I write to you as I celebrate my birthday. But also the 50th anniversary of the first manned mission to the moon leaving earth. NASA has announced a programme to send a man, rather a woman, to the moon (obviously not leave her there). I am also writing just a few days before the second ever female PM leaves office. This one famously without children.
The next PM will have to do more to encourage women into the work force, provide more support. But what kind? These are the words of my wife and new mother:
“I studied hard, got straight A’s, was featured in local newspapers (my first encounter of feeling that I could achieve anything). I went to Kings College London got a first (the only female on my course to do so) and landed a place on Accenture’s prestigious graduate program.
If you were born in the 1980s, an offer from a top tier management consultancy was the dream. Fast forward almost 10 years and I was working at the Cabinet Office. This was surreal at times - I was in and out of Number 10, had weekly meetings with Cabinet Ministers, wrote speeches for the Prime Minister and so on. I was on fire. I then landed the role to lead the Venture Capital Unit for Government.
If you grew up like me in a working class suburb, went to state school and were an ethnic minority female this was a huge achievement. Here I was travelling the world, meeting high profile investors managing a large team of 14 people. If you consider Maslow’s hierarchy, I was pretty high up on the self fulfilment measure.
Then I get pregnant. I was 34 and had alot invested in my career by this point but was equally so excited to be a mum. I continued working hard through my pregnancy but things began to change. I stopped travelling due to sickness, I started leaving work earlier as I was so exhausted and was constantly anxious about any promotion discussions.
For me returning back to work was inevitable as I just could not continue being a stay at home mum. So I started work this week and the reality of trying to have it all (something I always imagined was possible) – be a hands on mum and maintain a senior career is hitting me hard.
In all honesty I don’t even think that I would hire myself right now.
Not because I am no longer good at my job. I am probably better in some ways as I can multi task in ways I never imagined. But like many mums, I am besotted with my baby and have been unimpressed with the quality of nurseries around so I have worked out the minimum number of viable hours I can work just to maintain my career. For me that is 3 days a week. Will I attend evening events? Nope, not unless the Prime Minister is attending, even then I will be trying to get out of the door to make it home for the bedtime routine. Will I continue overseas travel? Nope, I can’t bear the thought of being away from my bundle of joy for long periods.
My male colleagues in contrast (please note that many of them are dads and I am generalising here) continue to work 5 days a week, network in the evenings and travel without flinching.
A fellow high achieving female colleague of mine agreed that the structures don’t work for working women but she also very passionately said to me “lets change them!”. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on this topic, I would love to hear from you as I REALLY do want to have it all.”
Aekta Patel (nee Mahajan)
(Mum to Reyaan and part-timer)