Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Working Life: Not just any supermarket...

I'm going to introduce you to a good friend of mine.

Back in our schooldays, Christabel was always top of the class and scooped up by Cambridge University to read History. She was always the person helped me make sense of my economics homework. All those graphs!

So it is no surprise that she now works for leading supermarket and national treasure, Marks and Spencers, as their Senior Promotional Analyst. Responsible for pricing strategies and promotions, basically we have Christabel to thank for the Dine In For £10 deal.

As if that wasn't enough, she agreed to be my first interviewee and answer questions about working life from her personal perspective as a single mum of an energetic 7 year old boy.

How does being a mother enhance your work life? Being a mother really helps in managing teams and the people within teams who have different abilities and experience. I have to think carefully about how to develop them as individuals and also direct the team as a whole. There is quite a lot of overlap between being a manager and being a mother. Both roles are to develop people.

What's the best thing that M&S have done to support you as a working mum? There can be an hours culture and M&S has been very tolerant of the fact that I can't work those hours but will still get the work done. I take my laptop home and work after my son has gone to bed. I've never once felt pressure not to do that. I turn down meetings before 8.30 and after 5.30, and I've never felt that I could not do that. After all, a lot of women work there. The business would collapse without women.

What more do you feel could be done to support mothers in the workplace? I feel that as a mother, large organisations are the best place to be. First, large employers have the reputational risk if they are found to be unsupportive. Second, it is easier to absorb family friendly solutions like maternity leave, part-time work, flexible working. My view is that the Government should support small companies in being family friendly. I have sympathy for small businesses as this can be a real burden and in reality discourages them from recruiting women in their 30s.

What childcare do you have in place? My son's school offers a breakfast club and after-school club. I'm lucky to have a short commute, which means I can fit my working day into the time he is at school.

What's your best tip to working mothers? Don't let the guilt get to you because it isn't real. The research shows now that there is absolutely no damage to children from their mothers working. Historically, it is an aberration for women not to work. It was only a few decades in history that women have not worked, the 1950s really. Because before then, women worked in the home or in the fields. This idea that there was an idyllic time when women didn't work is just rubbish!

And what's your insider tip to the best product and promotion at M&S?
My personal favourite is the Goan Chicken Curry in the Modern Asian Range, and the best value promotion is usually the seabass fillets - it's really exceptional quality fish for the price.

Thank you Christabel, it's inspiring to hear someone talking so enthusiastically about a lifestyle that is often only negatively portrayed. And that carafe of wine certainly drew out some deeply held views! What do you think about the impact on small businesses? How does your commuting time affect the cost of childcare?

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