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Forget ‘supermums’, we need real working mothers.

Forget ‘supermums’, we need real working mothers.

Tina.Freed / 17 Sep 2015

In the first of a new series of columns written anonymously by a senior woman working in the European financial industry, Helen Highwater explains why the top role models for work-life balance are often the worst role models of all.

As I read another profile of a City ‘supermum’, I wonder whether it’s just me who is getting slightly tired of this type of media profile of women who have it all.

These women are full-time working mothers that work in the City and are at the top of their profession. They have children, a career, a great reputation and have proven that sexism in the City is on the way out.
When you delve into these profiles, you read that they have never taken a day off sick, they travel constantly, entertain clients on endless nights out, didn’t take maternity leave for their last child (or in some cases for any of their children) and are proud to say they have it all.
However, when you probe further the reality of how these women do it, nine times out of 10 they have a “house husband”, or a partner who doesn’t work full-time (or certainly not in the City) or they outsource childcare to a small army of support – family, nannies, au-pairs, or frequently a combination of these, and sacrifice their relationship with their children for the sake of their careers.
I used to work with a very intelligent woman who never saw her children at the start of the day as she left for work so early, never took them to school and then, by the time she got home, she had missed their bedtimes. This is not finding the balance between working and motherhood in my view.

Is this really evidence that feminism has won? Do women have just as much opportunity to succeed in the City as men, or is it the case that in order do this you have to give up everything else up to be successful?
In my view, nothing has fundamentally changed. Where is the acceptance of working mothers or the softening of the ridiculous attitude to the obsession with spending long hours in the office? There needs to be an attitudinal change towards women who come back after having a baby and prove that they can do an excellent job.

However, they do need some degree of flexibility to juggle home life and a career in the City. I believe that in the past 20 years, there have been great opportunities for women in the City – if they have been prepared to act like the men around them. I have never encountered true sexism – the sort that might have prevented me from a great opportunity.
Unfortunately I can’t say this hasn’t been at the risk of sacrifice or a huge amount of juggling between home life and work. What I would like to see now is fewer profiles of women who proudly state they have a great career at the expense of their children, and more of actual working mothers who show how it is possible to manage both.

There is life and a career to be had before, during and after children – we need to help and mentor more women achieve this.

Helen (not her real name) is a senior woman working in London’s financial industry

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