As we head towards March 8 – International Women’s Day and, coincidentally, also my daughter’s birthday – I find myself feeling reflective. Juggling the responsibilities of being a woman, a mother, and in a leadership role with a non-standard working pattern can be quite a balancing act.

The support and mentoring of many women in my career has helped me navigate to where I am today and so now I would like to share my experiences in the hope it can help others.

You can’t do it all!

First and foremost, let’s debunk the myth of being able to do it all. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to fulfil every obligation. We all know women who look like they are doing everything perfectly all the time. Trust me, they aren’t! They are making proactive choices about what they are and aren’t going to do – and then owning those choices. It’s very easy to squeeze in one more meeting or one more email, but are you actually making a difference in those extra actions? Quality over quantity should be the guiding principle. 

I started a part-time schedule five years ago, initially working four days a week and eventually transitioning to three. Admittedly, there was a period of adjustment where I attempted to cram five days’ worth of work into a condensed time frame. It’s easy to feel a sense of guilt or inadequacy when you’re not working full-time, but it’s essential to remind yourself that you’re being paid for fewer hours and therefore should adjust your workload accordingly. 

Feeling pride in your productivity…

To help maintain productivity during my intense workdays, I’ve adopted a few strategies that make the workload a little more manageable. One method I love is what I call the ‘yesterday’s inbox’ approach. Each morning, I dedicate time to clearing emails from the previous day, prioritising tasks and allocating specific time slots for them. This approach allows me to start the day with a sense of accomplishment and focus on actionable items.

Managing my diary effectively is another key aspect. I block out time for essential tasks and critically evaluate meeting invitations. If my presence isn’t crucial or the agenda isn’t clear, I don’t hesitate to decline. 

Ownership and proactivity are fundamental. There is a classic but still relevant framework from the Harvard Business review about leadership time and headspace. This paper positions projects or actions as ‘monkeys on your back’.  You only have the capacity to have so many ‘monkeys on your back’ and you need to be really clear about who owns each monkey. There are a number of ‘rules’ in this approach but the ones that really stick with me are:


  • Monkeys should be fed or shot but never left to starve. Don’t worry, no monkeys are actually harmed in my daily life – it’s a shorthand for either completing tasks or removing them from your list altogether. 
  • Don’t play with other people’s monkeys: As a leader it is tempting to have a say or input in every area your team delivers but this just leads to too many monkeys on your back. Not empowering your team to make decisions takes up head space and you are left with not enough time to focus on the things that are going to deliver real impact to your role.


And finally, it’s essential to be present and fully engaged in whatever task you choose to undertake, these strategies help me ensure that the time when I’m not working I’m able to switch off and maximise the time. Just as it’s not productive to be watching nursery cam in a meeting, don’t check your emails while you’re reading your kids a story.  


Shame can’t survive empathy

I think a lot of mothers will recognise the term mum guilt and it’s certainly something that I struggled with when returning from maternity leave and particularly when adjusting to a changed work pattern.  

At first, I used to apologise profusely for having to leave to do pick up or to have a delay in responding to something. I hated having to leave in the middle of meetings or not be as available as I might have been before I had kids. But over time I’ve learnt to own it more and be louder about what I can and cannot commit to. I’ve found that being upfront in setting expectations with colleagues and team members is essential. Communicate openly about your hours and availability and empower your team to make decisions in your absence. 

I’ve personally found reassurance in sharing experiences with others and seeking support from my network. Building connections with like-minded individuals, whether through coaching sessions, mentorship, or community resources like Pregnant Then Screwed and Mother Pukka, has been invaluable to my development as a mother and a leader.

It’s important to note that these challenges extend beyond gender lines, affecting all parents and carers or anyone with a non-standard working pattern. However, it’s also recognised that many of these issues still disproportionately impact women. By sharing our experiences, supporting one another, and advocating for change, we can strive towards a more inclusive and equitable workplace for all.

Balancing leadership aspirations with the demands of motherhood is a challenge, but with the right strategies and support systems in place, it’s entirely achievable and very rewarding too. This International Women’s Day, whatever gender you are, think about reaching out to other working mothers or fathers, search for mentorship or consider: how could you be offering more support to the working parents around you?

Melissa Desmond
Business Development Director at Nectar360

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