On Sunday night, watching television at home, I switched on the women’s 100 meters final at the World Championships in Doha. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, with her striking rainbow hair, was incredible to watch as she powered over the finish line to win gold in 10.71 seconds. However, for me at least, what was truly remarkable came afterwards.
After her victory, Fraser-Pryce was joined for her lap of honour by her two-year-old son, Zyon. The footage is both amazing and moving to watch; it was indeed “a victory for motherhood!” as Fraser-Pryce went on to add. The proclamation is of course something of a u-turn on her previous admission that upon finding out she was pregnant, she sat on her bed and cried.
Hearing Fraser-Pryce’s remarkable story, and having the privilege of witnessing her success as both an athlete and a mother, got me thinking about the parallels between her story and that of so many women, who are led to believe that the start of a family must necessarily mean the end of a career.
I started my own family four years ago and witnessed first-hand some of the many challenges reintegrating into the workforce and finding work, that well, worked. While it’s baby steps still (there is so much more to be done to support working parents but that is a subject for another blog!) I have noticed a significant improvement in the working world. It’s a workforce that’s more embracing of the notion that parenthood and career success are not mutually exclusive but in fact complementary things. Meanwhile many companies have made great strides to make flexible working a reality. A recent article by Glassdoor listed some such initiatives: First Direct’s office has an on-site creche for childcare purposes, Marks & Spencer gives its employees paid time off to attend IVF treatments and adoptive meetings. At Aviva, new mothers and fathers are both eligible for 26 weeks’ parental leave on full basic pay, regardless of how they become a parent (birth, adoption or surrogacy).
These firms are far from alone; as more and more companies realise the enormous value women, and men, with families have to offer. Put simply, businesses and economies have lost millions of talented women (and subsequently billions of pounds) by failing to recognise this earlier. The resulting boost to productivity that such measures can offer when implemented is striking.
I have been lucky to work for a number of more progressive businesses in this space, and for bosses who are open to conversations about making work ‘work’. In many respects, my career has advanced more quickly in the years I’ve worked flexibly than it did when I worked the standard 9-5. I am more positive and hopeful than ever about the future for those who wish to balance a career and their children. However, seeing Fraser-Pryce reminded me of the need, and power, of having more visible symbols of success. I want to see more women, like Fraser-Pryce, leading the way as role models. Role models who are unapologetic about their desire to want children as well as a career and who are determined in their focus to win at both.