When Annette Hart left her job after the birth of her first child it wasn't because she wanted to stop working-she simply couldn't commit to full-time hours. Luckily, she found a company that afforded her the flexibility she needed to raise a family.
At the moment Annette found out she was pregnant in 2006, her excitement soon gave way to sadness when a scan revealed her baby had a lung tumour. “I don’t think anyone in my situation would be fully prepared for what happened,” she says. After a difficult pregnancy, Annette gave birth and, when her daughter was six months old, half her lung was successfully removed.
And then as she tried to return to her job in marketing, her life took another turn. During an open and honest conversation with her husband, it quickly became clear that priorities had changed for their family. “We didn’t want to put our daughter into full-time daycare. We’d gone through everything all of the surgery, all of the worry and five-days-a-week daycare just wasn’t right for us,” she explains.
But her request for a part-time position didn’t land well with her then employer. In the UK, if you have worked continuously for 26 weeks, you are entitled to ask your employer for a flexible working pattern when returning from maternity leave. But that doesn’t mean they have to fulfil your request.
"I never went into the negotiations blindly I knew in my heart of hearts that my application to go part-time probably wasn’t going to be accepted. It would be difficult to do my role part-time, I mean, you can’t launch a product three months late because you only work Monday to Wednesday.”
Full-time parentingAnnette had to make a decision. Her family had managed on one salary while she was on her maternity leave, and they could do it again.
She left her job in 2008 and had her second child a son the following year. Now with two children of preschool age, she felt her options when it came to returning to work were getting narrower and narrower.
“I’d reached a point in my career where I felt that, if I were to walk away and not come back to marketing, I had done what I’d set out to do,” she says. “So I resigned myself to the idea of a complete career break.”
But despite quitting her job to focus on her family, Annette still wanted work to play an important role in her life it was part of who she was. “One of the things you notice when you first become a parent is that you turn up to all these baby and toddler groups, and people ask: ‘What did you do before you became a parent?’ It was bizarre. It was like I had lost my identity.”
We are starting to experience a shift where work fits around people rather than people fitting around work. And it's an attitude that will attract the best talent"Annette Hart
Annette kept her skills current by volunteering and helping out at her children’s school. But in employment terms, her options were limited. “I wanted to do something that stimulated my brain cells, which had been left dormant,” she explains. “I wanted to use the same skills as I had before, but I really needed a role that provided flexibility,” she says. “I nd it really frustrating to see mums in the playground who are clearly highly talented and qualified people, but they just can’t and work that meets their needs.”
Finding purpose beyond parenthoodWhen her son started school in 2014, Annette decided to get the ball rolling again on her career and came across an advert for a Corporate Communications Manager at Siemens Financial Services in Slough. The qualities they were looking for matched Annette’s background to a tee, having worked in marketing looking after several brands.
To her surprise, the company were open to a part-time position for the right candidate. “I never wanted working part-time to be be perceived as an excuse for under performance,” she says. “But they basically said as long as I could make it work, it would be fine,” she says. “I was really taken aback by how open they were to anything outside normal office hours.”
Thanks to the trusting company culture, her managers were confident she could do her job in the time she saw fit so she returned to work for three days a week.
“Because of things like mobile phones and video conferencing, it doesn’t matter where I am,” she says. “My view has always been if you give with one hand, you take with another. My managers have been so fantastic, so I go above and beyond when it comes to my responsibilities.”
A caring company cultureAnnette isn’t an activist she didn’t want to go in and shake-up a pre-existing work culture.
She wanted to be a part of a team that understood her situation. A place that appreciated her family’s needs and respected her decisions. “I slotted right into the company’s beliefs. It wasn’t like I was trying to force something new as many of the managers have young children and knew the challenges of being a parent.”
Annette clearly thrived on the opportunity and in November 2017, after four years at the company, she was promoted to Head of Marketing. “The chief executive told me to and a way to make it happen and I have,” she explains. “If I need to work from home more, I have the right team to support me.”
Having won the same battle fought by parents the world over, Annette thinks compassion is key for companies who want to encourage parents to return to the workplace. “I have high hopes for the workforce of the future,” she says. “We are starting to experience a shift where work fits around people rather than people fitting around work. And it’s an attitude that will attract the best talent. Companies can’t continue to ignore the issue of women whose skills aren’t being utilized.”
Kissing her children every morning before they head off to school and tucking them into bed every night is something Annette never envisaged for herself as a working mother. But that dream is now daily life, and she’s safe in the knowledge that her team never question her ability to get the job done just because she chose to have a family.
Finding flexibilityAnnette thinks the tide is turning for parents in the workplace.
"More and more companies are offering creche-style facilities and dynamic working is becoming more popular," she says. Thanks to technological advancements, remote working and flexible hours are now on the rise. In 2018, a study revealved that three-quarters of UK workers want more flexible working hours, putting a progressive work-life balance above a pay rise. The issue comes back to inclusivity. "We know there's no such thing as a steryotypical worker anymore," she says. "Everyone has so much to give - it's just figuring out where the opportunities are."
Annette Hart began her career at Siemens at the start of 2014 and was promoted to Head of Marketing at Siemens Financial Services, UK in the autumn of 2017. She lives in Surrey, with her two children and husband. Find out more about working at Siemens.
Annette is a Future Maker — one of the 377,000 talented people working with us to shape the future.