A passion for empowering women
Maureen Bailey has a passion for empowering women. She has spent the past 16 years working with women, either in the Ministry of Justice, where she set up women's networks, or as a consultant.
It all started when she was doing some voluntary work with a diversity committee at the Ministry of Justice. She then took up a post working for a top lawyer who asked her to work on diversity issues after she returned from maternity leave.
“Women's issues such as domestic violence policy were a part of my job and I felt that women also needed a voice in the department,” she says. Her manager was very supportive and she began interviewing other women in the department to find out what their needs were. The main ones were work life balance, confidence, flexible working and being able to progress in their career despite working part time.
Maureen had personal experience of some of these issues. With two children, she says she had to push to be allowed the flexibility she needed and had to show her employers that it could work. “It was a struggle,” she says. “At one point, I would get in at 7am and send an email to prove that I was there. In any event, I work better in the morning and got a lot done between 7am and 9am. I tweaked how I worked a few times. Like many women I have a strong work ethic, but I had to pick up my children so I had to show that flexible working worked. It was hard and people did make comments, but I fought my corner. I'm really convinced flexible workers are more productive.”
She was the first Women’s Issues Network Coordinator in her department and helped other departments set up similar networks. She organised events for International Women's Day which brought all the government departments together.
She also launched a White Ribbon Day event in her department which involves men in fighting against domestic violence. The Forced Marriage Act was also launched on the same day. She thinks every company should be aware of the signs that an employee may be suffering from domestic violence, such as depression or agoraphobia. “I've had a woman on the phone to me who said she wanted to kill herself, but felt better after talking in confidence with me,” she says.
She decided to leave the civil service last year after cutbacks meant she would have had to move into a post which didn't deal with women's issues. “That was my passion so I had to leave,” she says. “I set up my own business when I was 16 and I thought if I did it then, I can do it again.”
She set up her own consultancy, Inner Strength Consulting which provides mentoring and support to women on a range of issues, from career advice to dealing with domestic violence, as well as mediation training for managers. She says: “I felt that if my business is about encouraging and empowering women to go for their dreams, then what kind of example I would be setting if I didn't go for my own dreams.”
She had never set up a website before, but with encouragement, she soon had two up and running.
Maureen also supports organisations in Action Learning training, which involves developing women's skills in a safe environment away from office politics, and in the Freedom programme, which deals with domestic violence and is about offering people a safe space to talk about their experiences.
Maureen's daughters are now 11 and 10 and she says that her work filters through into her open parenting style. “We talk through things and they see that I can be both emotional and a hard worker which I think they find inspiring,” she says.
She is pleased she is now working from home so she can be around more for her children, although she has to attend events or training sessions regularly. “I think they really appreciate that,” she says. She and her husband sit down weekly to work out a timetable for who will be around for the children. “He's very supportive,” says Maureen, who says bringing men on board on what are seen as “women's issues” is vital. “Men and women work together and they need to confront these issues together,” she says.
Top tips from Maureen:
1. Look at where you work and consider how working flexibly can benefit that organisation.
2. Check the organisations policy beforehand and prepare your proposal before requesting a meeting with your manager.
3. Show how your job can work efficiently to benefit your business and don’t be afraid to stand your ground.
4. When and if it is agreed for you to work flexibly tell your colleagues and explain how this will benefit them too.
5. Ask for a 2-3 month trial to see if the change helps you and the business and be honest if it does not work or is in need of adjustment.