Women make up nearly half of the world’s population, and yet still today there are blatant inequalities that exist between genders. Some of these inequalities can be found in the workplace.
At Here I Am, we pride ourselves in being a female-founded organisation grounded in inclusivity and equality. Our core values are brought to life in the way we run our business and co-design our team roles, but also in the way we support our people.
Here I Am Studio’s Design Director, Kate Greenstock, is a mum of one and is preparing to leave us for her second maternity leave. Before her departure, we asked Kate to share a bit about her experience as a woman in the workplace as well as how she’s felt (and is feeling) about leaving and returning to work.
As a woman, what has your experience towards a design leadership role been like throughout the progression of your career?
My career so far spans 16 years and for its entirety I have worked under male leadership until my role at Here I Am. Here I Am is a female-founded studio, led by two incredibly inspiring, progressive, and supportive women: Laura and Vitoria.
As such, I never think twice about being a woman in my position anymore. However, that wasn’t always the case.
I don’t think there have been any significant barriers in the progression of my career because of my gender, but I have been made to feel ‘lucky’ at times for having reached my position, which isn’t something that I have sensed from my male counterparts.
With your first child, how did you feel about sharing news of your pregnancy with the Here I Am team?
I have always felt incredibly well supported in my role and I knew that the team would be thrilled with the news. However, it certainly came with some trepidation in terms of what changes would happen while I was away and how I would fit back into the role having had such a large break from work.
I imagined feeling disconnected from the sector, the team, and the work as well as anxious about how I was going to juggle being the old ‘professional’ version of myself with the new ‘mum’ version of myself.
How did you feel returning to work after maternity leave the first time around?
With my first child, I had to take an extended leave after my maternity period because my son was seriously ill. Thankfully he is much better now. However, this meant that in total I was absent for around 18 months, which just heightened my anxiety about returning to work.
But Laura and Vi couldn’t have been more accommodating with the on-ramp approach we took towards my return. I began with some Keep In Touch (KIT) days, to ease me in, and then we built up my hours at a pace that felt right with my son’s recovery. I am so grateful for their patience and flexibility, because having been through quite a challenging time it was difficult to predict how I would adjust.
How has your role changed after returning from maternity leave?
For the first time ever, I am working part time. It took some getting used to after having worked in the design sector for my entire career with an industry-wide culture of working late. I began to realise those habits were baked into my ways of working.
However, what part time work instils in you is much better time management skills. I finish work at 5pm on the dot because that’s when my son bursts into the room.
Gratefully, Here I Am is a studio who rejects the working late culture in favour of a positive and healthy work/life balance. I am certain that returning to this environment has made the adjustment to part time work so much easier than it would have been elsewhere, because I don’t feel like I’m behaving differently than any of my colleagues. We are all in control of the hours we work and can fit our schedules around our lives.
For me, that looks like a strict 8-5 workday to accommodate child care, but for others that means a late start and late finish because that’s when they work best. This flexibility is without doubt the future of work in my opinion and I consider Here I Am to be leading the way.
How did you feel about sharing news of your pregnancy with the team this second time around?
I know now the lengths and depth of support that surrounds me at Here I Am, which makes me far more comfortable and confident with the break from work this time. I also know now that being a Mum isn’t about juggling between the two versions of yourself - the professional and the Mum. Instead it is about embracing who you have become.
At Here I Am, we create digital ways to include the excluded. This means designing for the most marginalised communities, often adolescent girls, living in the most challenging of circumstances. As such, our partners are often primarily female and we find ourselves as women designing for women and girls, and of course mums.
I have never felt more passionate about the work that I do. My perspective and priorities in my life outside of work may have changed, but my commitment to driving change for those we are designing for is unwavering.
How do you think organisations can better support women throughout their careers, including maternity leave?
My advice would genuinely be to take a leaf out of the Here I Am playbook. To offer support and flexibility while working with the individual to co-design a way of working that suits both parties.
If you’re not a female led organisation, that’s no reason to behave any differently. However, I do believe that the more women in leadership within an organisation can lead to more empathy for the needs of women throughout the company.
Of course, parenthood is not about women exclusively. These approaches should apply irrespective of the caregiver’s gender.