confident than their previous childfree selves.

But according to psychologist Susanna Healy, such mentality might be the result of lazy stereotyping, rather than grounded in fact.

"When we become parents, it does give you a new set of biases and tricks of the mind," she explains.

Rather than magically inheriting a new way of thinking that renders you more empathetic or nurturing, becoming a mother simply comes with fresh bias that might leave you thinking you're more able for a job or invested in the future.

"You might be more emotionally invested in earning," she concedes. "Because you're earning for your child rather than spending on yourself. But the idea that you're suddenly going to have all these different attributes because you're a parent is nonsense. It depends entirely on the person preceding parenthood."

Managing editor of Women Mean Business, Rosemary Delaney, agrees. "If you consider working mothers, and I am one, they must be highly organised and, in my experience, need to be very time sensitive.

"But I don't believe that working mums, or any 'category' of person has the edge in employment.

"We are all individuals and, as such, make choices that suit our particular aspirations, needs and ability."

Of course there is also plenty of evidence that suggests mothers are negatively discriminated against in the workplace, such as a study that found once people were told an employee was a mother then they viewed her as less competent. Fathers, interestingly weren't penalised.

But psychologist Sally O'Reilly feels that a societal mentality that elevates a mother over a non-mother, in any scenario, is demonstrative of how we continue to place a premium on women's value according to whether or not they have children.

"The role of women, even constitutionally, has been to be in the home, care-give, produce children and so on. For centuries, women who produce many children have been revered and considered good, productive, 'valuable'.

"Conversely, women who do not have children, for whatever reason, and in a general sense, have been perceived to be of lesser value," she explains.

"The message is certainly clear: there is something 'wrong' with being childless. Remarks like those reported to have been made by Andrea Leadsom just perpetuate this misconception."

Irish Independent

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