A few years ago I did what I have since termed a Game Change. By that I basically mean that I quit my job in the corporate world to go freelance and start my own business (I previously designed and delivered behavioural development programmes). It was a change that had been in my mind ever since I went back to work after my first maternity leave. Actually from start to finish it probably took me around four years during which time I had two more children.
It’s a change that I hear more and more women making every single day which is unsurprising. I went back to work part time after having Mabel and threw myself back into a career I thought I loved, for a company I thought valued me. Only I soon realised that they valued the old “I’ll work as many hours as you need” full time me. And over the months that followed, coupled with some maternity discrimination during my subsequent leave, my loyalty was destroyed alongside a fair amount of my confidence. It was the days pre smart phones (o.k so I exaggerate, it was pre me having a smart phone, that trusty Nokia served me well) and I literally remember sitting there thinking, “Am I the only person who thinks that this is totally crazy?”. I started chatting to my NCT friends and found that it was actually epidemic, not just that employers can be fairly crap in supporting women in returning to work but also this feeling that there must be more. Your priorities change, your whole life changes and I found that I was so busy trying to keep this incredible little human alive that when I suddenly returned to work after seven months I was completely overwhelmed. I started doubting what I loved doing, I didn’t have the time to breathe never mind think about it and I felt this huge need to demonstrate that I could hold it all together which was pretty suffocating.
I found very little support (I think this is slowly starting to change but what do you think?), everything that was out there didn’t seem quite right for my current situation. I wanted a group of mums to chat to about what I was going through, to share some ideas I had brewing about doing my own thing. But I also wanted some structure, some accountability and I needed to figure out exactly what I wanted before making the leap.
So with my background in HR and training I started designing some workshops to try and help other mums returning to work after maternity leave. Originally these were purely about going back to the same employer, I ran them from my front room, for free, to women who were so supportive of me testing out material and brilliant at boosting my confidence with their feedback. They became paid workshops as I started to experiment with it becoming my job and alongside some freelance work building up my very own portfolio career. At the end of the workshops there would always be a few women who wanted more, who wanted to know how to make a bigger change, who through doing the development had actually decided they wanted to leave and do something new OR due to poor behaviour from their employer had been left with little choice. So started the design of Game Changers. Built partly on my own experiences, all the things I wish someone had told me, the structure I craved, the community I lacked, the things I had learnt the hard way mixed with the knowledge and experience of personal development I had from my own career.
I changed when I became a mum and it took me a good while to figure this all out and feel comfortable with the new improved me. In fact, honestly I still am figuring it out and perhaps always will be. It took me a while to have the confidence to go out there and create the life that now works so well for our family. We’re now onto Game Change #2 as my husband has taken a year long career break to be a stay at home dad!
Game Changers brings women together who are on maternity leave but suddenly doubting if they want to go back at all, women who have long since finished maternity leave who dream of owning their own business or freelancing but don’t know where to start, who’ve gone back to work but now feel lost or even just want to spend some time finding who they are again amongst the piles of washing and nappies!
My hope is that more women will have the confidence to ask the questions, to challenge employers that should be doing better, to make decisions that are right for them without feeling compromised and to find work that they love and that makes their heart sing.
I get so frustrated when I hear stories (as I do all the time) of women taking demotions to work flexibly, facing discrimination, who are not given or able to do the projects or types of work they crave, who feel they have to choose between a career and a family, who feel pressurised to make certain choices, including ones that stop them staying at home to be with their children if that’s what they want to do.
I know it’s not always that simple, I know there is so much to be done and I’m a dreamer but I feel like the more women that can be supported to create a life that works for them and their families the better place the world will be and then we might have a chance of changing the conversations for our own children.
And wouldn’t that be Game Changing!
You can find all the details on Game Changers and current intakes here.
(Pics c/o Anna Hardy Photography)