International Women’s Day 2021: From challenge comes change

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘choose to challenge’ and the importance of challenging perception whilst celebrating women’s achievements and raising awareness about women’s equality. ‘From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.’

As part of our ongoing conversations, this year we decided to also incorporate a couple of men who support their partners careers at Old Mill. Jon Orchard and Sam Gratton are both Chartered Financial Planners and work within our Wealth Management team, having met at Old Mill nine years ago. They now also have Henry who is four, so have been managing careers alongside family life for some time now.

Let’s hear more from Jon…

March 8, 2021

Jon, what do you think of International Women’s Day and this year’s theme?

The word inclusivity springs to mind; and that’s what I believe International Women’s Day should be all about. The equality of both women and men, that everyone is on the same playing field, no categories or labelling.

In an ideal world we shouldn’t have to challenge because inequality shouldn’t be there, but sadly we know that’s not always the case. When I speak to Sam and my other female colleagues it does feel like progress is being made, but there’s still an imbalance in some cases which is why we have days like today. We must also challenge or call out inappropriate behaviour if we do see or hear it and should try and lead by example, sharing stories or experiences to help enable change.

Do you think the pandemic has impacted the fight for equality?

Sadly I do, but hopefully only temporarily, as I feel many families may have reverted to stereotypes with the lion’s share of home schooling and childcare being directed to the women (even if both parents have jobs). However, it is fair to say that every family has had to approach this whole situation in their own way and work out what is best for them and their children. So, there is no ‘right or wrong’ solution necessarily in these unprecedented times.

How have you personally managed during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns?

Whilst I would like to think we are a relatively modern household, being honest Sam has taken on more of the childcare (in working hours), being happy to offset this by working flexibly earlier or later in the day.

In the first lockdown we tried to split our working day equally but found we both had different working preferences and moved to a timetable that was more flexible and suited us both. I also have a larger client bank, and there was a little trial and error before we found something that worked for us both and gave us each the time we needed.

How has Henry adapted to you both being at home?

We love the fact that Henry has been able to see both of us working, we believe it’s been really healthy for his perception of the world. He did struggle initially with the fact that one of us couldn’t always play with him when he wanted (!), but over time I think it helped him understand that we also both have our own commitments and responsibilities.

We want Henry to grow up learning that in our household we are all equal, and whether that’s both parents working or not, we are one team.

A really lovely outcome has been that whilst we haven’t been commuting, we potentially have had more time together as a family. When Henry has been at pre-school, we both take time out of our diaries to make sure we drop him off and pick him up together. That’s felt really special.

As you both continue to build your careers, how do you think you will manage your time and work/life balance?

We talk about this a lot, and strongly believe we are a transitional generation that can bring about change and improve equality. Old Mill has always been a progressive company and allows flexible working where possible and this has also given us confidence that we can have the family life we envisage.

Our jobs do require us to work long hours and be on hand for our clients, and we are both accepting of the fact that at times this means we eat into our own ‘personal time’. To avoid any impact on Henry this might mean us working after he goes to bed, or early in the mornings. We both want to be successful in our careers and so this is a sacrifice we’re happy to make.

We aren’t naïve though and know that there are bound to be times in the future when it is hard to balance everything. We need to be understanding of each other’s priorities and commitments and realistic with our time and efficient as possible to support each other.

Finally, it shouldn’t just always be about juggling work commitments and rushing frantically about. Doing the job I do, my clients and some of their stories have deeply affected me, and so I realise how important it is to try and ‘enjoy the moment’. So, whilst building a career is obviously important, especially from a financial point of view, it shouldn’t ideally come at a devastating cost to quality family time and outside work interests.

Of course, sometimes this is all easier said than done, but I think a lot of the time it is about having the mindset to take a step back, a moment to reflect and in a way allow yourself some time off.

How can employers help with this?

I strongly believe that businesses have a significant role to play over whether you can both have successful careers and raise a family. I believe that one of the benefits to come out of the pandemic is that employers have realised that flexible working is possible, and the impact this will have on the ability of working parents to manage their time better is massive. This should allow both parents to enjoy their children and see them grow whilst choosing to have a career if they wish to do so.

Flexible working should also have huge benefits to businesses such as retaining brilliant staff, increasing the talent pool and creating happier employees and their families.

How do you feel about Sam having the same job as you?

There are a lot of plus sides, and it is great to share in the experience together. We do have conversations around work a lot, especially now we are both working at home together, but we do try our best to keep that separation and enjoy our ‘home’ time. Sam is really modest about her career, but she definitely has the skills and determination to make it a successful one whilst also being the Mum she wants to be to Henry.

Finally, what are your five top tips for balancing work and family life?
  1. Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself and those around you as to what your goals and hopes for the future are. It’s okay to want a family and a career – and it’s equally okay not to!
  2. This may mean you have to challenge the stereotypical ideas those around you have of parenthood and working. The world we live in is changing quickly to making balancing parenthood and a career much easier, but we have found that people’s perceptions haven’t always been quite so quick to reflect this
  3. Once you and your partner have decided what you would like for you and your family, have an open conversation about how you see this working. You may have different ideas of how work / family life will work for you both, and so it’s key to keep communication open
  4. Be realistic about what is required from you with your job. Flexible working has made having a balance between work and family life much more manageable, but you may find that depending on your job roles and demands on your time, parenting responsibilities still naturally have to fall on one person at times
  5. Don’t forget though, you are a team and within your family everyone is equal.

It’s been a really interesting conversation, thank you for talking with us Jon.