This blog post is adapted from from one I wrote for The Hoxby Collective recently, around why freelancing can work for parents wanting flexibility and how brilliant it is that organisations such as theirs are aiming to help.
Through Game Changers and our other courses I meet so many mothers who feel they are having to make unreasonable compromises when it comes to work and having a family.
Many are frustrated with their employer but feel stuck, no longer motivated by the roles they have ended up in after maternity leave, are craving a more balanced lifestyle where they don’t have to make that decision about whether to do work they enjoy and feel has longevity OR be able to go to the odd sports day and not be working all hours to justify their existence.
Anyone who has struggled with returning to work after maternity leave or who has felt the frustrations of a lack of flexibility (still too often seen as a ‘perk’ purely for parents) from an employer will no doubt be unsurprised that mothers represent the fastest demographic of people going self employed.
Freelancing or self employment can so often provide the flexibility, the autonomy, the opportunity to be in charge of your own career.
I definitely don’t want to paint too bleak a picture or suggest that leaving the traditional workplace is the only way forward, clearly this is not the case. In fact, I think we absolutely need to be wary of this trend because we need talented women leading big businesses in the UK which won’t happen if the pipeline isn’t available. Not to mention that some employers are doing really innovative and brilliant things on this front and freelancing most definitely isn’t the right thing for everyone.
But for those who have always had that gut feeling that they want to go it alone one day, or who are fed up with the other options, becoming a parent can prove to be the perfect time to take the plunge.
I say perfect, I mean when you are surviving on two hours sleep, can’t remember where you left the car keys and wondering if you can even hold down a job anymore that isn’t always ideal. But perfect in that I think having children brings these huge questions of “what the hell am I doing all this for?” which can often be the tipping point for moving into something new.
Perfect in that we gain SO MANY new skills from parenthood that can be invaluable for going it alone – like creativity, resilience, negotiation skills to name but a few.
Perfect, in that often a period out of work through maternity leave can bring this space to reassess, to re-think a career path, long nights awake feeding tend to give voice to those ideas whirling around your head.
Or perhaps it’s just that it is so flaming hard to find decent childcare or employment that does tick all the boxes that suddenly making enough to pay the mortgage by selling your own services feels like a walk in the park. Something like that anyway.
In all seriousness though, I sense there is something else happening here. The mothers I work with are often talented, ambitious, capable women who are determined to find a new way that works for their families. They are asking questions and expecting more, they are willing to walk away from employers who aren’t valuing their contribution, they are wanting more from life than just work, especially work that they don’t love. And all of this I find to be fascinating and brave and really encouraging for the future.
That’s why I called the course we run Game Changers, because honestly I think the women making these career shifts are doing just that (read examples of career changes including ones to become freelance here).
And it is of course not just mothers, if we are to shift the landscape and achieve true gender equality we have to address the constraints placed on fathers in the workplace too. With shared parental leave take up so low (around 2% on the last count) and almost a third of Fathers still lacking access to flexible working arrangements you can see why things need to change for families full stop.
There are some positives however, like the new organisations and communities now becoming available to support these needs and with this blog and others in future I hope to highlight some of what is available. I’d heard a few parents mention The Hoxby Collective as a great place to start as a parent wanting to freelance, in their own words:
The Hoxby Collective has revolutionised the world of work; not just for working parents, but also digital nomads, those with additional needs, carers, plus those who aren’t able to – or don’t choose to commute – by creating a community who genuinely love the work they do. And who also love life; whether it be one filled with volcanoes or voluntary work or vocab tests.
By recruiting a talented workforce who are highly motivated (because they have the flexibility to work the hours they choose and from any geographical location that has wifi) The Hoxby Collective is able to deliver brilliant work to its clients. Hoxby is a meritocracy which rewards on output – not time spent in an office, wondering whether you’ll get another fee from your child’s nursery for being late. And – unlike many freelance collectives – the Hoxby community is paid on the same day each month, regardless of when the client pays. Which is helpful, not least when you have a family!
The co-founders Alex Hirst and Lizzie Penny are both working parents who share parental responsibility with their respective spouses. Alex believes that his daughter benefits from ‘Daddy time’ (and secretly loves a sneaky afternoon ice lolly) whilst Lizzie confesses that – when confined to rest during her pregnancy with her twins – she worked from her bed, because Hoxby’s world without bias made it possible to do so.
It can feel pretty daunting having to go out there and hustle for work, the lack of security from having a regular salary is a big thing as a parent. And considering one of the downsides of freelancing CAN be that you miss out on that whole team scenario, this type of community feels like the future.
There are also an increasing number of online (therefore flexible and widely available) courses on a range of topics like digital marketing to up your skills for self-employment, and the whole portfolio career is becoming a far more trusted and accepted career choice (here are just a few places to look for good courses).
I have to be realistic and say that self-employment isn’t always the easy option and it’s definitely not for everyone. In fact it is 100% the hardest job I have EVER done and I think it’s important to be honest about that. Right now, heading towards having our fourth baby, I’ll not be able to take much maternity leave and it can be really challenging to switch off when you are self employed doing something that you are truly passionate about.
But for me, and I know lots of other parents, the benefits far outweigh the risks and the downsides. Ultimately it gives me the opportunity to design a way of working around the way we want to live as a family, which is truly invaluable.