Sat on the toilet of a work placement for a national newspaper, I succumbed to the fact that I would be leaving my pursuit of writing for their weekly magazine behind, after discovering I was unexpectedly pregnant with my first child.
I was on work placement so I didn’t normally take a break but I knew something was a matter with the rising nauseous feeling brewing up inside me which led me to purchase a pregnancy test on my lunch. I was in London, where most of the placements “of my dreams” have been but being from Yorkshire on a low income, having won international media awards for a human rights blog I set up, I had managed to secure unpaid work placements which I couldn’t afford to travel to or stay at so I would moonlight as a bellydancer and sofa surf whilst also asking for shorter placements to keep subsidies down.
But I knew that when I fell pregnant, already struggling with my mental health and working smartest from home, that I had to pause my pursuit. I had already overcome so many huge hurdles to get here as a young mixed race northern woman with ‘disabilities,’ not to mention the fact I had been healing from eating disorders stemming from childhood trauma and had gained bursaries to study at university, I had danced professionally and set up numerous enterprises to promote social change as well as having a love of performing arts, sports and studying!
With the Pandemic exposing the gender disparities between the sexes, the ingrained gap between men and women has been transparent whilst also showcasing all the powerful roles women can play as frontline staff and the often overlooked ‘lesser’ roles – it has been a time to reflect just how much we need to value women.
But the good news is that more women are aspiring to pursue careers in STEM, Coding and are feeling much more ambitious in their careers thanks to the rise in flexible and home working.
The report, released by FutureLearn and YouGov, also found that women have taken more of an active interest in further learning.
I am one of these reinvigorated cohorts of women who have been studying further qualifications and pursuing the career (of writing magazine features and creating digital content about the communities I am from with a focus on wellbeing…) I “gave up” (halted/paused) when becoming a young mum. With more optimism now that you no longer need to be ‘office-based’ or worse still, relocate out of my family bubble of Yorkshire.
Even LinkedIn recently launched an option for ‘stay at home parents’ to explain the vital role parents and carers play in life and work!
Some parents attempting to return to work have opted for the title “homemaker” – a label that LinkedIn provided on the networking site to explain career gaps. Others have improvised, using makeshift titles like “Family CEO” or “Chief Home Officer”.
But there’s still a way to go after years of systemic inequality and stigma.
Resulting in many of us not having the same confidence as men to even identify ourselves as leaders due to the fact that we do not fit the status quo.
Our circumstances and opportunities are often different to men. And we hold ourselves back, through feeling the so-called “imposter Syndrome.” Whilst it’s not technically a syndrome it is a common feeling of ‘inadequacy’ that a lot of women feel when breaking through ‘glass ceilings.’
This feeling can be deeply ingrained and it’s not about genetics but the society we live and breathe. Consciously and subconsciously, we limit ourselves but even when we realise this, we get scared to ask for support, as we often feel the need to prove and justify our worth.
This can often lead women to fulfil the ‘unwanted’ roles in leadership and in all parts of society as we can feel uncertain about negotiation and asserting our own path.
This vicious cycle for some ‘ambitious’ women like me then leads to us criticising ourselves for not having a voice, not speaking up or dumbing down what we have to say or trying to sound too clever.
I know that as a young working mum-to-be in the media I tried to conceal my pregnancy from certain clients for fear of losing freelance work. Also, the ability to work flexibly has always been important for me personally to manage my health, family and to work smart… and I believe this should be available to all!
Present-ism in the workplace costs employers a lot more than absent-ism i.e. people show up unproductive and slog hours in an office to prove their worth.
This is why we need allies of all sexes and to join together. We were asked some of these thought provoking questions in a power hour talk by Oxford Leadership Project hosted by Wakefield Community Foundation’s Women’s Network:
“Which of these has been your biggest frustration in your career so far?”
- Unable to see yourself as a leader?
- Imposter syndrome?
- Unable or unwilling to ask for help?
- On the edge of a glass cliff?
- Kept under a glass ceiling?
- Unsure about negotiating for yourself? Being unsure about negotiating for yourself
One theme which was a prevalent is this notion of ‘imposter syndrome’ that I am sure a lot of us are experiencing as we merge from three lockdowns… not sure how or where we will fit in.
Women’s Fund founder Barbara Paterson, MD of Paterson Consultancy Ltd, says: “Everyone experiences moments of self-doubt where they question their confidence and competence.
“This can sometimes be a good thing and stops us from becoming arrogant and reckless. If we have unrealistic expectations of our capabilities and set standards way too high, we can feel like an imposter if we can’t achieve perfection. We become afraid of making mistakes and this can often stop our ability to stay open minded and keep learning.
“The mindset we choose has an important impact on how we approach problems and see our achievements. Living with a growth mindset (defined in Carol Dwerk’s book “Mindset”) means we believe there is always a solution to a problem we may just not have got there yet!”
Whilst I lost a lot of work overnight during the Pandemic from social affairs documentaries being scrapped which I had been making with my all-female film-making company for national news to my community work as a creative actioner being paused and my paid journalism work online also up in the air, I feared how I would cope as a single mum working from home with no yoga, dance and gym studio for respite and my support network shut off.
But this time whilst being hugely challenging was a chance for me to finish my first published book based on my story from “self-harm to self-love, to be truly successful,” focus on my Wellbeing online platforms (100k followers combined with 22 million views on Youtube) as well as having digital and dance skills to offer different services online and it gave me space to study my passions in mind and body fitness (personal training, yoga, face yoga, mental health and even eye lash extensions!) and flex my writing muscles again in my newspaper columns!
After a tumultuous year, I have re-emerged as a new bamboo shoot and ready to blossom and optimistic that I will now have an abundance of career opportunities thanks to employers more flexible to people working distantly and from home without the need to be in a city-based office which I would have to relocate to.
Some of the topics we spoke about (before I had to rush off for the school run!):
- See yourself as a leader: unable to see yourself as a leader
- Imposter Syndrome: Not recognising the skills you have and not saying things until you’re sure
- Unable to ask for help/support
- “Go get the brews” or disassociate from other women
- On the edge of a glass cliff: E.g. Women find themselves in roles nobody else wanted because they’re difficult jobs E.g. Teresa May Brexit Negotiation
- Glass ceiling: unable to speak due to lack of confidence – blame ourselves for not speaking up but actually wasn’t all my fault