Q & A: Zoe Burns-Shore asked Zoe Burns-Shore, Head of Marketing and Marketing at First Direct, about her career and her views on women’s career progression. How many children do you have and what are their ages?

Zoe Burns-Shore: Stanley, 12 and Ada, 9.

WM: Do you consider your career trajectory to have been a smooth one? eg Did you go back to work full time after maternity leave? Have you taken longer to get to where you are now as a result of having children?

ZBS: I think it naturally takes longer to get to senior position when you have two children – it would be very difficult for those two years out not to have an impact, not to mention the juggling that you have to manage in the early years after going back to work. That said, I’ve been very lucky to have employers who have been willing to be as flexible as possible so I think it’s been as smooth as I could have expected.

WM: How long have you been at First Direct and how family friendly are they as an employer?

ZBS: I’ve been at First Direct for just over four years and yes, I think they are very family friendly, to the point that we have a crèche on site. I have people in my team who started at First Direct as crèche babies! We try and be as flexible as possible around picking up and dropping off times, as well as offering flexibility in contracts around days to be worked.

WM: What support does it provide for dads?

ZBS: The same as it does for mums – we have a parent approach to family care.

WM: How do you think it can be made easier for dads to work more flexibly/share caring responsibilities more?

ZBS: For me this is as much about a societal change as it is about what individual employers can do. There is still a ridiculous stigma attached to dads staying at home with the children. There is so much more flex in paternity care now, but still not enough people take it up – which is often to do with inequality in wages, making it harder for the man to give up work.

WM: What kind of support do you have at home eg do you share the home side of things equally with your partner?

ZBS: I am incredibly blessed to have the best possible support at home. Thankfully my partner has none of the stigma about staying at home and we recently took the decision that he would give up work entirely to concentrate on doing his own thing and being there for the kids. We’ve been really amazed at how many people instantly assume he MUST be looking for another job and can’t possibly be considering not having a 9 – 5 in the long term. When the children were pre-school and we both worked we had a brilliant nursery we used which was the children’s second home for a few years.

WM: Have you come up against any negative perceptions of working mums in your career and if so how have you overcome them?

ZBS: Yes, but weirdly mainly from parents who don’t work, who can often have a really judgemental attitude to those that do. Lots of helpful semi-snide comments like ‘oh it must be awful not to see your kids grow up’ or ‘do you think your kids suffer from not seeing their mum’. I did used to react to it, throwing in things about gaining independence from an early age and really valuing the time we do spend together. But now I just smile. There are also always a certain breed of misogynist who believe that people are incapable of being a parent and having a career – to be honest, they are not even worth the time to bother with.

WM: How do you switch off?

ZBS: I’m a passionate advocate of meditation and meditate twice a day, come hell or high water. It gives you a real sense of perspective and I would never be without it. I can’t recommend finding that hour a day enough. I also love to read and cook, especially reading about cooking.

WM: Do you take work home with you?

ZBS: Yes. I often make the decision that I’ll leave work early to see the kids and do some work after they have gone to bed. I think it’s all part of having a flexible approach to working and family life. I do try not to work at a weekend though, that is family time.

WM: How important are role models for encouraging women to go for more senior posts?

ZBS: I believe they are really important, but I don’t think they have to be female. Seeing anyone in very senior posts offering the type of flexibility and parity you need to be a senior working mum is just as important as seeing women get those jobs.

WM: Have you got or had a mentor or sponsors? Have you acted as one for others?

ZBS: Yes and yes. I really believe in mentoring as a way to learn more about yourself and to challenge yourself. I always have a mentor and at least one mentee at any one time.

WM: What do you think works in terms of getting more women into senior positions?

ZBS: For me it has to be about genuinely offering the flexibility to work around family life and ensuring women are paid the same as male colleagues for doing the same job.

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