Mandy Garner is a mother of four and is also editor of Workingmums.co.uk , a website that has both guided and influenced me throughout my own career. Having been interviewed for Workingmums.co.uk recently, I really wanted to find out a little bit more about Mandy and her own life as a working parent.
She started her career in journalism working for the writer’s organisation, International PEN, researching attacks on freedom of expression around the world. Mandy has since worked for a number of different media, including the BBC and the Times Higher Education Supplement. Here’s what she had to say on working from home, pursuing a career and juggling four kids.
As editor of Working Mums, what is the best thing about your job?
There are so many things. One of my interests when I started the job was finding out what choices other women had made after having children and what motivated those choices. I was fascinated by all the possible alternative ways of doing this working parent thing. I’ve been able to talk to such a huge number now – and to dads too. I also get to interview academics and policymakers and to find out from progressive employers what they are doing to get the most out of their employees. I love writing about policy developments and new research, given that is my news background and given it’s a very lively area to cover these days, and I like being able to put people in touch with experts who can give them sound advice about their rights or suggestions for where they can go next jobs wise. All in all, the job is very varied and I can’t think of many aspects I don’t enjoy.
What does a typical working day look like?
There isn’t really a typical day, but most days are fairly full on. I start early, checking emails soon after I get up and also making sure I’ve covered the main news of the day relating to working parents while simultaneously making the packed lunches and breakfast. I then do the school run and then I have six concentrated hours of getting my head down and getting as much done as possible. I may have interviews lined up or conference calls and then there is a lot of writing up, whether news, features or reports. I also do the PR for Workingmums so I might have to do an interview or find case studies. I then break for the school run. I have to pick up from primary school then go to the secondary school which is 20 minutes away so I treat the school run like my lunch hour. It’s great to have a break and it’s a good time to chat to the kids because they are trapped with me in the car and have to talk! They’re also much more lively in the afternoon so I get to hear about all the latest failings of every single teacher. Then I check emails again and catch up on anything urgent before making dinner. My partner gets home at around 6pm and I go back to work while the kids are doing their homework, unless they need me to talk about algebra or why time is a theoretical construct [my eldest daughter is always trying to justify her tendency to lateness]. Then I get stuff ready for the next day, eg, school admin and do bedtime stories with my youngest and we chat about sums and the Great Fire of London which he thinks is still raging. I then talk to my partner [briefly!] before checking emails again because a lot come in at night, particularly emails to our experts.
What is your biggest challenge as a working mother yourself?
There are a lot of challenges, but the main one has to be logistics. I spend a lot of time on logistics, back-up planning, crisis management, whatever you want to call it, whether it is sickness, inset days, meetings scheduled for odd times when no-one can pick up the kids, etc, etc. With four children, there always seems to be a parents evening or an inset day in the offing.
What or who is the driving force behind your career?
That’s a difficult one. I haven’t had a very linear career. I started in human rights, then went back to do local journalism, then hopped around a bit in health, social affairs and education, did some book editing, worked as a press officer, organised debates. I’ve always gone with what I thought was interesting at the time. I guess the main thing is that I am interested in understanding how things and how people work and making connections between different ideas. In terms of Workingmums, I am more driven by my own personal experience of lack of support and seeing what happened to women around me after they had children. I’ve channelled my anger into trying to do something about it.
Have you always known that you wanted to work in journalism? Is a career plan important?
I was always interested in writing, but also in acting. I did an acting course before I trained as a journalist. I think the same things apply to both careers – an interest in people. When I trained as a journalist some people had a five-year plan. I have never had a five-year plan. That is probably where I went wrong! I just went with what I was interested in and was lucky enough to be able to do that. I think it is very much down to the individual. I am not a career plan sort of person, but I do put 100% into what I do.
What is your opinion on ‘having it all’ as a working mother? Possible or not? What does it mean to you personally?
I’m not really sure what it means. I don’t think any of this stuff is easy. You have to make compromises all the time. For instance, today, three of my kids had inset day yet it is one of my busiest days work wise. One wanted to be dropped off in a town half an hour away; another was in the other direction wanting to be picked up from the tube while my son was very annoyed at being the only one having to go to school which he considered very, very unfair. I had quite a bit of driving around to do so I have to make up the time later by working till very late. Is that having it all? At the end of the day, though, I enjoy my work and I enjoy being around for the kids so it works.
What would you like your daughters to know about being a working woman when they grow up? What is the one thing you hope to pass on to them?
I want them to understand that work is a two-way street. If they give their best they should expect that their employer has their back. And if they don’t feel that, they should not be afraid to walk away.
What I would like to pass on to them in the current times we are living in is hope for the future.
I’d like to say a very big thank you to Mandy Garner for taking part in this interview and if you haven’t already, I’d suggest you check out Workingmums.co.uk as it’s a really useful resource for working parents.