Each year I visit either the US or UK to garner insights from global markets that I can bring back to our clients here in Australia. The trip this time was (very!) different, as we were travelling with our three-month old daughter. I set about booking in catch-ups with my existing UK contacts, and extending my network with some new faces – flagging that I would have little Lexi in tow.
One acquaintance (who I had met with previously here in Sydney) replied to my Linked In Inmail saying she’d be very keen to meet – at which point we switched to email. We arranged a lunch date for the following week, and I let her know that I’d have my teeny sidekick with me. A few hours later, I received an email that was clearly destined for her assistant.
Just found out she’s bringing a pram and her kid (wtf) would you see if we can get a table with room to park it.
Sent from iPhone
Reading the email, I felt like I’d been kicked in the guts.
I was deeply hurt.
I was outraged on behalf of our little daughter.
And then I got angry. Really fucking angry.
I fired off an email response and ate some cake (a citron tart if you’d like specifics).
I’m assuming this wasn’t for me.
Just to explain, my daughter is 12 weeks old and I’m only in London for two weeks. No one else I’ve met this week has had any issue whatsoever with me bringing her along to meetings and she has been a little rockstar at every single one.
I find it difficult to envisage a future where women can successfully blend their careers and families if this is the kind of response it elicits in fellow women.
I’d rather not meet,
Thanks and have a good weekend,
I shared the exchange on my social channels. It had hundreds of comments, shares and a staggering 57,000 people saw my LinkedIn post. The team at Business Chicks picked up the story and I had messages of support from all over the world.
The legend that is Kat Thomas (Founder of One Green Bean) reached out on LinkedIn and seamlessly filled that hour myself and Lexi suddenly had available in our diaries that day with a wonderfully enjoyable meeting, which Lexi spent a good proportion of perched on Kat’s knee.
A month later, and I’m still thinking of this incident every day. On the rare day I don’t think about it, someone will ask me about it! A few reflections…
Women MUST support other women
What hope have we of successfully blending business/careers and babies if we don’t have the support of the sisterhood? It made me very sad to read some of the comments in response to my experience from women who had been treated harshly by fellow women when it came to their careers as parents.
It reminded me of the famous Madeline Albright quote: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Thankfully, this has been an extremely isolated incident for me so far, and I sincerely hope that remains the case.
Trust is essential
There is of course an element of trust that needs to come into this; in that the parent’s child won’t be disruptive and prevent a productive, enjoyable discussion.
I would never expect someone to sit through a meeting with a cranky baby distracting me from the conversation being had; that would be a complete waste of their time, and – quite frankly – mine as well.
As it is, my husband Wade and I have somehow hit the jackpot with our chilled little rockstar. She has come with us to two of my speaking engagements in the last fortnight, and at both has sat down the back with her daddy eagerly taking in all the activity around her – and making new friends (hat tip to the team at The Entourage and Slingshot for making her so welcome!).
More and more parents – men and women – are starting their own businesses, a life choice that I know from 5.5 years of experience places demands on every aspect of our lives. It’s tough. It’s arguably even tougher being a parent. Those who support parents in doing both should be commended and celebrated for doing so.
This should not be a “woman’s problem”
Men are increasingly adopting flexible working to enable them to have time with their children. Wade is an entrepreneur as well and is taking Lexi one day a week.
I was over the moon when he brought her along to a key meeting on his day last week. The senior university academic didn’t bat an eyelid, and Lexi kicked back on her daddy’s lap for the duration of the meeting. They’re off to another meeting this afternoon.
I am so proud that in doing so my husband is increasing visibility of men blending their businesses with their children.
We cannot be what we cannot see
This issue needs to be made visible. I was shocked when my business partner Natalie told me that after working for three years in her role as an MD, her immediate boss in Melbourne only realised she had children on her last day!
The more we see parents successfully blending their children with their careers, the more it both inspires hope in others to do the same, and makes it an attainable goal. I actively seek out successful people to model, and my hunt has become more important now that I’m a parent.
Appropriateness is key
At the moment, I am spending Tuesday-Thursday in our business. Of those days, Lexi has her nanny two days a week and is with Wade on the third day.
It may be that meetings will land on a Monday or Friday that necessitate her coming along with me. I would rather be at the key meeting moving the business forward (once the person I was meeting with was ok with that) than not attend out of fear of judgment.
Each of us will have our own terms of reference on will work for our businesses and our families. That’s for us and us alone to decide.
To all of you blending your business with babies, I salute you. (And please send your tips this rookie’s way…)