Babies, Bosses and Ikea Hotdogs: 6 Things We Learned at Women in Journalism’s ‘Starting A Family’ Seminar
By Grace Holliday
24th October 2017

Having children alongside a career in journalism was the topic of our sell-out seminar on Tuesday 10 October.

Generously hosted by the stylish Neat Café inside Lululemon on Regent Street, new mum and Mail Online journalist Laura Whitcombe chaired an impressive panel to discuss the topic of ‘Work v Family: How to stay in the game‘ with 50 WIJ members .

Alison Phillips, Deputy Editor in Chief at Trinity Mirror, and Marianne Jones, editor of Stella Magazine and PA editor of the year joined Becky Barrow, news editor at the Sunday Times; Jessica Chivers, HR expert from Talent Keepers; and freelance journalist Busola Evans.

Despite coming from different career backgrounds and publications, every panelist was a true expert in their own right. Not only have they all had children while juggling careers as successful journalists, but each has come out the other side with some brilliant words of wisdom (and a few warnings!) to share.

The discussion took place under Chatham House Rules, so that everyone could speak openly.

Here are six of our top pieces of advice from the evening.

1. Returning to work can be as daunting as leaving work

Asking for maternity leave and going on maternity leave are well recognised as two seriously stress-inducing aspects of having a baby. But the panel were also keen to highlight how tough returning to work after the baby has arrived can be. The panelists talked about crying in the toilets, and as one panelist put it, thinking ‘why on earth am I doing this?’ There was a real consensus, however, that hiding this challenging stage wasn’t beneficial to anyone. “We shouldn’t lie and hide things,” said one, “if we do, nothing is going to change.”

2. See childcare costs as an investment

Childcare costs were a hot topic throughout the evening. Widely acknowledged as a potentially crippling, the panel agreed that looking at childcare costs as a long-term investment in your future career was a wise method of coping with the expense. “When I finally stopped having to pay for childcare, it was like suddenly getting a massive pay rise,” said one panelist, whose youngest child is now eight.

3. Your baby is as much your partner’s responsibility as your own

There were nods of agreement all round when a panelist said “having a baby is not just your responsibility  – it’s your partner’s also.” Not trying to be superwoman was advised, as was never saying thanks to your partner for looking after your baby. “The man isn’t ‘babysitting.’ You and your partner should be equals, ” agreed the panel.

4. Don’t rely on one carer

The topic of needing a support system among friends and family and not just relying on a paid carer was a popular one. Your career is a two-way street, your boss has a job to do and won’t have endless patience about taking lots of time off work to look after sick children, for example.

5. The workplace can be a minefield of unsupportive behaviour and bosses

Every panelist had a horror story to tell when it came to unsupportive workplaces and managers. “I took one day maternity leave more than I should have and my boss said ‘You’ve got to hit the ground running you know’, ” shared one panelist, adding that the boss in question was also a woman. Another told the audience that just five days after returning from maternity leave, she was sent on an assignment in Finland. “There is no mercy shown, it was a test, ” she added.

As for dealing with difficult employers, the panel were all in agreement that rather than having children being detrimental to a woman’s work ethic, it can have the opposite effect. “Having kids makes you incredibly focused, you just want to get the job done and leave ,” said a panelist. “We must remember that our employers are very lucky to have us.” Others agreed that they would have gone bonkers if they had given up work completely.

6. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss (and Ikea hotdogs are okay).

Despite some more serious topics and revelations, the evening was far from sombre. It seemed that every mother in the room was in agreement with panelist Busola Evans when she reminded us all to just ‘let it go’ and not to be critical of partners who are sharing the load. ‘You don’t want to know what your husband has given your kids to eat. It’s probably a hotdog from Ikea. But she’s eaten, and she’s alive, so I just let it go! If your kids go to school without matching socks? You can’t manage everything.” said Busola.

Thank you to Lululemon Regent Street and Neat Nutrition Café for hosting our event and providing drinks, and Nourish Kitchen for the delicious canapés. Thank you also to our wonderful panelists, and of course to everyone who attended.