When I began my career as a tech recruiter I never thought this job could be compatible with motherhood. How could you maintain a pipeline of work if you had to leave the office at 5pm? 

Since then I have met a number of women who juggle motherhood with their career in recruitment who are not only highly successful but - astonishingly - happy. How can this be? What is their secret?

I asked Nicci, our Head of Learning and Development, for her opinion. Nicci began her career as a recruitment consultant before moving into recruitment training. As a relatively new mother she personally knows the challenges new mothers can face when balancing motherhood with their careers in recruitment, as well as the surprising benefits.

nicci, neil & charlotte 

Nicci, Neil and Charlotte

Hi Nicci, thanks for sitting down with me. As you know, I began my career in recruitment before moving into marketing. Having experienced the life of a recruiter I have to say the thought of working in recruitment as a mother seemed absolutely mad! How do people do it?

Having a child develops a number of skills that you can bring into the workplace. It made me much more confident, patient and gave me a better perspective. I don't experience the same stress that I used to, and I'm much better at coping under pressure.

Having a child forces you off to switch off from work, which I think is really important. Charlotte (Nicci's daughter) has to spend the entire day in child care in a relatively confined space, so when I pick her up after work I owe it to her to take her out for ride on her bicycle in the fresh air. I have to be mum. And when I'm back in the office the next morning I feel refreshed and focused because I've had a proper break. 

I’ve also noticed that pretty much every mother out there who decides to go back to work will be self-motivated, committed and focused. If you see a mum at a recruitment agency she’ll be on the phones or in meetings for most of the day and completely focused on the job. Not bantering, not putting off the tough stuff. 

That all makes sense. My main concern is that taking maternity leave and not being able to put in the extra hours after returning to work could make it difficult to take on extra responsibility or land a promotion though. Do you think having a child holds back your career potential or is this just a myth?

Based on my experience, it’s a myth. When I was on maternity leave I thought my career might plateau and that was my only option, but luckily I found an employer who was open to the fact that I’m a mum. Although I’m on flexible hours I still feel like I’ve taken a big step up in my career with more responsibility than ever.

It’s not always that way though; I know I’m quite lucky.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing mothers who work in recruitment?

Recruitment, or any sales job, is probably the hardest job to be in as a mum as you have less control over how things are going to go and you have targets to meet, and if you don’t meet the targets you can’t stay late. That’s really tough.

A lot of mothers who live and work in London don’t have very strong support systems – they won’t have grandparents living down the road and they probably don’t know their neighbours very well – so when the nursery calls to let the parents know their child is sick one of them has to leave the office. Parents can face quite a lot of stigma for having to the leave the office early, and my observation is that it's usually the mother. 

Plenty of mothers in recruitment will have to make calls when they’re at home, so they might have prep their candidates for an interview whilst spoon-feeding their baby. But it’s up to you whether this is an awkward experienceor one that works in your favour. Moments like this make you human, which helps to build rapport and empathy with whoever you’re working with. Generally, doing whatever you can to be seen as more than a sales person will help your career in this industry.

Of course the other upside is that you can earn a lot of money in recruitment. Even if you’re working 9-5pm 4 days a week you could earn as much as or more than your friends who are working 70 hours a week. 

What should employers do to support new mothers?

The obvious answer is offering flexible working and not stigmatizing those who ask for it. The other, which is perhaps more important, is the cultural attitude towards the working mother.

A friend of mine is a senior-level professional but she still isn’t given proper support from her employer. One day her child got sick so she had to work from home that day and was subsequently given a black mark. Her colleagues also deliberately book meetings for 4pm knowing that would likely run on late and make it difficult for her to get home in time to pick up her child, and if she arrives late in the morning because something happened on the school run she’s made to feel like she did something terrible.

Employers should understand that for mothers, the child always comes first. That doesn’t mean mothers aren’t as committed to their jobs as single women, but that is the reality of the situation. There's no point trying to make a mother prioritize their job over their baby. 

Having said that employers shouldn't tip-toe around a working mum and give them less work than the others in the team. We're still capable, hard-working and dedicated to our jobs, so giving us less to do and less responsibility only holds us back and stunts the success of the business as a whole.

Ok, let’s say you’re speaking to a young woman who is thinking about starting a family – what advice would you give her?

It depends on what the individual wants. If they aren’t hugely invested in their career, then I’d say go for it! But if your career is a high priority and you  definitely want to return to work after maternity leave, you might want to wait until you are more established in your field and have built up your credibility.

You must remember that if you want to become a working mum (and your partner is working too) you’ll have to pay for childcare, which is a lot! The main reason why women don’t go back to work is not because they don’t want to; it’s because they can’t afford to come back because of the cost of childcare. If you’re still in a relatively junior position it will be difficult to come out of maternity leave and earn a salary you need to cover those costs.

[Here is a handy childcare costs calculator to help you decide if it's worth going back to work from a financial perspective] 

I think a lot of women worry that they've forgotten how to do their job after being on maternity leave for several months. I was. I thought I had ‘baby brain’ and didn't know how to do recruitment training anymore, but the minute I started my training programme I felt it all come back and was so happy I decided to return to work after having Charlotte. So I guess I would tell them not to worry and just go for it!

I’d also advise anyone to be blatantly honest right from the beginning of their job search that they are a mother and that comes with specific commitments. You should make it clear whether you will want flexible working or not, and if so, how you would like to see your work week. It usually shows how much support you would get from that employer and it makes the whole process much easier to have everything out on the table from day one.

What about paternity leave? Where do you stand on that?

Dad and mum should be seen as equal. I think that the younger generations are starting to see things that way, and I think the mind-set of men in particular has changed a lot. Two generations ago men wouldn’t ask for flexible hours and they would see childcare as a “women’s work”. It looks like dads these days are much more open to getting involved and want to spend more time at home with their family.

I think this is partly because it’s becoming more and more common to see women as the bread-winner instead of their husbands. That old-school way of thinking is dying, so I think that families should be able to decide for themselves whether the father or mother should go back to work first. Neil only had two weeks with Charlotte before going back to work, and it seemed unfair. Why does the father get much less time to bond with the baby than the mother?

Did becoming a dad make Neil better at his job, in terms of being more confident, efficient and focussed too?

Yes, I think it did! 

Although women like Nicci are happy as working mums and feel supported by their employers, it seems that most companies have not yet caught up to the fact that women can be both mothers and valuable employees and that mums and dads should be treated equally. 

Having kids may improve performance in the workplace regardless of gender, but it seems that it's usually men, not women, whose careers are boosted from having childrenMichelle Budig, a U. Mass, Amherstsociology professor who has researched the parenthood pay gap, concluded in a paper published last year that high-income men get a increase in pay when they have children whereas low-income women who have kids experience a pay decrease. 

What can be done? In my mind the best first steps are to improve pay transparency, introduce paid family leave policies, ensure access to affordable childcare and encourage more conversation around the challenges mothers face in the workplace.


Our first #TechCityWomen meet-up will focus on the subject of "Balancing Motherhood with a Career in Technology" and is open to all female and male professionals in the tech world. If you're interested in attending please email izzy@burnssheehan.co.uk

You might also like

Nicci Abernethy

Announcing our First #TechCityWomen Speaker - Jess Butcher!

Does Happiness at Work Matter?