"A little support goes a long way"

with Jessica Heagran, founder of Careers After Babies

Show notes:

If you’re about to go back to work post mat leave, or have just returned to work, this one is for you.

Jess Heagran, Founder of Careers After Babies is on a mission to create a cohort of world class employers for working parents. If you haven’t read the Careers After Babies report, I highly recommend it. It is mind blowing. I think we knew, but we didn’t ‘know’, I didn’t realise just how widespread the lack of support for parents, and especially mums is. So if you’re having a bad experience at the moment: you are not alone, as Jess says ‘this is a universal mum thing’. A little bit of support at work goes a long way.

I loved Jess’ words about becoming a mum – it’s like a whole new planet that we didn’t know existed. But it has given her incredible and work applicable skills: she’s a better line manager, and I agree, I am a better (nicer!) person too since becoming a mum. We talked about identity and what this complete change means for us as individuals but also in work.

Jess was really honest about how hard she found it when her first business didn’t ‘just take off’ like all the business stories she was hearing around her. And even now, despite the huge viral success of the Careers After Babies Report, going back to employment is still a real possibility, like it is for any self-employed person.

Jess mentioned some really useful resources and had some great advice for mums having a bad mat leave/return to work experience, listen to the end to catch it, resources listed below.

Resources Jess mentioned:

Pregnant then Screwed
Working Families




About Jessica Heagran

Jessica Heagran is Founder of Career After Babies.

Jessica’s first business ‘that works for me’ she founded after a quick and extremely badly handled return to her very senior role in a finance company at five months postpartum which lead her to quit her job

‘That works for me’, was a platform to help parents find part time and flexible work, which meant she spoke to thousands of other women who had similar experiences to her own.

This led to Jess realising she could not understand why this wasn’t being spoken about – so Jess interrogated, analysed, and drew many conclusions from 848 women across the UK from all industries and she released the ‘career after babies’ report in November 2023.

It exposed what many of us would expect on this podcast here. The uncomfortable truth.

Not only all of this but Jess has four children of her own, three daughters and a son who she wants to work in a different world to the one she did.

Jessica Heagran’s Links:

Instagram (Careers After Babies)



Hello. I’m Caroline Marshall, and welcome to Bump to Business Owner the podcast speaking to mums in business. You. I’ll be in conversation with some of the most inspiring women and mothers in enterprise about their journey, how they created their successful businesses alongside raising their children and what that looks like in work and family life.

Caroline (00:28):
Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Bump to Business Owner. I’m your host, Caroline Marshall, and today I am welcoming Jessica Heagran, the founder of Careers After Babies. Jessica’s first business That Works For Me she founded after a horrible return to her very senior role in a finance company at five months postpartum, which led her to quit her job. Her first company was a platform to help parents find part-time and flexible work, which meant she spoke to thousands of other women who had similar experiences to her own. This led to Jess realising she could not understand why this hadn’t been spoken about. So Jess interrogated, analysed and drew many conclusions from 848 women across the UK from all industries, and she released the Career After Babies Report in 2023 exposing what many of us would expect on this podcast here, the uncomfortable truth. Not only all of this, but Jess has four children of her own, three daughters and a son who she wants to work in a different world to the one she did. Wow. Jess, thank you so much. I think we really do need to talk about how you achieved all of this while raising four children.

Jessica (01:34):
I would say a very supportive husband.

Caroline (01:40):
Is he self-employed as well?

Jessica (01:42):
Yeah, he is. So when we had our first daughter, he was working full-time in a really intense role and after about three months of not seeing her, he just came home one day and was like, I can’t do this. He really missed her. So he quit at that point and he went self-employed. We’ve always sort of worked in a bit of a seesaw way actually. So I was employed, he went, he built his business up and then I quit employment and went, and there has its pros and cons where I think most self-employed people will tell you it’s a bit of feast or famine at times. But the benefit of that is that we get to work around the children, we can be there for them between those critical hours of between four and seven. And then we, four nights a week we sit on the sofa next to each other, not talking, working on our laptops.

Caroline (02:29):
Oh, it sounds similar to mine and me and my husband, and he’s not self-employed at the minute has dreams of doing things. But I think that’s what’s always really helpful is just both of you being really it of like, okay, at some point Jess is going to be off doing something big and I’ll be at home and then vice versa.

Jessica (02:48):
And it works for us both. I mean, from day one, I always said to him, look, this baby that is growing inside me is our baby, right? That’s not just mine. Just because. So I was always very kind of transparent about how I wanted us to parent from that perspective, which he was always in agreement with. We were both quite open about the fact that I was the much higher earner at that point and I’d really invested in my career and got quite a senior position quite young, and he was still, he’d changed a couple of times, so we’re still sort starting out in many senses. So yeah, we were okay with that. It meant that when I went back to work, back to employment the first time around, he was able to stop that job that he was in and like I said, start up his own business, which meant that when we went through the tough times with the nursery sickness and all that type of thing, he was there to pick up the pieces.

Caroline (03:41):
That’s so good to hear that you got that positive side from it because I’d love to chat to you more about your return to work and how that kind of felt for you, because fellow mom who returned to work very quickly, and I think my thirst thought when I come across someone like myself like you is did you get quite a lot of judgement from this outside of work as well and told that, oh, you won’t feel that way once the baby comes along. I’d love to know how that experience was for you.

Jessica (04:08):
Yeah, do you know what, before I had her definitely. And I remember my boss saying to me at the time, Jess, I think you’ll feel differently, but if that’s what you want to do, then do it. And they were kind of supportive from that perspective. And I don’t remember it being a massive thing from outside work. I think I’d always been such a career girl that nobody was, no one was really surprised. The only person who seemed surprised about how it all went to be honest was me. Everyone else was just like, well, yeah, I think maybe I’m one of those people who can’t always be told things. You

Caroline (04:45):
Have to. Yes, yes, I relate to that.

Jessica (04:50):
There wasn’t a huge amount, especially from family of them saying do it differently. I think they will kind of, she’ll do what she wants to do anyway. So yeah, that’s how it pan out. But I think most people are, weren’t they just absolutely the Lord by motherhood? I didn’t love pregnancy, but I think there was an end in sight for that. So it was just a case of head down and get through it. But yeah, I wasn’t expecting to feel the way I did. And actually I often question if I had gone back into, I guess just to give people the context a little bit. So I was a director of strategy and distribution for a big insurance company had worked. I was the only female member of the team. I was the youngest I think in the whole business by some distance. And I’d worked long and hard to get there and to get to that position.

And I just thought that that’s what I wanted. And I kind of questioned whether had my return been smoother and had I not felt all of the pain and upset and distress and everything that came with it, then might things have gone differently? I dunno, could I have found a way to make it work? I think we’re talking nine, 10 years ago now, which is I think it is a very different landscape and it does sound like a long time, horrifyingly, long time, but it doesn’t feel like it. But I think even pre covid post covid, I think the context of work is quite different and the conversations are certainly different. Or is that just me being caught up in the bubble of what I do? Never quite sure.

Caroline (06:27):
Thank you for bringing that up. I do think because I’m in that world as well, but then the more I speak to women and a lot of my friends have had children in the past few years, and don’t get me wrong, some with had great experiences. One is currently having a second baby at a company she’s been with and they’ve just told, she looked at their new policy and it’s way better than with her first. And it’s a great policy. So it is change in certain companies, but plenty of industries. And I think actually that kind of brings me on to a point I was going to mention is that talking about how it didn’t go well for you, actually a lot of women that come on this podcast that have NDAs and so I know their story but I can’t bring it on the podcast, which is sad and they don’t feel, obviously they can’t talk about it. But I do wonder, I think there’s definitely change in some industries, which is great and let’s carry on with that, but are we in a bubble of trying to make change and trying to talk about it and then there’s whole industries not like this?

Jessica (07:28):
Yeah, I think so. I get direct messages on LinkedIn every single day from women having bad experiences. So I’m not blind to the fact that it is not that this isn’t an issue and actually there is no way that I would have scope for doing the things that I’m doing now if it wasn’t an issue. It still is massively, I think what is different is that there are a tranche of organisations who acknowledge it and genuinely believe in inclusivity and the value that every individual brings to their organisation and therefore do something about keeping them in. And I think that’s the bit that I don’t know, did that exist before to this level? Probably not because I think actually diversity and inclusion, if you just look at the, I saw some stats not long ago actually on the explosion of that as a job title 10 years ago, having a head of diversity wasn’t a thing. Now actually you are the exception if you don’t have somebody who’s focusing on this sort of thing. So there’s definitely been a journey there, but we’ve still got a long, long way to go to get this right

Caroline (08:37):
And which is why you exist and yeah, essentially why 10 years ago businesses like yours didn’t exist. So that is the positive we can absolutely take from this. And I actually have a hard relate if things hadn’t gone so badly at my employment role and then also been handled, so would I have left and well, I didn’t leave, I was made redundant, but when I have started my own business kind of thing or just cracked on and just carried on. And I think especially as you said, your husband could do the nursery sickness stuff, they just think, I mean women who before us did that, didn’t they? And do you feel that perhaps could have been your case?

Jessica (09:18):
I dunno, it’s impossible to say, isn’t it? There should have would’ve been a thing, but I think the thing that I do know is that there were difficulties from both sides. So I quite often talk about being the only female member of that team, made it exceptionally difficult, perhaps just perceived difficulty from my perspective of being able to talk about it. So I didn’t want to be the woman in the corner who’s weeping about not seeing her kid all the time or crying about the fact that my boobs are leaking onto my work shirt feeling about all of those things that are really very normal for you as a mum. I just struggled to reconcile this work, Jess, with this mum, Jess, that I hadn’t really got my head around yet. And I think that’s taken me a long time to kind of reconcile those two characters into the person that I am today.

And I know a lot of people talk about being their authentic selves and stuff, which I used to not really understand what that meant, but I think actually I now interpret it as being who you actually are. So I’m both of those individuals and what Jess and I am mum Jess and all the other versions of myself, but I now present as one individual as opposed to this person over here and this person over here and a lot more confident in that. But that’s taken me a long old time to achieve and I think everybody goes through that transition at different speeds with different challenges. And I think something that organisations can do is facilitate that transformation and make that easier by having the right support in place. Because I think we’re all, I always describe it when you first find out that you’re pregnant and you suddenly, I always describe it as I opened this door one day and on the other side of the door was a whole other planet that I just didn’t know existed until I fell pregnant. And all of a sudden you’re just aware of this whole new world of things. And maybe I was particularly, I dunno, self-obsessed pre becoming pregnant and just didn’t really look off and around very much. But to then try and find my place in that space and who I wanted to be and how I wanted to do things, how we wanted to parent together and that type of thing was just an absolute minefield for me. We probably gathered up, I’m a massive overthinker about these things, so they’re contemplating things too much.

Caroline (11:42):
No, but me too. And I’m like, oh yes, I relate to this. I got pregnant untimed and I think a huge part of that was I wasn’t ready for this door to open and I took the test, the door had been opened and I was like, where am I? And then it took, I say until last year, so five years later to be like, oh, here I am. I know where I’m now.

Jessica (12:05):
So you constantly hit reset as well when you have another child. So I’ve had four children in the space of seven years, so every time I kind of started to feel like myself again, I then got pregnant again. And it’s just this constant sort of up and down and this is the first time I’ve got to two years after having a baby and I’ve not had another one. And actually you’re like, oh, do you know what I do? I think it takes a massive amount of time to feel like you again, but then it’s not the same you as it was before. So yeah, it’s just this whole new space and this whole new you and building your confidence back up and that it’s tough.

Caroline (12:39):
And putting it in your example that you’ve had four kids in seven years and do you think it’s because a lot of people now change jobs every two and three years, which is great, different careers, different jobs for everyone, but businesses don’t feel they can or now if we’re talking about this awareness that you need to support women through this transitional change they’re going through that they don’t really have the time for that. For example, I was working for a startup, very much profit driven and it’s like, well in two years we want to be here. Do we have time to support transitioning mums?

Jessica (13:13):
Yeah, I totally get that. Yeah, I think there are two schools of thought. So there are the organisations out there that I’ve already mentioned who value the individual and what they bring to the organisation know that they’ve invested time in you and are prepared to wait and are willing to work around you at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I always tell this story and I hope they never listen to the podcast, but on a Friday, so I work Monday to Thursday and on a Friday, but I get to be that stay-at-Home mom for the day and we go off and we do a music group and I hang out with three other moms who are all stay-at-home moms. So we joke about me having this secret life Monday to Thursday, so every so often I’ll send them something that I’ve done and I did a talk at Google HQ for the Happiness Index recently and it was recorded, so I sent them the recording and I sort of laughed and said, this is what I’m doing when I’m not with you girls.

So one of them sat and watched it with her husband who is a finance director in a boutique consultancy, I won’t say any more than that. And he watched it and he’s like, yep, love what she’s saying. Kind of totally get it, but really everyone’s replaceable, aren’t they? So what’s the business case for it? And that for me was the nugget of the absolute other end of the spectrum because actually if that is the mentality of an organisation, everyone’s replaceable and it doesn’t matter whether it’s you or whether it’s someone else sat in your shoes, that’s just, you are never ever going to get that support. But I guess what I’m here to say is the ones at the other end of the spectrum and there are a lot of them, I think it’s just a case of finding them and those employers that do think very differently to that are shouting about it and helping them profile their brand.

So the types of organisations coming through the careers after babies accreditation for example are you’ve got Paramount in the film industry, you’ve got Kia and the automotive industry. We’ve got IMA home search laboratory in the marketing space. There’s lots of student unions actually really interestingly. So we’ve got Greenwich Student Union, Gloucester, Lancashire, a couple of others. There are pockets of these organisations that genuinely believe in supporting working parents, genuinely believe in inclusive environments where everybody brings a value to that organisation and being there for the times that matter because at the end of the day, 85% of people will become parents. So actually if you’re going to, from an organisational perspective, if you’re going to look at supporting people through a journey, this is a very wise one to start with. Otherwise the costing of attracting new people is obviously a big driver, but actually why wouldn’t you want people in there that have relationships and established and have delivered for you

Caroline (15:56):
And can bring something new once they become parents, which we know is the thing.

Jessica (16:00):
Absolutely, yeah. Which yeah, a massively underestimated or undervalued thing, how many more skills do we learn as moms? I think I’m just an all round better person for becoming a mom than and

Caroline (16:12):
Definitely nicer.

Jessica (16:15):
Yeah, totally. I mean I’m a bit more tired but ..

Caroline (16:20):
Yeah, definitely more tired. Nicer even when tired is a real skill.

Jessica (16:26):
Yeah, exactly. And a much better line manager actually I think is a real not talked about thing. My ability to relate to people in different circumstances was in tenfold by being a parent than before.

Caroline (16:39):
And it all starts I guess with these small organisations and the whole point is then we start to see improvements, growth there and then there’s more of a business case in organisations where they aren’t like this. And then you are also raising a future where they just have these core values in setting them that you support working parents.

Jessica (16:57):
Yeah, I mean I always say my mission is with Careers after Babies is to create a cohort of world-class employers of working parents. And what I mean by that is let’s get those organisations that are really good at this and let’s learn from each other and let’s showcase what they’re doing and provide the best thought leadership to then inspire that next generation. So we’ve got a larger business offering where we accredit them and then we’ve got a smaller business membership as well. So we’re saying to those smaller businesses come and learn how to do it, kind of embed it all from day one. So it’s not then this big difficult transition that you have to do later on to try and fix things. I think a lot of small business owners will tell you it’s just not something they think about until someone turns around that they employ and goes, Hey, I’m pregnant. And then they’re like, oh God, what do I do?

Caroline (17:46):
And that’s what happened to me and it does not feel good to be the woman where they’re like, we need to bring in a policy. Here’s what stat back pay looks like. And you’re like great, underwhelming.

Jessica (17:55):
I’m quite often asking you to go and do something about it as well. So there’s quite few organisations I’ve spoken to where it’s the woman who’s like, oh, I’m pregnant, it’s a small organisation, they don dunno what to do with me. And that really sticks with me as you being in a really vulnerable time in your life when actually you want someone to hold you a bit and say, Hey look, we’ve got this. One of our themes within the accreditation called Empathetic Leadership and another one is consistent nurturing support. I believe what you want when you are, like I said, going through that vulnerable period of saying we’re starting a family is for your organisation to say it’s okay, don’t worry, I’ve got you. You’ve got a job to come back to. You’re going to have financial stability, everything’s going to be okay. What you don’t want this then to go, I dunno what to do with you. I’ve not come across this. Can you go and do some digging? And like you say, those two emotions are very different and I think most women will tell you very much which camps they want to be in.

Caroline (18:54):
Yeah, like I said, it’s opening that door and it’s like, oh I’ve just discovered all of this. Oh wait, now I’m responsible for it. I remember my company, they were like, oh, we want you to be the flagship of how well we’ve done this. So I felt this pressure that I had to go back well even when it was not being handled well and it was like as women we can already do stuff like oh it’s my fault. Kind of talking to ourselves, can’t we? And just to go back then a bit on your career journey and when you’d gone back to work, how long was it before you left and went self-employed between or how did that happen?

Jessica (19:28):
I went back five months after my eldest was born and I think I lasted about, I’m just trying to work it back from the age gap between them. So I think I lasted probably about eight, nine months maybe. And I was in tears most days. So I’d come home absolutely sobbing. I supposedly did four days a week, but there was always calls that I’d have to dial into on a Friday morning. My baby was very, I don’t even know how she knew to do this, but from a very, she’d be really stroppy with me basically. It would’ve nothing to do with me all day. It would take me all day Friday to get her to like me again. I’d be with her Saturday and Sunday and then I’d off Monday to Thursday again and she’d be livid with me I found.

Caroline (20:11):
And so Friday was your hardest day basically trying to get a baby to like you.

Jessica (20:15):
Get to be my friend again. And then I got the Sunday night blues were really real, I was doing lots of travelling and I just found it really, really tough. And then in the end I said to my husband, look, we were going to have a second one fairly soon, let’s just do it now and this time I’ll take a year off. Luckily the maternity policy was good, I’ll take a year off and in that time I’ll figure out next steps. And during that time figuring out next steps meant quitting. I just couldn’t face going back. I think that the issue then was that, as I said, I was quite senior to trying to find a job. Everybody has a different balance. For me, working about three and a half days a week is my ideal because then for I’m doing half a week, half a week, working half a week, full-time, mummy, trying to find something that came, anything close to that at the level that I was looking at pre Covid was just nigh on impossible.

And I think I had a couple of conversations and just thought this isn’t worth it. And I’d always had this, so both my parents were self-employed, had been doing my dad’s books from the age of about 11. So I think I’d always had this in the back of my mind at some point in life I will set up my own business and I decided to set up a platform to help try and find parents. So my thinking was always, if you’re a small business you need a high level of skill but not necessarily on full-time hours. So if I can match up mums who have a high level of skill but don’t have any hours to give with these businesses, then this will work amazingly. So I went into business with a friend of mine and we launched this platform and built up quite a good brand, won a couple of awards and that type of thing, but it launched a couple of weeks before the very first lockdown.

So our first year, whilst everyone was talking about flexible working, nobody was spending any money. It was our first business that we made numerous mistakes along the way as you do, but you live and learn. And then I think if, again, being hard on myself, looking back on that journey, we were distracted perhaps by trying to be something we weren’t. So some bigger organisations approaching us and saying, oh we quite like what you’re doing, would you work with us? And then finding ourselves, trying to find people for very random jobs all over the UK where we might not have had representation. I think we were kind of distracted by that in the midst of it all I had just before we launched the business, I had my third baby and then two years in I had my fourth baby. So we kind of made the business sort of work till then. But I think the reality of it was me being drawn more to supporting businesses with bigger solutions on this sort of thing and finding it much tougher than I thought. Anyone in recruitment hats off to you. People are not very nice to recruiters. I found that side of it quite tough.

Caroline (23:22):
Literally had a conversation about that with a business owner yesterday about who provides recruitment.

Jessica (23:27):
Yeah, they’re so tough and so thick skinned and I wasn’t really set up for that. That’s not the world that I had come from. So if anyone was ever small, businesses were absolutely amazing. But I think as like I said, kind of distracted by bigger organisations, you very much, whilst I saw it as a diversity and inclusivity play organisation very much as a recruitment piece. And then when you were asking them to spend money sort of saying, well actually I can spend this amount with you or I can spend this amount over here where I get access to a much bigger pool of candidates. We were continually losing out. So yeah, I started to do more supporting organisations on fixing some of the underlying issues rather than focusing on that. And then the story goes, I was invited to talk and I wanted to take with me some data that obviously told the narrative around what I saw happening to women and I, I couldn’t find it.

So I put a survey out thinking I’d get a small number of responses, actually got loads and loads of really rich data. So I wrote the Careers After Babies Report, which was published, it went viral on LinkedIn. It was absolutely incredible. So it was used, data’s been used all over the world and still it still gets multiple downloads a day of very kind of fortunate from that perspective. And from there just loads of organisations got in touch saying we can’t believe this data, it’s absolutely awful. What can we do to fix it? So I started to, I guess with my strategy and diversity hat back on, just started to build up that view of what could look like interviewing hundreds and hundreds of businesses to find out what they were doing and why they were successful and talking to lots of parents still. And yeah, that’s how the Careers After Babies framework was born. So now we can assess organisations against where they are, we report back to them on how things are in their organisations and then we work with them to roadmap into accreditation. So it’s about genuinely transforming businesses to become better employees at working parents rather than ticking some boxes and giving them a badge.

Caroline (25:27):
And I love that. Thank you. I’ve downloaded the report myself. I was interested, it was eyeopening because it was like it what we knew, but finally there was data and which is what matters to these organisations. It it is all about the data and they could say, oh because parents don’t want to work here. From that perspective, I’m sure there’s many that have tried that route around it

Jessica (25:51):
And I think that was the biggest thing. So lots of organisations will say that moms don’t really come back to work.

Caroline (25:57):
Yes, it’s putting the blame on us again, it’s us not being ambitious. That’s the issue.

Jessica (26:03):
Whereas actually we found 98% of moms want to come back to work and 86% of them would choose to work three days or more. And then I think it’s still 52% would want to work four days or more. So actually like you say, it takes that off the table. That’s not the issue, that’s not the challenge. We do want to come back to work. I think there’s a stat that says something nice. I think it’s 74% of families in this country need two parents to work.

Caroline (26:26):
I actually have that stat written down here and I wanted to talk about that. That stat blew my mind. I think the whole thing, circling back to the judgement , going back to work quickly when I was on timed and had stat map pay, I’m like, do you guys know my financial situation here and going to tell me how much it costs and what the long-term future is me and my husband have put together with our financial goals? And that stack would be something I could throw out.

Jessica (26:56):
And just like you said, it’s things that just aren’t, the way you’ve put it is exactly right. It’s the things that we knew but we didn’t know. And I think that’s what’s so shocking about it and why it resonated for so many people was that actually, oh my god, it happens. I always talk about how people knew that it maybe happened to them and maybe it happened to their friend and maybe it happened to their sister and they’re, but still it was just us. So to actually go out and have nearly a thousand women consistently tell you the same thing because the stats, they’re quite extreme. It’s not like 50 50 on things. It is 98% women want to work, 87% of women can’t make full-time work alongside. These numbers are high and they’re consistent across all areas of the uk, across all industries, across all of the different intersectionalities. So this is a universal mum thing and I hope that’s what it brought to the fore

Caroline (27:56):
And it makes it a parent thing when you’re saying 74% of families in the UK need both parents to work. And it’s absolutely right. I remember reading years ago that we now base our mortgages on two people and until we have children, we base everything, most of obviously I don’t know stats on this, but that’s just the norm. It’s two people getting a mortgage. You do your bills, you do your spending money, everything like that as a couple with two incomes and then you have kids and you have more outgoings. So you’ve got childcare and everything that comes with kids and then one of you can’t work in the same way.

Jessica (28:32):
Yeah, the stat that we found was that so 74% of women are earning less or the same as they did before they had children like 74%. So three quarters of us end up earning less and we’re doing so much more. I also feel a need just to call out quickly here, so I’d love to do more on single parents. I think absolute hats off to them. How the hell do you do it financially, physically, any of the ways. I spoke to a lady yesterday who was a single mom of five children that she had to make work and it blows my mind. It’s like you say it’s two parents is tough enough, but doing it on your own is so hard.

Caroline (29:12):
Yeah, I think, and actually my mom was a single parent and I think when you’ve been brought up with that, it makes you understand so much more the importance of individual financial wealth and not just wealth but health. Let’s say financial health. For me it might be wealth but not for everyone, but just that important piece of like, well you don’t really know what’s certain in life, especially with redundancy to come to either person kind of thing. But it is that importance of knowing that these women are on a back foot and then something could happen and then they’re that sole provider and they’ve had years out of work. I still see posts all the time of people who are like, I’ve not worked X, Y, Z babies, all of that. And they want to get back into the work and they’re like, I dunno what to do.

Jessica (29:59):
And the other thing that happens I think is you change as a person. So actually to think about going back to doing the exact same thing that you did before also doesn’t feel right. And I’ve had this so in between the businesses thinking what am I going to do money wise? We bought the house that we hope to stay in if we can afford to stay in it long term. But you have that other then was like, well maybe I should go and get a job and maybe I shouldn’t pursue careers after babies because financially it might not be the right thing to do. But actually what do you do? So you look back at your skillset, you look back at the role that you had before and you look at the things you’ve done since and it doesn’t all necessarily correlate to something obvious by yourself actually.

Well that’s where I should dive direct my attention. And I think that’s really tough as well as well for me, the coaching thing is massively important and beneficial and different types of coaches for different conversations. I think if you are a returner out there looking to get back in, there are so many amazing resources out there and this is the type of thing we’ll add to our parents based on the website actually. But around who can you go to talk to to help you figure some of that stuff out. I’ve been really fortunate in previous times in my career where if I’ve been thinking about changing direction, there’s been someone I’ve been able to go to who’s done some good skills mapping exercises and I definitely came close to it last year. I think if it hadn’t been for the way this report landed and took off, then I might be doing something very, very different now. Fingers crossed it will grow at the rate that it’s looking like it might and I won’t have to, but it’s still, I think for anyone it’s still a real possibility that something like that could happen at any point.

Caroline (31:42):
Yeah, thank you for being so open about that. I think there’ll be a relief. I think sometimes you can put people on a pedestal like careers after babies report went viral, you’ve got some amazing brands interested working with you, but you’ve still got to keep your feet on the ground and think, right, okay, hopefully I can stick with this but I might have to have a change.

Jessica (32:05):
And it’s really hard. Certainly the first time around with that works for me found that the only business owner stories I was coming across were the ones that said, oh yeah, my business just took off. And there was I having a daily battle of literally what I felt like pushing water uphill to have some of these conversations thinking, well hang on a minute. What everybody saying to me, this is a great idea. And I have mums coming out my ears saying thank you, we’ve been absolutely screaming out for this and yet it’s not working. And I think if you’ve been successful in employment and then you find yourself in that situation, it’s really, really hard. And I really felt that lack of, I dunno other stories out there of people saying that a similar thing had happened, which then means when you come to think about your options.

So when reality dawns one day and you’re talking about what do I do? Do I close this business? Do I not? Do I go and get a job? Do I start something else? It makes it that much harder because almost you’ve got nobody out there that you can look to say, actually I’m not on my own. And the feelings of being a failure that come with it. I’ve had quite a lot of coaching over the last few months and really recognising that one journey coming to an end and a new one beginning and the difficulties of those transitions. Again, I think maybe it’s something that I’m on my own struggling with kind of these moving from place A to place B, not at all and getting my head straight with that. But I think yeah, there’s nothing more important than going out and getting some, if you are like me then going out and getting some support and getting you through those because it’s quite a lonely place otherwise. And you can have feelings about it that you almost don’t realise are there until one of those times where you look back and say, actually how do I feel about that? And realise how much it took out of you. So I’ve bowed from the day I said I was going to set up my own business that I’d always be brutally honest about the journey because I think that’s what we need to hear. We need to hear that it isn’t always rosy and it doesn’t always take off from day one. It’s tough.

Caroline (34:04):
You have seasons, you lose life seasons, they have business seasons, you lose clients, you have heard laughter hard and it’s so true. And I love your point on coaches there or having or businesses you guys having coaches affiliated to you for businesses as well. I think that was never, I had no idea these coaches existed back five years ago. I just wasn’t in that space. And then when I finally found it or I found one, they were just like, yeah, I mean we can’t afford it for you, but we’d love their details so we know future. And I was like, oh thanks. Okay. And maybe a business coach could have helped with all the feelings that I needed to.

Jessica (34:45):
Absolutely. And it’s so important I think particularly in the uk we sometimes look at these types of things as being quite American and therapy speak and that type of thing, but there is a reality about your career is such a big part of what you do and you spend so many hours at work that it is back to this identity thing, isn’t it? Inevitably it becomes caught up in your identity of who you are and what you are about. And I think lots of us need help figuring that out sometime. But I was saying because I was quite senior, I was lucky enough to have a career coach for a period of time, which is how coaching came to mean something and it was absolutely invaluable to me. So I think that like you said, it’s not until you’ve used it or you’ve been exposed to the benefits of it that you think, oh actually that might be a good place to start. I think if coaching isn’t something you can afford, then mentors can be great.

My only kind of note of caution on that is somebody who isn’t impartial will come at it very much from their perspective and their journey. And some people are great at not doing that, but others not so much. But again, there are some great mentoring networks out there. There’s mental moms which are absolutely brilliant. So they, particularly for women returning from maternity leave or after a return break, they will match you up with someone else in a similar industry but in a different company. So you’ve got someone that you can go to talk about the difficulties of returning and that sort of thing without it feeling like you are undermining your credibility at work.

Caroline (36:11):
I love that we need to share that away because that would’ve been another useful tool back in the day. But I guess that’s it when you talk about it, when you say you were in a leadership position and I was in a startup middle management kind of area, and I think that’s something also really felt as well for the leaders there is this coaching. You’d experience coaching because you’d been in a director role and that’s what I felt I had all the ambition just wasn’t there yet and I felt there was that real missing ground on. I’d love your thoughts on this from interviewing women because just bringing thinking of this now, I had this real middle ground where I was like, well I don’t fit in with the directors and stuff and they will know that straight away, but I’m ambitious and want to keep that where’s my space kind of thing. And it felt like it was just expected there wasn’t going to be a space for me over the next few years let’s say.

Jessica (37:06):
Yeah, I think I was talking about how the inequality of female representation at leadership is directly linked to having children. So we know this and you’ve just said it so you kind of reached that certain point, wasn’t quite sure of next steps and then it probably coincided with you then deciding to have children because for most people on that sort of linear career path, that’s exactly what happens and that’s when the timing falls in terms of, I think I was quite fortunate in that I had a really good sponsor throughout my career, so he placed bets on me and put me into positions that not a lot of other people would’ve done. And I think that came with pros and cons. I was very much thrown in at the deep end and had to hold my own in front of more rims of 50-year-old men when I was 27 than I can possibly possibly count, which is really hard trying to get those people to take you seriously in a male dominated insurance environment.

But equally it toughened me up and it made me be able to hold my own in conversations and that sort of thing. The other thing that I was always really open about was my desire to move on. So I don’t think I ever spent more than two and a half years in a role, which I think is fairly typical for people moving fairly pastly through their careers. And I always have this, it takes me six months to learn a job, six months to get good at a job and then I’m brilliant at it for a year, a year and a half and then I’m not, I’m bored now, let’s move on. And starting those conversations as you’re coming towards the end of that second year. And the other thing is I think we weigh ourselves down with fear and particularly with women are coming to in the minute, we weigh ourselves down with that fear of the unknown and change.

So my husband works in the headhunting space and he’ll say men are easy if I wave a big enough check in front of their face, I can entice them to go anywhere. Women, not so much. Women want to know about what’s the culture, what’s the environment, where am I going to sit? And I think, and I’m talking quite university here won’t apply to everybody, but in the main where we consider a lot more factors than just the what’s my financial paycheck going to look like at the end of it. And I think that’s probably because the environments are generally a bit harder for us to operate in. And I think when you then throw in things into the mix like, oh hang on, we are thinking about having a family at some point in the next few years, therefore what’s the maternity policy look like?

What are the flexible working options? If you are thinking that far ahead, that then adds another layer of complexity which makes it difficult. Then when you come out of the other side of it all it’s then is this an organisation that I can progress in as a parent? So have they got this? And they order that actually they’re bringing not only bringing their parents back for maternity leave, but they are able to then continue with their career progress. And again, some organisations great at this, a lot of them just stop and they just write people off, right, you’ve had kids now, so that’s it. You stop. That’s sort of the end of the journey and that again is something another one of our themes and careers after babies is called parents are Progressing and it’s really about helping organisations help their parents get a handle on this and thinking once they come back to work, well actually how do I start thinking about my future and my fulfilment in my career?

It might not be an immediate thing now, but actually still making sure I’ve got an eye on it. I dunno whether we’ve got time, but there’s this, I’ll just tell you very quickly. Yeah, please do. There’s this amazing story about a lady at Axo Smith clients, I met her in event last year and I was talking to her about the inconsistency and line managers and they’re basically the ones that make or break your experience depending on what you have. And she said to me, oh I had this incredible line manager during my pregnancy. So she said she went off on work, she had been part of a team who were developing a medication for migraine and she was the assistant team leader and she’d been in that role for ages and her next move was very much the team leader for this medication development. She fell pregnant, went off on maternity leave, was off for eight, nine months, came back into the role and within two weeks the team manager said, right, I’m moving on to a new project, it’s your role.

She’s just like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. The baby’s just gone into nursery. I’ve just had to him, I can’t possibly get my head around trying to do something new. And this guy said to her, you can, you can and you will and I’m going to support you through the journey. I’m going to make sure they maintain all of your flexible, they’re going to carry on with the coaching, but you’ve got this, you can do this. And he helped her through that interview stage and she got the job. So within a year she’d got a promotion and she’d got her baby and she’s eternally grateful to this person of doing it. I know such an amazing story, but one that is so he didn’t have to do a lot other than stick to his guns, support her through it and give her a little bit of confidence to get her through that. And now she’s really happy. She’s got a baby life has settle back down. Yeah, it’s challenging. Any new job is challenging but just what an amazing example of what a little support goes such a long way.

Caroline (42:10):
Yeah, just using his privilege and kind of being aware of it to support someone else and someone who literally said I can’t and you can. Oh I love that. Thank you for sharing that because it is that with line managers, which is a whole other area we could go on, but why also supporting parents is great, which we’ll do another podcast on that. Progressing parents was it was that I love that

Jessica (42:33):
Progressing. Yeah.

Caroline (42:34):
Yeah, there’s so much to take on that. But I also love delving a little bit about the discussion of how do you do it and you mentioned mommy day, I have a mommy day as well. It’s on a Wednesday, it’s my mommy day. I felt that was easier

Jessica (42:48):
Break up the week, I get that. Yeah,

Caroline (42:51):
About normally shit hits the fan on a Friday or a Monday, so therefore Wednesday is perfect.

Jessica (42:56):
Good one. Yeah.

Caroline (42:58):
So how it does on paper it sounds like ideal because your husband’s also freelance as well, but you have four children, which it is double the amount of mind but apparently triple in reality probably is what I’m guessing.

Jessica (43:13):
I dunno, I don’t think there’s much difference between having three and four to be honest, other than the logistics. Yeah, it is a lot on our house ridiculously hectic. But we have a few ground rules. So we split the drop-offs and pickups evenly. We’re both generally both there apart from odd days for the breakfast chaos, getting everyone out the door and then we try and both be around for homework dinner time as well. John will do a day in a day in London sometimes, but he won’t be but tends to do it a day a week. But on the whole, we’re both in it together. So if you ask any of the school teachers, they’ll say they see us 50 50, it’s interchangeable. They still always pick up the phone to me first when something goes wrong, which really annoys me, especially if I’m off for a day, but we’ve not quite conquered that one yet.

But we’ll get there and we do bedtime together. I know, like I said earlier, fortunate A that I have a partner but B, that he is in this as I am, but there’s no way that we can have four children and two businesses between us if that wasn’t the case. So my kind of words of encouragement to a lot of women, because I’ll tell a lot of people and they’ll go, oh my god, did we ever have that conversation? I’m not sure we did. We just sort of fell into this. Which I think is what happens, but it’s never too late to pause and have that conversation about, hang on, how are we dividing this up? Particularly when so many organisations now are much more accepting of dads playing a different role in their children’s lives and that’s what they want to do. So with the uptick in share parental leave and dads doing more flexible working, I think that’s absolutely a conversation that we should all be having

Caroline (44:56):
Making that space. I think somewhere I’ve heard it’s making that space in the home because outside of pregnancy, breastfeeding, it’s just then a lot of the stuff is home admin rather than just the quality time with the children. It’s the logistics.

Jessica (45:11):
Absolutely. It’s the packing the bags, it’s the getting the shoes ready, it’s making sure their uniforms out. It’s the packing lunchboxes and snacks, the musical instruments, all of the stuff. And also then the little things like having the apps on the phone where you do reading records and that type of thing. So I got, last year I remember getting really across to my husband, he just didn’t load the app onto his phone and I was just thought, well I’m speaking at an event up in London, you are then sending me a note to say, oh, can you update this? I don’t load that on me. I don’t need that. Today’s your day, your thing I should have added. Actually he has Tuesdays, that’s his day with the new one. He does Tuesdays, I do Fridays and then the other three days we sort of do between us.

Caroline (45:54):
I love that. Thank you for sharing. I think it’s just, like I said, it’s important. Not everyone does it at the start, but have it at some point you can have it now even if your kids are in their teens and have a reflective conversation I guess and be like, what wasn’t she quilt during this time? What didn’t we do so great.

Jessica (46:12):
It is about setting an example to your children as well. So our kids know that daddy’s around as much as mommy and it means that I’m not always, I mean still a lot of the time it’s only me they seem to bug in the toilet, but still that knowing that daddy’s there to answer questions as much as I am and I think that definitely helps me mentally not feel so responsible for everything on my own all the time.

Caroline (46:36):
And it’s showing different traditional jobs. My husband does all the cooking and so it’s kind of giving that representation that both of the boys are, I mean I should do better cooking, but I don’t, it will be expected that yeah, maybe in their homes they won’t do all the cooking but they will be able to do the cooking.

Jessica (46:52):
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Caroline (46:55):
Can you share what’s next for career after babies? Have you’ve got anything coming up you’d like to share?

Jessica (46:59):
So we are doing all sorts. It’s a pretty busy year for us. So we obviously launched the accreditation last September. We launched a small business membership in December. We’ve got a parent space launching on the website shortly. So like I said, you’ll be able to access roles with the employers that are part of careers after babies. And this year for me is really just about talking to more organisations and getting more of them on board with the accreditation. I think this is something that is needed for organisation and needed for us as working parents to be able to know that if we go for a job with an employer who says they’re going to do things, that they’re actually going to do it and that their culture reflects it and that’s what this external benchmarking will enable them to do.

Caroline (47:46):
Love that. Thank you so much. And finally, so as someone who’s been through it and if there’s anyone who’s going through it now and they’re experiencing a really tough return to work in an environment and just wanting to quit everything, do you have any advice you can share with them from your experiences?

Jessica (48:04):
Do you know what it is horrible. I think the first thing is you are not on your own. So many of us, so many of us go through something similar and it’s horrible and it can feel really lonely and rubbish, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s lots of support out there. So I think if you are pregnant or when maternity leave Pregnant and Screwed are amazing, if you are back in the workplace and struggling with flexible work requests, then Working Families have a free legal helpline where you can talk about your flexible working arrangements. ACAS are brilliant, I think one of the things we tend to shy away from when things don’t go away is submitting grievances and following an official process. But actually I think if more of us did that and organisations are being confronted with it more and more, then they might actually start changing their behaviours and just reach out to other moms, talk to people because I think that finding some solace in other people having gone through the same thing is really important and you need that support,

Caroline (49:07):
The power of community and knowing you aren’t alone. Thank you so much Jess, and thank you for all the work you are doing. It’s super appreciated here and I really look forward to seeing careers after babies and your journey in 2024.

Jessica (49:22):
Amazing. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Caroline (49:24):
Thank you, Jess.


Thank you so much for listening to Bump to Business Owner. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. Please do rate, review, follow or subscribe wherever you’re listening. It really helps us to connect with more mums and business owners. You can DM me at Bump to Business Owner on Instagram and I’ll be back next week.