Finding ways to help modern women fulfil all their roles, both in business and at home, is a passion for this hard-working mum.
Jessie Jarvie knows more than most the pressures on the modern woman trying to juggle a professional career with motherhood. But there’s something infectious and optimistic about the way this mum of one dealt with her own return-to-work dilemma. Rather than put up with the status quo she led the charge to create a childcare facility on-site at her workplace, Orion Health.
But she didn’t stop there. Inspired by her own experience, and that of her colleagues, she not only holds down a job as a corporate lawyer at Orion Health, but is wife to Paul and mum to 16-month-old George and she has also opened a consultancy service, LouLaMere (loulamere.com), which assists other mums transitioning back to the workplace.
Oh, and did we mention she’s pregnant with child number two? We sat down with Jessie and asked her where this seemingly boundless energy and drive comes from.
When did you first start thinking about how you would balance your career with your family?
Jessie: When Paul and I got married and I started working a lot harder (unfortunately child bearing years and long hours tend to coincide!) I did wonder how we would manage any future children. Wonder turned to worry when I fell pregnant, particularly when I started to search for the right childcare for our little boy. I was surprised at the lack of information available for working mums on the ‘how to’ of returning. Instead, there was a lot of unhelpful commentary on the mythical ‘work-life balance’ concept and opinion pieces on whether we can truly ‘have it all.’ All of this just added to my compounding emotional baggage.
As a working woman without children it’s hard to future proof for managing work and a family – you simply don’t know what’s coming until you’re in the thick of it. I think we should focus on future-proofing the workforce to better support mums who are re-entering. It’s certainly easier that way!
What does it mean to your family to have a childcare provider on-site at your workplace?
Jessie: Three months before I was due to return to my desk at Orion Health, the management team gave me the go ahead to set up an on-site childcare service. Milky Way opened in March 2014.
I can’t begin to explain how life- changing this venture has been. Pick ups and drop offs, visits between meetings, shared lunch breaks, day time concerts… it’s enjoyable and enabling. Best of all, George knows I am right next-door if he needs me (or if I need him!). Milky Way is different to the traditional childcare model as we encourage parents to come and go throughout the day. Typically daytime visits can be disruptive for young children, because when they see mum or dad appear they assume it’s home time. We hope that by knowing their parents are right next-door, we will create a culture of resilience among the children as parents come and go throughout the day. We had a cupcake day to raise funds for the SPCA recently; the kids came into the office dressed up as animals and sold their baked goods. It was an hilarious and chaotic affair and everyone had so much fun. I’m really proud of what we’re doing and feel like we’re one step ahead of what I hope will become a new childcare movement in New Zealand.
What was the inspiration behind LouLaMere?
Jessie: I founded the service after noticing a gap in the market. I act as a childcare broker to present mums with the best childcare options, and a support service and knowledge sharing resource for first time mums dealing with the chaos that ensues when they first return to work.
How do you manage your family life when you’re working four days a week and have your consultancy business as well?
Jessie: I have a wonderfully supportive husband and a strong family network. But not all of the mums I work with are as lucky as I am in that respect, so I always make sure there is a back-up plan in place for when they get stuck in a meeting or when they need some time alone.
For me personally, it’s about organisation, which I admit was a learning curve in our household. I find it easier to order groceries online and cook one meal to last two nights, that sort of thing. The LouLaMere work has a real feel good factor and I get a kick out of helping other women through this difficult time in their lives.
What do you to do get some me-time and couple time?
Jessie: There’s not a lot of that at the moment, which is to be expected. I love OHbaby!’s article 100 Ways To Take Time For Yourself(ohbaby.co.nz/parenting/for-mum/time-out) which reminds me that 30 seconds is all I need to find some me-time.
Recently Paul and I had a weekend in Queenstown, just the two of us. We celebrate our anniversary each year by taking time out of Auckland to stand still together. We met when we were at high school so I figure we’ve enjoyed our fair share of couple time over the years!
What do you see as the biggest obstacle for mothers re-entering the work place after having a child?
Jessie: I think the constant focus on equality makes returning to work difficult, because total equality encourages employers to ignore reality. I would love to say that the workplace is entirely equal opportunity but it’s not. Women bear children for nine months. We go through the physical process of giving birth; some of us breastfeed. We can’t do all of this in a meeting room. We do have to take time away and deal with the difficulties of re-entry.
Parenting is absolutely a shared responsibility, but there is a reason why it’s women who are asked questions like “How long do you think you will take off?” and “When do you think you will return?” It’s because we are blessed with the insane ability to grow a baby.
LouLaMere helps women craft lives for themselves that encompass their ambitions to be good mothers and successful career women. When you are a working mum, one can’t be without the other.
Why is supporting women in their return to work good for both business and family?
Jessie: The majority of skilled employees in the workforce today are also parents with childcare needs. Over the past 20 years the proportion of preschool children from two parent families where both parents work has increased dramatically. Not only are more parents working, but they are also spending more time at work. I think that any smart employer knows that if they want to retain their talent they need to provide a flexible work environment that allows for the needs of working parents.
It’s not rocket science for employers to realise that having employees who reach their full potential is good for business. Supporting women returning to work after having had children is part of this puzzle. We know that female inclusive institutions are more innovative, more enduring, have more competitive advantages and use available resources more efficiently.
Often, we spend time focusing on the perceived barriers to re-entry into the workforce for working mums, but what about the enablers? Our changing technological world means we have smart phones and round the clock email access; couple that with forward-thinking companies which provide benefits such as on-site childcare and you are enabling re-entry of the growing talent pool of working mums.
What would be your number one piece of advice for mothers about to return to work?
Jessie: Don’t be so hard on yourself, particularly when it comes to this mythical ‘work-life balance’ thing. I think striving for balance in this way creates more stress than it’s worth. Women constantly beat themselves up, believing that if they’re being a good mum, they can’t possibly be doing a good job at work; if they’re successful at work, they mustn’t be seeing enough of their children. Neither of these things is true.
I think the most important skill a working mum can have is to realise when things become too imbalanced. That’s when she needs to sit down with her support network of people who care about her, and her children, and make changes.
Photography: Anna Kidman, annakidman.com