As a PhD student and in my early career, I often worked long hours. At other points in my career I’ve worked fewer hours, and sometimes not at all for several months. I have never put in anything approaching 80 hours a week for a sustained period of time, and yet I still consider myself to have had a successful career in technology.
I have two young children. Returning from maternity leave the first time round, I knew that I didn’t want to work full-time and so moved into a role which I could do 3 days a week. The role had been advertised as full-time, but I knew the team and they agreed to hire me on a part-time basis. This worked out well as I soon became pregnant for the second time. Combining pregnancy and work with a young toddler at home, I was physically very tired and happy not to be working full-time.
Heading back to work after my second maternity leave was a different story. I chose to go back into full-time work when my second child was a year old, and stayed full-time for 4 years. By the end of the 4 years both my children were in school and I started to experience the difficulties that this brings. Christine Armstrong has written extensively about the particular difficulties of combining parenthood with full-time work. School brought more additional admin and complex logistics than I anticipated – getting the right kit and uniforms, organising after-school clubs and activities, parents evenings, school trips – and in the UK school hours don’t align easily with a working day. It is hard to find childcare past 5:30pm, which is exactly the time that those on the US West Coast begin their day.
I have also taken three significant periods of time out of paid work over the last years. Maternity leave in the UK is generous, you are entitled to take up to 12 months out and return to a similar role (though sadly pregnancy discrimination is rife). I took 11 months off from paid work with my first child in 2011 and 8 months with my second in 2013. More recently, after 4 years working full-time with 2 young kids, I simply needed a break! I took almost 5 months out of work, most of the second half of 2018, to recharge and spend time with my family.
At the beginning of 2019 I began working at Cobalt Speech, again part-time, 4 days a week. As with my previous part-time position, this role came through my network and so I felt able to ask for reduced hours upfront. Working 4 days gives me time to pick up my kids from school at least one day a week, and have extra time in the week to do a bunch of things I don’t have time for when working full-time.
Not everyone is able to work fewer hours or take periods of time out. I am lucky to have experience working in AI/ML where there’s a currently shortage of talent. I was also fortunate to have good health in my early career years so I could gain experience, and to have a supportive husband who has also worked flexibly at different times. Still, I can’t say I always get the balance right!
Being able to work flexibly in different ways at different times has helped me keep my career going. I hope that more employers in the tech industry continue to make flexible and part-time working a reality for those who need it.