Look beyond the obvious - part-time mothers make sense for a small business


Owner of a small graphic design firm, This Ain’t Rock ’n’ Roll, Charlie Waterhouse, explains why he actively looks to employ mothers part-time.

How did we ever used to get anything done? In the olden days I mean. Before the internet. When we had to wait in for bike couriers, or (God forbid) go to the Post Office.

My game, Graphic Design is a non-stop to-and-fro between studio and client. Brief begets proposal, spawning response, rethink, re-supply and repeat refinement.

All of which used to have to happen on bits of paper and board, presented in physical meetings or ferried from office to office.

It made lead-times lengthy, and (if one goes back even further than the dawn of the ’net to a time before computers), involved a whole raft of different people, from secretaries and art directors to typesetters and reprographics experts.

Today it’s possible for an individual to generate in minutes or hours what might’ve required several weeks, and several people.

I’m over-simplifying here of course – new challenges and complications have arisen thanks to technology. We’ve had to learn how to do websites and all that gubbins for starters – but you get the picture: our industry used to be rooted in the physical, and now it lives very much in the virtual. Even printed items are often only printed (out) at the final stage.

And what is true of the creative bit of the process is increasingly reflected in the organisational.

Email instead of bikes, Skype rather than meetings; the mainstream manifestations of technology’s redrawing of our interaction are self-evident. But until recently such innovation was still rooted squarely in the physical reality of the office. And in full-time work.

So desks grew computers; boardrooms got big chav tellies with cameras. Big servers sat in air-conditioned rooms to power all this innovation. And we continued to clock-in.

Then, home broadband and wifi began to pull the rug from the thinking that the only place to be productive was at the end of a commute. The means of production existed outside the office. The physical ‘truth’ of work changed.

Now, we keep track of job progress through amazing tools like Basecamp, or hang out in the virtual office that is Slack. 

In our office, we simply don’t need to be in the same place at the same time. While some of us choose to sit in a funny little office on the rather ancient Borough High Street, others call the wilds of Wales home. Tokyo even. We don’t have to be present to be able to contribute.

All of which makes life a hell of a lot more flexible. Especially for parents.

Parents have to deal with more than their fair share of the inflexible. Drop-offs and pick-ups; inset days, sick days – endless school holidays. Not to mention all the other inflexible parenting stuff. And by parents, I do of course mean mainly mothers.

It used to be that part-time was as much defined by the detrimental time one wasn’t in the office. Not any more.

So after decades of you-can-have-it-all nonsense, it does feel like it might just be possible for mothers to be taken seriously as members of staff – without the St. Peter-esque prerequisite of having to deny the family.

A slightly more pragmatic you-can-have-a-reasonable-bit-of-this-and-a-half-decent-bit-of-that which feels more balanced, less compromised.

It feels like the right thing to do too.

Part-time working that encourages mothers reduces the power of the professional Bermuda Triangle that removes 30-something women from the workplace (not to mention the misogynist argument that women aren’t as valuable to the workplace because they have children).

Plus, on a really basic level (and at the risk of sounding like a smug parent) I don’t think you really understand responsibility until you’ve had kids.

Or is it that you don’t really understand what constitutes a hard day in the office? Dealing with difficult suppliers, moving deadlines, squeezed budgets (or any of the myriad challenges our modern work environment might throw at us) does more than pale in comparison to the demands of child-rearing – it hides whimpering in the stock cupboard until 5:35 and everyone’s gone home.

Which is a rather long-winded way of saying: employ a mother and you employ someone who a) has perspective, and b) knows how to get a job done.

Thanks to Charlie Waterhouse at This Ain't Rock'n'Roll.