Helen Owen, planning director for Tutssels@The Brand Union, negotiated a flexible working agreement after the birth of her third son, Tom. But, she says, the willingness of her employer to cope with her needs is far from typical for the design industry.
She also says her seniority was a factor. Before the birth, Owen was group managing director of the consultancy. Deciding that with a young child she was unable to work full-time, she returned in a different role and is now a director of planning. ‘But it depends what you have to offer,’ she says. At the time of the birth, Owen took the statutory minimum maternity leave period, but admits she found herself working at home anyway.
Now, working from the office three days a week, Owen has a modem link at home and keeps up with work from there. ‘This is a client-driven industry. You have to be fully accessible,’ she says. She has the advantage of a full-time nanny, which helps, but still benefits from lessons learnt during a spell as a freelance when it comes to time-management.
Owen says many women drop out of the job market when they have children. ‘They can’t square the circle’ of the dual demands of work and children, she says. ‘I don’t know many female design company directors with children.’
Owen puts this down partly to the high-pressure, long-hours culture of the design industry. ‘It’s not that the industry isn’t progressive,’ she says.