Debra Jessett works mainly term time only as a grants coordinator, but only because she suggested her own hours. She thinks more parents should ask about the flexibility that works for them.
Debra Jessett is a firm believer in asking for the kind of flexibility that works for you. She did and she now works part time, but term time only to fit around her two daughters, aged 8 and 6. “I would definitely now say ‘would you consider’ a flexible working arrangement in the future. It depends on your work, but you might be surprised what the response is,” she says.
In return for her employer being understanding about her flexible hours, she feels her employer gets a lot of flexibility back. For instance, she will do extra hours if necessary. She also brings a lot of experience to her job as a grants coordinator at the Frieda Scott Trust in the Cumbria region.
Debra, who lives in Kendal, researches information on and visits voluntary organisations, particularly those working with the elderly, disabled people and families, to provide to the Trust’s board who decide who gets grants. Her role ensures that decisions are made on the basis of the work the organisations do, rather than on how well they fill in the grant application form. She has spent years running a voluntary project helping children with disabilities and special needs and has had experience of fundraising from the other side of the fence.
Before she had her first daughter, Debra worked full time and then went back to work on a job share, three days a week. Then she had her second daughter and decided to stop working since the bill for paying for childcare for both was very high, her job was very demanding and she felt that she could not give it the attention she had in the past. “I didn’t want to give attention to other people’s children instead of my own and I didn’t want to do the job half-heartedly,” she said. She didn’t go back to work for three years until she saw the Frieda Scott Trust job advertised as part time [14 hours a week] maternity cover. The person who she was covering for decided not to come back and she was offered the job on a permanent basis.
It was bad timing for Debra as the summer holidays were just approaching and she had not anticipated having to find childcare cover. She asked if she could do a few more hours a week in advance of the holidays so she could have time off over the summer holidays. Because of the nature of her work, she has to prepare for four big trustees meetings a year. The board decided that as long as she could work to these deadlines they were happy for her to work for a couple of weeks in the summer holidays and take the other school holidays off in return for her doing two hours extra a week during term time.
“I think it depends on the nature of the work you are doing and I was very lucky the director of the trust was open to this arrangement, but I think a lot more employers could offer this kind of flexibility,” she says. “Every time the holidays come I am so glad I have the chance to be with the children. That’s a big priority for me. Once they start going to school and if you have to put them into childcare in the holidays I feel that you can lose touch with them a bit. I love the holidays. We can do what we want.”
She adds that she had never considered that she would give up work as she really enjoys it so she is very glad that she can get the best of both worlds. “Before I had children my work was very demanding and satisfying. I got a lot from it,” she says.
Debra also has other plans. She has set up her own business as a humanist celebrant running “Inspirational Ceremonies”. These are non-religious ceremonies such as weddings, vow renewals, naming and civil partnership ceremonies. She works from home on this two days a week and does many of the ceremonies on Saturdays.
She tailors weddings to the individuals involved by talking to them and writing up their story. The work is varied. Recently she presided over a ceremony for unwedded bliss with punks and the following weekend she was at a big hotel in
Morecombe which was much more conventional.
She says being able to work part time around her business plans as well as around her children allows her to develop in creative ways. She knows other women who have more inflexible employers and agrees it is hard if you don’t have a supportive employer, but says: “It shouldn’t be so hard. Having children applies to most people.”