Last week, I was lucky enough to have my thoughts on flexible working covered in an 'Industry View' piece for the Your Job supplement of the Press & Journal newspaper.
Grateful for the opportunity, I attempted to write some meaningful words that would be relevant to the publication's readership within the prescribed word count.
In reality my 500 words only scratched the surface of what remains a contentious issue. Articles like this one here are shared and commented on worldwide. Clearly, lots of us have strong feelings on the subject.
So what of my own deeper feelings?
As with the newspaper article, I prefer not to focus solely on flexible working in relation to women. Men are equally entitled to this choice - and the associated benefits. And if the focus has to be on those who have children, let's talk about parents instead of only mothers.
I'm not living in la-la land. I acknowledge that it's the female of the family who is more likely to put her career on hold and "flex" to accommodate the arrival of children. That said, studies reveal that if no stigma was attached, most men would welcome the opportunity to reduce their workload to allow more time for family or other external interests. The excellent 'Half a Wife' by Gaby Hinsliff talks about this in more detail. It's well worth a read.
Government and organisational systems have a long way to go before they truly facilitate and support flexible working for both men and women. But until those systems are in place, we as individuals must continue to strive to make our work, home and family lives fulfilling. Perhaps even harder than system change, is the change in mindsets and attitudes that is required for both sexes to genuinely believe that they can achieve a work-life balance that is right for them.
I, for one, have faith in our ability as humans to facilitate this change. Many parents demonstrate great resourcefulness and creativity in finding ways to enable their families to function. Stretching budgets, splitting roles, juggling to accommodate children's activities, living off a single income: These are all challenges that families are plunged into and cope with admirably.
Having children also frequently acts as a driver for new parents to consider paths they might never previously have trodden, such as starting new business ventures or remaining within the same line of work but on a different basis - perhaps as a contractor or freelancer. Others still, with the right support from an employer, may remain with the same organisation but with a different remit or work pattern. These need not be viewed as 'second best' choices but instead as meaningful - and perhaps better - alternatives.
Flexible working arrangements are not always easy to achieve, or to sustain. Both our systems and our attitudes can be an impediment. But I do believe that a fulfilling work life should not be at the expense of a fulfilling family life - or vice versa. Individuals, families and organisations need to work together and strive to find solutions that allow all parties to flourish. This might mean opening our minds to new ways of doing things and accepting the element of risk involved.