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Finding a Way Through the Corporate Jungle Gym – A Young Mother’s Solution

26 March 2014

It’s a big week for Auckland Young Lawyers Committee member Jessie Jarvie. Tonight she will help launch the first event in the Ladies of the Law series, a casual conversation forum for women in the profession; and on Monday it was the first day of operation for Milky Way, an onsite childcare centre that she set up for children of employees at Orion Health, where she is Legal Counsel.

As a young (26) working mother, Jessie is already aware of some of the many challenges that women face in today’s workplace, and how they can shape a career through the corporate ‘jungle gym’. We asked her how she approached returning to work after becoming a mother and how this led to the inception of Milky Way and Ladies in the Law.

How has Orion Health supported you in your return to work as a mother?

When I started at Orion Health I was recently married and we knew that we wanted children, but I have a health condition that could make it difficult. So our son George was planned for, but the timing was a surprise.

I’m lucky to work in an extremely rewarding job at a company full of smart, young and innovative people. Orion Health is privately-owned - the CEO founded the company in 1993 - and many of its employees have been here from day one. It’s very family orientated and the environment has always been conducive to working mums. It’s great to have an employer that supports a continuation of your career, but as I’ve found, even with that support returning to work with a young child is not without difficulties.

I was going back to work when my son was seven months old. I was heartbroken in my hunt for the right childcare arrangement, and knew that the best place for him was with me. My head and heart were in tatters. I knew what I wanted and needed to do, but I didn’t know how to do it. On a visit to introduce George to the CEO’s wife when he was first born, I mentioned my dilemma and she suggested that I set up a childcare centre at Orion Health. I wasn’t confident that I would get the idea past management, but she told me that she would chat to her husband about it. That night she contacted me to say that I should put a proposal together. I got approval on the proposal a week later (October 2013), and the first day of operation will be Monday 24 March. It’s been a wild journey, but I’m incredibly grateful to Orion Health for giving me the opportunity to help make it happen.

Onsite childcare facilities are uncommon in New Zealand, how will Milky Way operate?

The centre will be exclusively for children of Orion Health employees, which is part of its magic. All the parents know each other and the Parents Committee has the opportunity to easily get together to share thoughts and concerns. The parents will have a lot more say than in usual childcare centres, so we’ve appointed a Centre Liaison to be the main point of contact between the Parents Committee and the Centre Manager.

Milky Way will be different to the traditional childcare model as we want parents to be able to come and go throughout the day. Typically daytime visits can be disruptive for young children, as when they see mum or dad appear they assume its home time. We hope that by knowing their parents are right next door, we will create a culture of resilience amongst the children to parents coming and going from the centre. I’m really proud of what we’re doing and feel like we’re one step ahead of what will become a new childcare movement.

Do you think attitudes towards working mothers are changing, and what is influencing this shift?

The composition of the workplace has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. The majority of skilled employees now represent parents. Not only are more parents working, but they are also spending more time at work. I think that any smart employer knows that if they want to retain their talent, they need to provide a flexible work environment that allows for the needs of working parents. There is a common misconception that providing this flexibility just benefits the staff, but it has been proven to benefit the bottom line as well.

How has your attitude to work changed since becoming a mother?

I can sum up how I have changed in three words: purpose, efficiency and contribution.

I need to have a strong sense of purpose about work and a high level of job satisfaction in order to leave my son for the day.

I need to be more efficient to ensure I have as much quality time with my son as possible, so my general level of productivity has improved beyond what I previously thought I was capable of.

Being a mum gives you a new set of skills that are: time management; people management; and emotional intelligence; so I feel like I have more to contribute. These are skills that every mother has, but that don’t need to be confined to motherhood.

How do you make your work-life balance work?

There is a lot of pressure on working mothers to have an ‘ideal’ work life balance. For me, the key is to accept that there won’t always be a balance. I think the most important skill a working mum can have is to realise when things become too imbalanced. That’s when they need to sit down with their support network of people who care about them, and their children, and make changes.

What is Ladies in the Law and who should attend?

Ladies in the Law is a low-key career development series for women in the profession that has been set-up through NZLS AYL (Auckland Young Lawyers. I think women face a unique set of challenges in the workplace, and the best way to address those challenges is to vocalise them, and offer support to one another.

One of the strengths of being a woman is we know how to talk! So what better idea than to get together over a glass of wine or two and embrace the things that can make a work life balance 'work'. It's an interesting topic to my generation of women. I think the age old sexism thing has departed the corporate environment for most of us younger women (there were far more women than men in my graduating class at law school), but that just changes the gear for us girls and the challenge becomes a different one: What needs do we have that are different to men? What do we aspire to if we know we have to take time out to have a family? Is there more to the legal profession than billable hours (which seemingly make this whole family thing unachievable!)? What sort of things can employers do to make the transition from home back to work easier for us?

Sometimes the questions can be a bit heavy, especially put in succession like that. Some women (including me) are often deterred by the feminist tone that these questions emit. I think there is merit in a 'casual conversation' to bring some of these issues to the fore, and there is comfort in talking about them in a private forum. Or, perhaps not to address the questions directly, but to get a whole lot of women together and talk about what it means to be a working woman and to work out how we can improve the workplace, for the better.

Last updated on the 3rd March 2017