Andrea Mara

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Office Mum stories – Deirdre Spillane

“We need to stop congratulating fathers whenever they pitch in. This perpetuates the belief that child rearing and housework are ‘women’s work’ and men are only helping out.”

Thank you Deirdre for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?

 I have a boy, who is 5 and in Junior Infants, and a girl, who is almost 4 and doing her ECCE year.

And now could you tell me a little about your job – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?

Deirdre Spillane - Office Mum interviewI am an accountant and I work in commercial finance in the Telecommunications sector. I have been on the same team for 8 years and I love what I do; it’s so varied and can be really challenging. 

What kind of hours do you work?

I take parental leave on Fridays. I was working from home one day a week also up until recently but there have been some internal changes so I cannot do that anymore.

Do you have the flexibility to work from home at night when needed?

Yes, I have remote access which is great for working in the evenings when I am under pressure. It means I can still leave work at the usual time and log back in when the kids are asleep; I don’t have to miss out on the bit of craic in the evening with them!

Do you have to travel for work?

No, never, thankfully.

What kind of childcare do you use?

The kids have been in Discoveries crèche in Shankill since our eldest was a baby. I couldn’t speak highly enough of them. The children love it there and if they are happy, then we are happy.

Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?

I run a bit and I read a lot on my commute. I used to do gym classes in the evening but they became just something else that had to be done! I am happy enough once I get at least half an hour of downtime in the evenings.

On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?

I really grappled with the physicality and tiredness and the relentlessness of early motherhood but that has (almost) disappeared now they are a bit older.

Logistics hasn’t been a massive issue up until now, as I would tick over the housework and laundry during the week. Plus, my husband is great and really pulls his weight so I have never felt I had two roles to manage on my own. However, since school entered the mix, I have found it difficult to juggle after-school activities and play-dates. Everything gets shoved to the Friday, which means a lot of jumping in and out of the car (and me getting a bit ratty sometimes).

And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?

I rarely feel guilty; working in a job that fulfils and challenges me brings out the best in me and makes me a better mother. I am providing for them and I really feel that I am setting a good example for them, particularly my daughter; children should see their mothers as individuals in their own right.

Since the kids were very young, we have also made a point of explaining that both of us working brings extra benefits e.g. holidays.

However, it is definitely challenging on the days when somebody is sick or acting up; the pressure can build really quickly and we don’t have any back-up when something goes wrong.

Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a mother to have a fulfilling career while being there for her children?

A four-day week with one day a week from home worked brilliantly for us as a family.

I really believe that a good balance comes from having two parents taking equal responsibility. We need to stop congratulating fathers whenever they pitch in. This perpetuates the belief that child rearing and housework are ‘women’s work’ and men are only helping out.

In tandem, employers need to realise that ambition doesn’t fall out of your body with the baby! I am still a great employee; give me some flexibility and you will get the return back in multiples! There are so many tools for businesses to work differently e.g. remote access, flexible working, and they all lead to more motivated employees.

If you could do any job, what would it be?

I love my job; if I could only convince my employer to move closer to my house and let me work from home once a week!

Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?

No. I could do it for a short period but not full-time. I enjoyed both of my maternity leaves but primarily because I knew I was going back to work at the end of them. I hated not having financial independence and I found it hard to define who I was for those months.

Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours, which in turn limits their opportunities?

There is no glass ceiling for women in Telecoms. The ceiling arises for anyone who wants a working arrangement that is not 9-5, Mon-Fri, in the office. I am perceived as working ‘part-time’ even though I do a full-time job in 4 days. Plus, management roles have even less flexibility so promotions are always going to be less attractive to a mother.

Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?

  1. It’s perfectly ok not to be perfect; the world’s not going to end because your skirting boards are not clean. Realise that it is ok to say ‘I need help’; to me it shows strength to say it, not weakness.
  2. Have a back-up plan for when something goes wrong (I need to take my own advice on this one).
  3. Find your tribe i.e. find some mothers that are at the same stage of parenting as you and you build a support group plus a whole new set of friends.

Any other comments?

Lots but I better stop typing now!

Deirdre I feel like you’re reading my mind for so much of this interview!

I too found that a four-day-week with one day from home was a fantastic balance for my family, and I’m sorry to hear that you can no longer do your day from home. I think people don’t realise it until they try it – a day from home can be so productive, and depending on the commute involved, can save a couple of hours of time. I hope something changes there for you.

I also very much agree with what you said about glass ceilings. In the Funds industry, that’s how it is too. There is no glass ceiling for women – no direct discrimination of any kind – at least not anywhere that I worked. But looking for “part-time” of any sort does tend to cast you in a different light.

And of course, it’s mostly mothers looking for four-day-weeks. And as you say, most are doing five days crammed into four, so it’s a win-win for the employer, who is getting all the work at 80% of the pay, and leaving the employee feeling grateful and unlikely to rock the boat by complaining.

And I love what you said about not congratulating fathers and perpetuating the myth that child rearing is the responsibility of women. I think there have been huge changes for this generation – most people I know have a good 50:50 sharing of responsibilities with their partners, but you do still hear exclamations of “Isn’t he brilliant!” from time to time, for very ordinary things that women do every day.

I love this interview Deirdre – I love your straight-talking approach, and the very positive way in which you view working. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and here’s to more flexibility for all of us who need and want it. 

And now I need to go and check if my skirting boards are clean 🙂






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