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International Women’s Day: Making it work for women

Women-owned agency founder Nicky Westbrook

As a predominantly female (and women-owned) internal communications agency, our founder, Nicky Westbrook, shares her experiences of juggling career and kids during the pandemic, and how the way we work at Fresh is designed to support flexible working as part of a supportive and caring team.

I wonder if the government was aware when it set the dates that schools in England can reopen – 8 March – that it’s International Women’s Day, or if it was a lucky coincidence.

For myself, I can’t think of a more fitting way to enjoy International Women’s Day than being able to focus on my work for six gloriously uninterrupted hours while the boys are at school, instead of fitting it in around teaching fractions, desperately reconnecting iPads to the exhausted internet, or making a model of the solar system using nothing but recycling and determination, seeing as Hobbycraft is still closed (or as is more often the case lately, giving in and turning the Xbox on).

Juggling careers and kids

When my business partner and I started Fresh nine years ago, we each had a toddler and a baby and wanted a way to stay working, stay earning, stay relevant – and stay home with our children. Soon we were four women, all juggling careers and kids. You couldn’t get hold of anyone between 3pm and 7pm, but then we were all back at our desks making sure no deadline was missed. My biggest pride wasn’t that I owned a women-owned agency – it was that through that business, four mums got to keep their careers going and never miss a parents’ evening or nativity.

Nine years later, we are a team of 20, and still a women-owned agency with a predominantly female team. Not all are mums; some are dads, some don’t have kids at all. But the way we work is designed to support flexible working as part of a supportive and caring team so that however you want to work – around family, around other work, around hobbies, me time, down time or part time – you have the space and support to do just that. Hopefully, each of them has felt that support through this pandemic. Some days I’ve been too busy with fractions and that damn space model to check.

Men may be at greater risk of dying from COVID-19, but the economic fallout of the pandemic seems to be disproportionately impacting women. I read recently that women are a third more likely to work in a sector that shut down during lockdown, more likely to be furloughed and 47 per cent more likely to have lost or quit their job due to increased childcare and housework. Google the impact of the pandemic on women and you’ll see that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In my own house and that of many of my friends, I see how women are bending, flexing, and doing heavy lifting – not just in their Zoom Pilates classes, but in trying to keep all the spinning plates of schoolwork, housework and work-work up in the air. Quite why this is solely, or even mainly, the woman’s responsibility eludes me, but it seems to be the case in many homes.

Resilience, agility and purpose

I could turn this into a rant about how unfair this is (give me enough wine in the Zoom Pub some days and I will) but I’d rather see it as a celebration of women, of our resilience, agility and purpose – all those buzzwords that organisations use to focus their employee engagement are, in fact, lived out every day by my remarkable women friends, colleagues and clients, juggling the impossibility of ‘having it all’ (in reality ‘doing it all’) through lockdown.

I believe that in time we’ll see workplaces, relationships and industries all change to accommodate the needs of working women so that instead of being seen as wanting it all, we can simply have a bit more, because someone else is doing a bit more, considering us a bit more, investing in us a bit more. We add enough value to the home and the workplace to make that a reasonable request. That will be a Women’s Day to celebrate.