Leaders Plus Fellow Lisa Moran, a Group Head of Communications at HSBC, shares how the Leaders Plus House of Commons event made her think differently about parenting guilt, perfection and courage.
Entering the House of Commons feels like stepping back in time. The late spring sunshine is replaced with the shadowy, medieval, cathedral-like Westminster Hall – in its time witness to coronations, feasts and the trials of Guy Fawkes, William Wallace and Charles I.
And it’s in a room just off the hall that I find myself on a Wednesday morning for something much more modern – the inaugural session of the Leaders Plus Fellowship.
Today we’re hearing from a panel who have direct experience of nurturing careers while raising young children – a challenge all of us in the room are facing.
I’m particularly taken with an early remark from Hannah Essex, a prominent job-sharing communications executive. “I don’t feel guilty about working. I might feel regret not making it to the school gates that day, but definitely not guilt. I need to work for my family and, also, for me.”
The thought that working guilt could be optional is a new one for me and feels powerful. It marks one of many small shifts my mind makes over the course of the day.
Before long, Myrtle Dawes, a trailblazer for women in a male dominated industry, voices the words which feel so remarkable to me that I actually sit back in my chair. “I realised that my children didn’t need me all the time. That someone else would do. That someone else might even be better than me in that situation.”
In this short blog, it’s hard to summarise why this felt so earth-shattering. Suffice to say without ever consciously realising it, her comment revealed to me I’d be holding as an undeniable truth something which might just be one perspective.
Of everything I hear at the session, it’s this which keeps bouncing around in my head in the days afterwards.
Double standards on parenting are well known – dads are celebrated for doing things which form the lowest expectations of mums. But to hear Will McDonald, a male job-sharer and very involved dad, call it out carries a lot of power. Since becoming a mother I’ve been exasperated by the imbalance in parenting which runs deeper than just ‘what “good” looks like’. Mental load, the parental-ticker-tape, the mountainous minutiae of parenthood – call it what you will. The additional labour which comes from being entirely responsible for every aspect of a child’s life seems to fall almost wholly to women. Will touches on this too, and it occurs to me that correcting this inequality is key to giving women the time and headspace to reach their potential in the workplace.
The unspoken theme of perfectionism threads its way through all the discussions. In this room are women who are successful and passionate about furthering their career. I’d wager the other Fellows have prospered in part because they have set high expectations and achieved them. And as Dame Helena Morrissey finally names it and articulates its down-side, I see the irony that the very trait which may have made Fellows successful, could make their transition to parenthood so tough. It is worth saying (again and again), it is impossible to be a perfect parent. Aiming for that is an inevitable route to disappointment and ‘failure’ at a time when we should be going easy on ourselves.
On my way home, my phone full of notes and my mind buzzing with ideas, I take a quick detour via Parliament Square with one intention. My target is the newest sculpture, Gillian Wearing’s rendering of leading suffrage campaigner Millicent Fawcett. Erected in 2018, thanks to campaigning by Caroline Criado-Perez, she is the only female among eleven men celebrated in the square. Looking towards Parliament, Fawcett’s face is set in fierce determination as she holds a banner of her famous rallying call, “Courage calls to courage everywhere”.
It feels an apt final message to take from the day.