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March 8th was the first ever workingmums LIVE, a unique one-stop shop for all things flexible working.
Over 3,500 people pre-registered on the website before the event at the Islington Business Design Centre in London and the centre was buzzing with activity.
Many employers had stands, including John Lewis, Santander, H&M, Hobbs, UBS and sponsors Deloitte. Their aim was offer job opportunities to and meet up with talented and experienced professional women who want to work flexibly or in a family friendly way.
There were also a host of support and advice organisations on hand, including Working Families, the National Childminding Association and The Daycare Trust and for those keen to retrain, Home Learning College led a section on courses and training.
Workingmums.co.uk’s founder Gillian Nissim welcomed everyone to the event, sponsored by Deloitte, and introduced TV presenter Fiona Phillips who gave the keynote speech this morning about her experiences of balancing a challenging job, two small children and two parents with Alzheimer’s.
She said that she had always worked and started at the age of 11, running a paper and a pools round. “I always bought my own clothes – nothing was handed to me,” she said. “At the time I thought it was very mean, but now I see it was the most brilliant way to have been brought up, never to expect anyone else to help you out.”
Fiona said she had had a terrible time at secondary school, suffering from bullying and had gained only one O Level out of 10. However, she transferred to a sixth form college, retook her O Levels and A Levels before eventually going on to study English at university.
She decided to go into journalism and began working for radio stations before making it to regional tv. After a stint at Sky, she was offered an entertainment slot at the fledgling GMTV.
After 12 years on the GMTV sofa, she decided to give up the early mornings when the toll of looking after family and working became too much.
Fiona also told the audience about her battle with GMTV when she fell pregnant with her first child. “You’ll have to get off the sofa – people don’t like to see pregnant women” she was told by a tv executive.
She had to fight for maternity pay and GMTV wanted her back at work just three months after giving birth when she didn’t want to leave her new “wonderful cotton wool world”.
Fiona’s session was followed by a series of seminars on everything from starting a business to negotiating flexible working, with top class speakers giving advice. Microsoft and Lloyds Bank also gave sessions on starting a business and CV and Interview Advisers provided a free CV clinic. Franchise Creation Station ran information sessions and there were free massages and makeovers on offer as well as a mobile creche.
At the Lloyds Bank/Microsoft sessions, advice was given on everything from writing a business plan to using Microsoft software to run a business.
Trish Clarke, regional manager, Small Business Banking Lloyds TSB, said: “There’s been a lot of interest today in setting up small businesses. Mums are my favourite audience – they talk to each other and they have all the right skills for running a business.”
The seminars were very well attended. In the flexible working seminar, lawyer Laura Livingstone, an expert on the Workingmums.co.uk panel, gave advice about new legislation coming in this year, including additional paternity leave and the extension of the right to request flexible working to parents of children under 18. She and other speakers on the panel emphasised the need for people requesting flexible working to present a strong business case for what they wanted and to be prepared to negotiate.
Andy Lake of Flexibility.co.uk said many organisations now used flexible working, but on an individual basis. They were not reaping the benefits of wholesale structural change, such as reduced overheads. He cited research showing £7K was saved in costs for every desk space lost due to homeworking.
Kate Grussing, MD of Sapphire Partners, a headhunting firm for professional female workers, outlined 10 tips for keeping your career on track while working flexibly. These included staying visible, having a long-term plan and networking with other flexible workers.
The event coincided with the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.