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Journalist Sarah Willis on why more and more women are coming back into the workforce after a break to have families.
There have never been more women active in the workforce. The female employment rate hit a record high of 67% in December, while according to think tank Demos freelancing among mothers has risen 24% in just two years.
So many women are choosing to return to demanding careers after taking time out when their children are young that it’s become known as making a ‘mumback’.
High profile mums like the singer Lily Allen and Ruby McGregor-Smith, chair of the Women’s Business Council, are showing that going back to work after having career break doesn’t have to mean settling for a part-time job far below your skill level.
Despite this, a recent survey showed that 70% of women are worried about the consequences of taking time out of the workplace. So what’s the real story for mothers who are looking to make their own ‘mumback’?
While some of the factors which contribute to women returning to work are financial, it’s not just that many mums need to bring home the bacon and look after the baby. Personal and professional fulfilment ranks highly too.
“I always had a strong work ethic and enjoyed running my own business before having children,” says Alison Shadrack, who after a successful career in e-commerce and marketing started Adia PR and now employs other mums in her company. “I was really missing the working life and wanted to achieve some personal business goals again.”
This is echoed by Julie Cox, who during her career as an actress starred alongside Elijah Wood, Sir Derek Jacobi and Vanessa Redgrave, before becoming a mother and subsequently starting her own online retail business, Luke Drew This.
“I went from a successful career as an actress surrounded by talented and inspiring people to a very rewarding, but honestly quite mundane life of routines set around my child’s needs. Starting my own business has rekindled a mental spark I felt I had lost, I am definitely a better mum now I feel inspired again,” she says.
When it comes to the fiscal aspect it’s not just a tale of mums needing to support themselves. Cox mentions that she didn’t want to be financially dependent on her husband, while one of Shadrack’s motivations was to build a safety net for her family, even though her husband was able to support them.
When you need £340,000 in your pension pot to get a modest income in retirement, a degree costs £53,000 and house prices are rapidly rising, returning to work often makes financial sense in the long-term, allowing a couple to create a nest egg and protecting against the threat of unemployment.
By far the biggest challenges facing mums looking to stage a ‘mumback’ are childcare and lack of flexible working patterns. Childcare costs have risen by 27% since 2009, which can make working unaffordable for many women, and although employers must consider flexible working requests, there is no obligation to grant them.
“My partner is away a lot and without family nearby or affordable childcare, running a business from home that I can work around school hours is the only solution,” says Cox.
However, joining the mumpreneur ranks can mean long and irregular hours, even if it fits in better with the children’s schedules.
“I sometimes have to do some work over a weekend which impacts on family life,” says Shadrack, who also fits in work in the early hours of the morning.
Both Shadrack and Cox’s stories show that ‘mumbacks’ can be very successful, even when a completely new career direction is taken.
“I was worried that my business would not be financially viable,” says Cox. “I’m approaching the end of my first year, and not in huge profit, but I’m now confident it’s worth it.”
For Cox the successes aren’t just financial, but include the satisfaction of learning a host of new skills, from web design to marketing.
“I set myself what I considered an ambitious monthly income to achieve for the first six months and I am now exceeding that monthly income by 300%,” says Shadrack. “I didn’t imagine I would need to hire anyone in the first 12 months and after six months I took on my first account manager. Elle is also a mum and is working with me three days a week.”
Shadrack hopes to employ more people in the future, including offering flexible and part-time opportunities to other mothers.
While money is a significant motivating factor in ‘mumbacks’, after speaking to mothers it’s clearly not the only one, with professional satisfaction, increased confidence, the opportunity to learn new skills and mental stimulation also being important.
*Sarah Willis is a freelance business and finance journalist, covering a range of subjects including personal finance and business start-ups.