Name: Charlotte Augst
Role: Richmond Group Partnership Director – I lead a collaboration of 14 large national patient and care charities, the Richmond Group of Charities. Together, we try to influence health and care to better look after people who have long term support needs. I work with the CEOs of these organisations, with their Influencing and Services Directors, and with a group of talented and productive contractors, who deliver pieces of work for us.
Childcare arrangements: Everything, over the years, literally: childminder, nanny, au pair – currently muddling through with a sort of ‘housekeeper’ and sharing some afternoon covers with my husband
Children: 2 – 9 and 12 years old, boy and girl
Twitter handle: @CharlotteAugst
Have you used skills learnt as parent in your career?
Definitely. It reminds me daily that people’s ‘real lives’ are outside of work. Most of us have something we care about so much more than we care about work – even if we love working and work for an important cause. If we knew we only had one phone call to make, we would all know who that would be to – and it wouldn’t be work. So having children anchors you very firmly in that reality.
I also think it has made me better at listening, at trying to understand what people are not being upfront about. Because it is all the unsaid stuff that gets in the way of getting things done.
Has your leadership style changed after having children?
Yes. I worked part time a lot, and was very boxed in in terms of needing to leave on time and so on. So I think I have been very clear about what is a priority and what only I can do, and I have always delegated everything else. If you share all the committee and catch up meetings that don’t add much value to your own work around your team, then lots of people can develop some leadership skills too, get in front of senior leaders, need to act ‘on behalf of others’ and so on.
Increasingly, I have also moved to challenging a lot of the layers of meetings and bureaucracy that come with leading in complex organisations. Do we need this update? This form filled in? This committee meeting? Let’s treat all this management paraphernalia with the necessary disrespect, and let’s stay focussed on where we are feeling we are making an impact.
Why do you know you are a good enough parent?
Because I like being with my children. Because they like being with me. Because they are nice people. Because I always felt that I didn’t need to know everything that goes on in an average school day, just as they don’t need to know everything about my work day.
When do you love combining leadership roles with caring for children?
When work ‘flows’ – and I am stretched and stimulated and challenged and engaged – and I come home and I don’t feel like I need to check my emails and so on (unfortunately I sometimes find it hard to turn the phone off).
When you lie on the sofa on Friday night, and everybody has a busy week behind them, and you enjoy the feeling that the weekend is upon us. Watching a children’s film and eating a curry.
And when you wake up on Saturday morning, and have a leisurely breakfast and say ‘what shall we do today’?
That contrast between business and slowness is wonderful.
Tell us about a memorable Leader with Baby moment.
My then maybe 10 year old daughter was learning about ‘stereotyping’ at school (why do we think firefighters are male, that kind of thing). She stood up and said my mum’s boss is making her life really difficult because she is a clever, confident woman and he doesn’t like it. It makes him feel insecure.
It was true at the time, and a very stressful period in my working life, so I must have talked about it to my husband in front of the children…
Her teacher took me aside and told me, and said ‘you should be proud of yourself and of her.’
What is the biggest barrier you have overcome?
There have been many jobs I didn’t get because I indicated that I wanted to work part time. Once I got an offer saying I was head and shoulders above the other candidates, and when I said ‘could I work a four day week?’ they withdrew the offer. That was our much beloved NHS!
But I honestly think the biggest barriers have been the ones in my head: Is it okay to lead a team and go home mid afternoon because you want to be with your children? Is it okay to lead a team and needing to work from home because one of your children is sick? Is it okay to travel? Is it okay to cut corners sometimes? The answer is of course ‘YES YES YES’. But I have often found it hard to hear this voice in my head. This has made me feel very stressed at times when the children were younger than they are now.
What do you admire in parents?
Pragmatism, having to be a real grown up, taking responsibility, caring not just about whether it is done, but how it is done; everyone trying to do and be their very best, even in sometimes desperate circumstances – people are trying to raise their children well in Syria, in poverty, in Grenfell Tower.
Do you experience feelings of guilt?
Yes. Less so now – the children are of an age where they would not always prefer to be with you rather than anyone else, but when they were young. Like many other families, we patched together drop offs and pick ups and then one of our children would often ask ‘who is picking us up today?’. That made me feel bad. Forgetting the odd recorder recital. Not seeing my son play the steel drums on the school play ground, because I forgot, – that made me feel guilty. But when I am at home, or was on parental leave, I also felt guilty at times – I wasn’t patient enough, I didn’t cook healthy enough food, I didn’t invite enough friends around etc etc.
You love your children more than you can protect them – that is uncomfortable territory.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t rush. Don’t feel like you need to settle on a way of doing this when your baby is 3 months old. Don’t work, work part time, work full time, you can change all these arrangements over the years. Isn’t that great? And interesting? You will have to work until you are 70, probably – you don’t need to be a CEO when you have 2 kids under 4. But if you want that – go for it!
Give what you have at work. And then turn the phone off. Don’t check your emails as you pick up your child from nursery. Go for a juice and a biscuit together somewhere. Enjoy.
Don’t treat family life as a programme or project. See what happens. Spend an afternoon making sand castles. Feed the ducks. Walk slowly. You are entitled to enjoy the time with your children, so don’t stuff your life full of activities. Who wants to take two toddlers to swimming lesson on a cold afternoon in November? No one. Don’t. Find the thing that you actually enjoy. Your children will love hanging out with you if you are having genuine fun.
Also, find a partner who gets it. I don’t know any women who enjoy having senior careers whose husbands aren’t flexible, caring responsibility takers. Run away if the man you are interested in considers the boring boring stuff of household management women’s work. Insist that they get up at night, that they mop up the mess, that the deal with tears and tantrums. Do not step in and rescue him from the experience that this is difficult. It is. He will get there.
And go into work knowing that you are leading a life that is full of challenges and rewards, and that you can always go home to your children and laugh with them about how stupid your boss is.
What are you still hoping for?
I would like to lead a small-ish organisation one day (not because I think I only have talent for small, but because I just enjoy it more).
I am working with such a fab cohort of women at the moment who are experienced and clever and knee deep in family life – I would like us all to become CEOs at around the same time and do things differently. Less ego, more impact.
I would like to think that my two children, a boy and a girl, will think it natural that you have children and work, and that not everything is always perfect, but that taken all together, it is a fulfilling way to live. And that they both think it natural that dads sort socks into pairs and mums occasionally miss an event because they are at work.