A fortnight ago I was fortunate to be an invited speaker at the UWE student law society “The Empowered Women”, an event hosted by the diversity sub-committee. Given the other two speakers, Professor Sue Durbin and Professor Hazel Conley, are esteemed researchers in the field of women empowerment I wasn’t quite sure how I, Mrs. Janice St. John-Matthews, had gained an invite. However speaking to the students they asked to hear my story over the last five years- since my little man arrived on the scene.
It was a bit surreal being at the event as that morning I had interviewed for the Academic Director role in the allied health professions department. If I got the job it would be the first time in almost six years that I would be a full-time worker. Furthermore it was a reminder of how far I had come since my first fixed term contract in academia ended and our little person arrived. Since returning to academia four years ago I was applying for a second promotion, had won a national We Are the City rising star award and was one third of the way through a Doctorate.
During the event I mentioned a tweet that had been sent out by a female radiography Senior Lecturer from another institute also undertaking a part-time Doctorate. The tweet noted how someone had advised said tweeter that she may as well forget her career if she was to have a family. As you can imagine a deluge of very successful women, many radiography role-models, tweeted back reassuring messages how this was not the case. However I wanted to respond differently and talk about that advice I wish I had had, something that 140 characters does not lend itself to.
I wanted to advise said person to get reading books such as “Lean In”; “Rocking you Role” and “Heals of Steel”. I wanted them to think about what life with a family and a career would look like. How are their support networks? How could these be strengthened? What were they willing to let slide and what is not negotiable either at home or at work? I also wanted to celebrate how being a Mum had made me more efficient with my time, even more organised and how I have mellowed, a bit. How my ability to find creative solutions in situations has developed further. For example, when stuck with childcare issues, my little person and I get big sheets of A3 and felt tip pens and “together” mind-map work documents and even Doctorate work. How my outlook these days include “done is better than perfect” and my Doctorate philosophy is “if you need 50% to pass then get 51%”- a really hard view for a perfectionist like myself in an environment where the grade achieved is still a badge of honour.
I wanted to tell them that the guilt of not being Mum all the time is hard. Take today as I write this blog in a soft-play venue full of screaming children. I am the only parent with a laptop working on a Sunday. There are hundreds of other examples over the last six years. However when I looked up the guilt slightly faded when I saw little person had made two new friends and had such a big smile on his face. Clearly there are no issues with their social/ networking skills- something that will serve them well in later life. Furthermore they managed to negotiate some Jaffa cakes from Mummy before lunch. This child will go far.
I would like to commend the UWE law students (Haley Lewis, Mohammed Motara, Callum Tucker, Lindsay Walker, Holly Garland, Momin Mohamed) who hosted this event for their peer group. It was a forward thinking event for individuals at the beginning of their career journeys. It was another great example of young women and men highlighting the issues and exploring what can be done to make a difference. I realised the importance of women and men talking openly about the challenges of all the types of carer activities in forums such as this. As an academic I cannot argue against the importance of evidence but in this case I also believe that sharing the lived experience is just as important. Thank you to the UWE law society for inviting me to be that person.
- Sanberg, S (2013) Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Penguin Random House: UK
- Garrett, J (2012) Rocking your Role: The How to Guide for Female Breadwinners. Ecademy Press: UK
- Vanessa Valley (2013) Surviving & Thriving In the Corporate World. Panoma Press: UK