Workingmums LIVE – seminars and support

One of the highlights of Workingmums LIVE was the seminars, which were run throughout the day and headed up by a panel of experts.

The seminars were on a range of subjects, including how to seek flexible working, how to set up your own business and how to become a franchisee.

The Back to Work seminar was kicked off with a keynote address by Tom Lewthwaite, a partner at Deloitte, sponsors of Workingmums LIVE. Tom is head of Deloitte’s parents and carers network. Speakers on the panel included executive coach Katerina Gould who outlined ways of regaining confidence when returning to work after maternity leave or a career break. She told the audience that many working mums lose their confidence because they suffer a loss of identity, a change in priorities, lost knowledge in the workplace, anxieties about new and unfamiliar technologies, and excessive self-criticism.

To regain confidence, she said women need to find their identity, accept that their priorities have changed, acquire knowledge and skills, explore new technology and minimise their critical voice.

Bekki Clark, author of The Mum’s Guide to Returning to Work, gave tips on how to negotiate for flexibility on returning to work. She said mums seeking to resume their working life should:

– Be flexible yourself. ‘’If you’re asking an employer to allow you to work flexibly, you need to look at how flexible you can be,’’ she said. Could you work longer one or two days a week? Could your children go to the after-school club one or two days a week?

– Get your partner to help. He may be able to ask for flexible working. Could he change his hours for one or two days a week?

– Network, network, network. 70% of jobs available are never advertised. Speak to everybody – at the school gates, parties, etc. Think about doing voluntary work. – Hunt out part-time jobs.

– Apply for a full-time job and then negotiate. ‘’Just because you haven’t got the right in law doesn’t mean that you can’t ask,’’ she said.

Jan Ferrari, national partnerships manager, from the Consumer Financial Education Body, outlined how working mums can seek out additional financial help in tax credits. The impartial and independent organisation is to become the Money Advice Service in April and – it gives advice on making the most of your money, with free guides on money issues.

In the Working Flexibly seminar, lawyer Laura Livingstone, one of Workingmums’ experts, outlined new legislation coming into effect over the next year, including additional paternity leave [whereby dads can share the last six months of a woman’s maternity leave] and the extension of the right to request flexible working to parents of children aged 18 and under.

“Flexible working legislation is about the right to request flexible working, not the right to have it,” said Laura, who is also a working mum. “You need to think what pattern of work you want and how it works for your organisation and be prepared to be flexible if the organisation says it won’t work,” she said. She suggested doing research before putting in a request and finding out from your team what might work.

Andy Lake of, a dad of three, said many organisations still treated flexible working as an exception rather than the norm and looked on it still as a childcare issue. They therefore missed out on the full benefits of flexible working which total structural change might bring. There needed to be more emphasis, he said, on the business benefits.

He outlined different forms of flexible working – flexibility over time, place and contract and said technology was making it increasingly possible for a range of jobs to be done from home or by people, such as care workers, using home as a base. Others were working in local hubs. He advised people making flexible work applications to think carefully about how their job could be done flexibly, for instance, by dividing off tasks which could be done at home a day or two a week. He said it was worth emphasising the business benefits of homeworking, citing research showing £7K was saved per desk space not used.

He advised people to be flexible about their arrangements and to suggest trial periods to employers who might be reluctant to show them it could work. He added that the business benefits should be stressed above issues such as childcare in any flexible work interview.

Kate Grussing, MD of Sapphire Partners, a head hunting firm for top professional women, said that while many women were still worried that flexible working might hold back their careers, she was optimistic about the future. Kate, a mother of four, outlined her 10 tips for promoting your career while working flexibly. They included:

– Having a long-term plan – Being opportunistic
– Demonstrating the results of your work
– Networking with other flexible workers. “Don’t blaze a trail if you don’t have to,” she said.
– Helping others
– Not getting stuck just because you work flexibly
– Being visible – for instance, making time for coffee or lunch with colleagues
– Seeking profile/putting your hand up for tasks or being profiled in internal publications
– Leveraging technology.

The third seminar, Working for Yourself, looked at ways in which mums can set up their own business or work as a franchisee.

Sian Sutherland, founder of skincare range Mama Mio, told the audience how she had set up her firm. She told mums interested in striking out on their own that a business idea needed to be something that was either or sounded genuinely new – a good product was not enough. She also outlined the need to think about who your customer is and talked about how useful editorial coverage is to a business.

Emma Jones, from Enterprise Nation, spoke about the crucial viability of a niche idea and advised would-be business founders to use social networks, such as Twitter. She also said business owners should focus on what they do best and outsource the rest.

Entrepreneur Roberta Jerram, who runs and Linen at Home, told the audience to think carefully about what they enjoyed most and what they are best at. She said: ‘’There is only one voice a woman needs – her own intuition. Be you.’’

Martin Carr, from Exemplas, gave advice on how to look at the costs involved in setting up a new business, how to source funding and how to forecast forward and keep the business afloat. He warned: ‘’Profits are very different from cash. Most businesses fail because they run out of cash.’’

Many people who attended Workingmums LIVE, from mums to exhibitors, said it had been a great success.

Debra Williams, from Kleeneze, said interest in working for the home-shopping company had been ‘’overwhelming’’.

‘’I’ve spoken to a lot of women here today who said they have lost their jobs recently and are looking for something that’s really flexible. They want to choose something where they have their own hours,’’ she said.

Kleeneze sells products through a network of distributors and allows people total flexibility to work from home.

Sue Ardley, from organics skincare range Neals Yard Remedy, said many women had inquired about opportunities with the company. ‘’Direct selling has always been a good industry for mums in particular,’’ she said. ‘’We’ve been very busy today, but I expected this because I knew there was a high demand. People are attracted to our company because of the flexibility and its ethical approach.’’

Melissa Hollander, a mum of two, including a young baby, was in the Working Flexibly seminar and works in the retail industry. She said: “I wish I could have come to this when I had my first child. It has really given me confidence to go back into the workplace.”

Full audio podcasts of the seminars will be available on the site shortly.

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