Trying to balance family life with a demanding career is inevitably stressful, particularly for women. Can the latest digital tools and new ways of working help mothers overcome the challenges?
Juggling a young family with work is never easy for any mother – but digital tools and flexible ways of working are proving a liberating force in enabling women to strike the necessary harmony.
There are compelling business reasons for adopting a digital workspace and a flexible approach to work, such as improved productivity and reduced overheads. But the effect it can have on closing the gender gap and providing women with positive employment opportunities is often overlooked.
Take Samantha Taylor, mother of two young children and a Cloud Business Development Manager at Orange Business Services. She believes the opportunity to work from home coupled with access to a digital workspace has enabled her to stay on track on her chosen career path, while having a family. “In a previous job, when I had my first child, I felt so guilty about going back to work. I felt I wasn’t doing anything right”, Samantha explains.
Guilt is one of the main feelings mothers experience, having to leave their children in the nursery and go to the office. “Mid-career and as a new mother, I hated being the only person who had to leave promptly at 5:30pm because of childcare. I felt like a slacker. It’s not easy being a minority in any field, and yet, we all need to figure this out, or the challenges will only get worse – for the majority and for the minority,” explains Cindi Howson, VP at technology research company Gartner, who feels lack of diversity seems to be a self-driven problem in the IT industry.
When Samantha had her second child she was working at Orange, where she started flexible working. “Suddenly I felt it was actually an advantage to be a woman,” she says. “Orange really works to put people together with different skills and backgrounds. It encourages diversity, which is fantastic”.
“I now feel empowered about making decisions around my job and my family. I can make a choice about when I work from home and if I want to see my children in a sporting event I can, or I work later in the evening or start earlier”.
“My role isn’t 9 to 5. There are times when we are in the middle of a deal and I will have to work late at night, but there are times when it is not as busy and my child is in a football match I can go and see them play. It is about keeping on schedule at work and not missing out on this kids equally,” she added.
In a typical week, Samantha will spend two days in the office and the three days at home or visiting clients, although she is in full charge of her calendar. Everyone in her workplace is normally in the office on a Monday, allowing her to catch up face-to-face with her team and other staff members. “You never feel isolated. Everyone at Orange is very aware of family issues and requirements as well as work and colleagues factor that in,” she adds. “Culturally it is so much easier to juggle home and family life”.
Samantha also believes that flexible working has made her healthier, which in turn has made her more motivated and productive, while increasing her energy levels. “I used to spend more than two hours sat in traffic commuting, I can now spend that time keeping myself fit,” explains Sam, who also takes part in Pilates classes that Orange offers at the office.
Samantha’s Digital workbox
Samantha believes she works harder when she is at home as there are no distractions so she is more focused. She relies on a secure VPN connection and Skype for Business for calls to power her home office.
In addition to conference calls with global teams, Samantha uses WhatsApp to communicate with account managers through a WhatsApp group. Salesforce.com is used to track deals and updates and highlight who is working on what opportunities. All team collaboration is carried out on in-house tool Plaza. In addition, she uses Facetime for French lessons if she isn’t in the office, so she doesn’t miss out on any lessons. The French course is optional, but helps her with her communications with the central Orange Cloud for Business, which is based in France. “We don’t need a huge digital toolbox in sales, but these allow me to get a real work life balance wherever I am working” she says.
Despite the availability of digital workspaces, it appears, however, that not all technology companies are tapping into female skills. According to Girls Who Code, a not-for-profit organization, the US Department for Labor predicts that 1.4 million jobs will be created in computing fields by 2020. At current rates, women educated in the US will fill just 3 per cent. In 1984, women earned 37% of all computer science bachelor degrees in the US, this figure has now plummeted to just 12 per cent.
“Flexible working and digital tools that enable it are a reality now. If more technology companies were as forward-thinking as Orange, more women would have the opportunity to fulfil their potential in the workplace,” concludes Samantha.
To read more about putting people at the heart of the digital workspace click here
Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.