The path to work/life balance: motherhood during the pandemic

Working mom works from home office with kid. Mother and daughter read news. Woman and cute child sitting on window sill.

By Vanessa Gibson is a Director, European FX Sales at RBC Capital Markets

Working on the institutional FX sales desk for RBC Capital Markets in London, I sit at the heart of a busy global market which trades 24hrs a day.

From starting my career at RBC Capital Markets 15 years ago in Sydney to moving to London in 2010, it’s been an incredible journey. From the outset, I found the fast-paced working environment of a trading floor both rewarding and challenging, pushing me to carve out a career in a role that suits me.   

In 2015, I started a new adventure with the birth of my first child. It was a truly transformative experience – not only welcoming our wonderful son to the world but finding new ways of balancing the care of a newborn while moving ahead with a career I had worked hard for. This is a challenge that women working in the City have faced for decades and though attitudes and working practices have progressed, there is still a long way to go for the industry in supporting parents and keeping them in the workforce. While the pandemic has been a terrible ordeal for many, it has accelerated the adoption of a different way of working and taught employers important lessons that should endure beyond Covid to create more accommodative workplaces.

I have been lucky enough to work for a forward-thinking organisation that long before the pandemic recognised the pressures on mothers and fathers. Following the birth of my first child, I took nine months’ maternity – allowing me to take time out of my busy career to focus on bonding with and caring for my son. The post-maternity return to work can be daunting – the feeling of being out the loop, or that you will suddenly have to go from zero to sixty on the first day back. However, under RBC’s Phased Return to Work policy, parents can reduce their contractual hours by 20% whilst continuing to receive 100% of their pay for up to six weeks upon their return from maternity or Shared Parental Leave. There is also the support of a return ‘buddy’ who has been through the same experience. These are just two examples of a progressive and effective policy for working parents – offering the support and reassurance needed when making such a significant change. 

Sales and trading tends to be an ‘always on’ environment so having a supportive employer that understands the need for flexibility is essential when working through motherhood. Life happens. If something at home needs your attention, teams have to understand that sometimes you will have to address these issues. For example, when we started with new childcare, my team was accommodating – aware of the fact that I may need to take some time while we all adjusted to the new regime. 

Before the pandemic, I had been invited to join a multi-discipline team of employees looking at more ways to introduce flexibility and work-life balance in our professional environment. One of the biggest challenges in our line of work was the technology involved to allow working from home. We typically have three screens and need instant access to a range of electronic sales and trading platforms as well as high speed, reliable internet. We were due to share our recommendations for enabling greater flexibility when the first lockdown hit and I’m pleased to say that much of the work we had done fed into and enabled our rapid shift to working from home during the pandemic.

The change in the way we work caused by the pandemic is an inflection point. While working in a confined space with children was difficult at times, it revealed several key benefits. It has allowed parents to balance work and home priorities more effectively and remove some of the mental load of being a working parent. It has also allowed parents to reclaim the time taken to commute, not only giving me extra time to spend with my children but also allowing me to be more productive during commuting hours – which benefits me as a working parent, my team, our clients and the firm.

The pandemic has proven that different models of working can be successful and produce results.   Regulatory requirements permitting, parents across banking roles can work in an autonomous and flexible way that suits both their family and the firm.

Having an open-minded employer that understands that parents may have to juggle work and home priorities while being cognisant of the mental load this entails is essential to creating a fairer and more inclusive working environment. It also ensures we keep more parents in the workforce longer into their careers. In turn, this will give opportunity for greater representation at senior levels than the industry has traditionally seen which can only be a positive for employees, employers and clients.

Compassionate and empathetic management not only contributes to a more supportive work environment but attracts and retains employees in the workforce, encourages diversity and improves the mental health of employees. Employers must use the lessons of the pandemic and build on the progress made in recent years. The pandemic has reinforced that allowing flexibility and autonomy, as well as encouraging understanding, must become the norm as we look to create a post-Covid workplace better than ever before.

About the author

Vanessa Gibson is a Director, European FX Sales at RBC Capital Markets, part of Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Based in London, she is responsible for the distribution of RBC’s FX offering to European asset managers and sovereigns.

In addition to her professional work, Vanessa enjoys travelling and spending time in the great outdoors with her family.

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