This year's International Women's Day on Thursday is looking to the future. Its theme is Connecting girls, inspiring futures and, as such, the emphasis is on the importance of role models.
Gillian Nissim, founder of Workingmums.co.uk, will be talking at a Thames Valley Police event on 8 March about how she founded Workingmums.co.uk and how she has developed it over the last six years to embrace a host of different events and opportunities to bring family friendly businesses and professional women together in direct contact for their own mutual benefit.
She will focus not just on what Workingmums does, but on the different hurdles she faced in setting it up as a kitchen table business and on how she has built it up.
Another IWD event which celebrates women entrepreneurs is the Social Media Magic conference hosted by London Mums which will allow female entrepreneurs and other small and home-based businesses to gain insight into social media and how they can take their business to the next level, as way as find effective ways of connecting with new customers. The Apprentice's Saira Khan, founder of Miamoo, will open the conference.
Other IWD events focus on inspiring women in business. Cass Business School will run a seminar with leading female business figures, including Ernst & Young’s Nicole Nixon, Innocent Ltd’s Samantha Simister and RBS’s Rebecca Manuel. They will discuss challenges, trade-offs, inspiration and lessons learnt along the way at the event on 8 March. Other activities take place up and down the country.
Working mum myths
One free event centres less around role models and more around exploding the myths about working mums. UCL will be hosting a free public lunch lecture on 8 March entitled Having it all: dispelling the myths about work and motherhood’. The lecture, which runs from 1.15pm to 1.55pm, can be watched live online at www.ucl.ac.uk/lhl/streamed or after the event at UCL's YouTube channel.
In it Dr Anne McMunn will talk about two separate research studies about working mums.
She says: “There is a big to do about working mums and women's work and the family. People tend to think that combining work and family is bad for women's health because it is so stressful.”
In order to find out if this is the case, she sought to study women throughout their adult lives to see what impact whether they worked had on their health.
Her research followed women born in 1946 into old age where the long-term impact on their health can be seen. She found that women who did paid work and were in stable relationships tended to be healthier in their mid 50s than those who didn't and that this was not just because they had started from a healthier basis. It did not matter what kind of job they did or what their educational background was.
She speculates that things may be very different for the more recent generation of working mums. “The women we studied tended to be very traditional. They tended to marry young and have children at around 23. Few had gone to university. They also tended to go to work when their children were a bit older. Half of the group of working mums were at home full time when their children were young," she says.
"Today's working mums tend to be more educated and to return to work soon after their children are born, often part time. However, there were not the maternity leave provisions for the 1946 generation that there are now. There has been a dramatic shift so it would be interesting to follow these women to see what impact working has on their health.”
Dr McMunn will also speak about a study she led into the impact of maternal employment on children. “The media tends to focus on the negative, but we looked at children born in 2000 and followed them up to the age of seven. The children of mums who worked full time had the lowest level of behavioural problems and those of mums who were full time at home had the highest problems,” she says.
Interestingly, the research found that girls whose mothers stayed at home to look after them were twice as likely to have behavioural problems as those whose mothers went to work.
"We can speculate about what that is and whether it is because the working mums provided positive role models for girls at a time when they are so strongly gendered,” says Dr McMunn. She added that it could also be that mums at home felt isolated and were having to cope with a dramatic transition to a more traditional role and that this may have caused significant changes in their relationships which percolated through to their children.
She has received funding to look at more recent generations of women to study the impact of working on their health and she will also look at how men's health has been affected by changes in their traditional role in the family and by them taking a more active involvement in their children's lives. “I'm really excited about that,” says Dr McMunn. “The focus has always been so much on women.”
More information on events for IWD up and down the country can be found here.