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Dana Mellor was a jockey and then trained jockeys to adapt to a world away from the race course. Now she is turning her sights to women who have been out of the workplace for a while.
Dana Mellor used to be a jockey. She says she was groomed for the job from a child and competed professionally for seven years until she decided she wanted to do something different. Thankfully she had a law degree to fall back on, but she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after the years of enormous self discipline involved in being a jockey. “I felt there must be other jockeys feeling the same way,” she said. So Dana created her ideal job, as an industry funded career coach for jockeys facing the end of their career. Since becoming a mum, she has seen many mums who have taken time out of work, face a similar dilemma and she has decided to use her experience in coaching to set up a business to support them.
Dana, who has two sons aged 5 and 3 and lives in Hungerford, says she “hugely underestimated the impact of children”. “I went back to work very early after I had my first son thinking I would carry on working as before,” she says. “I did a four-day week working from home and had a lot of support from my manager. My first day back I had to travel to a team meeting which was a two and a half hour drive away. I’d bought different clothes as my ordinary work clothes were still too small and as I was still breastfeeding, I’d arranged to take my son and his childminder with me. I received a phone call that morning from a colleague to ‘warn’ me that the rest of the team were reticent about my returning to work so soon. I was disappointed and felt under pressure to prove myself in a way I had never felt before. I was determined to prove them wrong but I was absolutely exhausted.”
Dana says that before motherhood, her job as a career coach for the racing industry was her priority and she had willingly accepted the long hours culture. After 10 years working full time, she took a sideways step into a more local role and soldiered on until she had her second son, when she realised that the whole thing wasn’t working. After some research, Dana decided to do a business start-up course at the University of Bath. It was a government funded course, encouraging ‘women into enterprise’ and a free crèche was provided. “There were a lot of like-minded people in the same position as me,” says Dana. “I got all the support I needed.”
While she was doing the course she had the idea for her current business, a career coaching service for returning mums called Bumpy Business. “They had a lot of the same issues as jockeys looking for a second career. They were at a crossroads. They were asking themselves ‘what else can I do?’ They had lots of skills, some wanted to retrain and they had a lot to offer, but they didn’t necessarily recognise this,” she says.
When Dana was coaching jockeys she would ask them to focus on what they could do. For instance, they are good at taking in detailed information, fast. At the racecourse, they are often meeting the horse they are riding for the first time and have only 30 seconds with a trainer before a race to discuss tactics. They have to use their own initiative, make decisions under pressure and being self employed, manage their own time, self promotion and finances. Good communication skills really help to build rapport with trainers and explain a horse’s performance after a disappointing run. Many jockeys have to work hard at this. With evening as well as day race meetings and a seven day week during the summer months, stamina is a given. Early morning starts can be followed by a return home after midnight. As they have to ride at a certain weight, many are following disciplined diets. They have all these skills, yet many are “convinced that all they can do is ride a horse,” says Dana.
She thinks many mums do not recognise the skills they have as a mum. “I have become a more versatile person as a result of having children,” she says. She adds that being able to listen, prioritise, negotiate, lead, make key decisions and be creative are key parenting skills. “Mums are often sleep deprived so working in very challenging circumstances. This makes them more resourceful, the barriers are raised and this needs to be recognised. There is a lot of untapped talent which can be used to build the confidence of mums and employers,” she says.
Bumpy Business runs 1:1 mentoring and workshops covering career change, writing your CV and preparing for interviews. Dana says the response has been good to date. Her clients include jockeys’ wives and ex-wives and to widen the field she is running workshops at a local Sure Start Centre, a nearby Summer School and is establishing contacts through social networking sites. While she wants her business to develop slowly, she hopes to be working with employers as well as mothers by the time her youngest son starts school in September 2010.
Although Dana admits that now may be a tough time to look for a job, she says it is a good time to prepare for a career change or a return to work. “It is a great time to be finding out what we want to do so that, once the economy picks up, we are ready.”