Don't work to rule (and have the Scooby DVDs on hand)

It is possible to work part-time as a PR leader, says Mary Whenman, managing director, corporate, financial and public affairs at Weber Shandwick. You just need a watertight plan.

During a recent #CIPRChat about the gender pay gap, the talk turned to flexible working and part time vs full time. I tweeted that I’d worked part time since 2004, and now run a team of 60. I was asked by Stephen Waddington, president of the CIPR, "What’s the magic?"

I am not sure there is any magic, but this is how I have managed a part-time career and motherhood over the past ten years.

Be ruthlessly realistic. You can’t have it all: in 2004 when I was pregnant with my first son I was a director in a global agency running a corporate team of ten. I knew that I would not want to return full time after having my baby and only wanted to work three days a week. I was also realistic to know that you cannot run a business unit on three days a week.

Consider a career as an interim. So I left and became an interim consultant. I worked three days a week on fixed-term contracts lasting anything from three months to 22 months. I set my own hours and was in constant employment for six years, apart from two breaks for maternity leave. Second time around, I had twins.

Don’t lose sight of what’s important. There were times when it was frustrating to read in PRWeek about former colleagues and people who had worked for me rocketing further up the career ladder. However, I never lost sight of the fact that I was working interim because I wanted to spend more time with my children in their pre-school years. This is a decision I will never regret and I am pleased that I can look back and know that was the right choice for me.

Accept that four days a week means full time. After six years as an interim, Grayling approached me to do a maternity cover, which became a permanent job, as managing director, corporate and financial, managing a team of 25. This meant that I needed to move up to working four days a week. Once you work four days a week, you basically work full time, but get paid for four, which I accept. I had Fridays at home with my children, and, like most working mothers, I flipped open the laptop during my evenings and worked a few hours a night.

Be flexible. I now work 4.5 days a week. Friday mornings I work from home and log off around 1pm to collect my children from school. But we never really log off in PR and this is the key to working part time. The most important thing is to be flexible. If you are flexible with your employer you will get it back in spades. If you work to rule, your career will stagnate.

The biggest test of working part time came for me came when my previous agency was appointed by a fashion retailer to manage the media in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013. I set up and led Grayling’s global Crisis & Issues Management practice so the call came to me. The collapse happened on Wednesday 24 April. We were appointed at 12 noon on Friday 26 April – one hour before I was due to log off and go and collect my children from school. By 1pm I’d set up our crisis response team and we all got on the first briefing call with the CEO and her board of directors. Needless to say, I never logged off that day.

Our call finished at 2pm, which gave me just enough time to collect my oldest son from the school bus and my twins from their pre-school. I Berry. When I got home just after 3pm, I put Scooby Doo on the TV, gave the boys lots of snacks to keep them going and did not come off my laptop until midnight.

My husband arrived home from work that evening to a scene straight from Lord of the Flies. The house was a compete mess as the boys had been roaming ‘feral’ and were surrounded by the detritus of crisp packets, half-eaten fruit, toys and DVDs. They’d not had a hot meal or a bath and were still up late on a Friday night. They’d been watching TV for five hours solid and were slightly deranged.

However, I did lead and manage that crisis and the client never knew – but if you’re reading this Beth Butterwick, you do now.

So, if you want a career working part time, ‘the magic’ is to be flexible.

Top ten tips for working part time
1.    Be clear about your priorities at home and at work
2.    Be clear to your colleagues about your days and hours and generally stick to them…
3.    …But be prepared to be flexible when the situation demands it
4.    Put flexible childcare in place, including a back-up plan for emergencies
5.    Block your non-working days out in your diary so meetings cannot be booked in without your permission
6.    Get remote working with email and server access set up from home
7.    Work more hours than you are paid to get the work done. Don’t work to rule
8.    Focus on results and delivery
9.    Accept that you will need to throw large amounts of your salary at childcare
10.    Share the childcare with your partner

Mary Whenman is a mentor on PRWeek’s Mentoring Project. (#prweekmentoring)
Follow her at @marywhenman

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