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Introducing Kate Jarman, co-founder of Flex NHS, as my third guest for series 2. Kate is a mother of three, and also manages to squeeze in a job as director of corporate affairs for milton keynes university hospital in the UK. Flex NHS is a movement championing flexible working and innovative thinking for the 1.5 million people employed by the British national health service in the UK, as a vital part of recruiting and retaining staff now and in the future.
I found Kate in the weird and wonderful world of twitter, something I’m still new to and something that has taken me a long time to come round to. When flicking through the “who to follow” while setting up my twitter account, of course I clicked follow on the NHS and sure enough Kate’s tagged tweets kept popping up over and over again. Her humour, undeniable sharpness and propensity to drop some major truth bombs - which you can hear by the sheer speed at which she talks! - was undeniable. This is someone who is really, really passionate about what she does, which of course was an instant dingdingding moment for me to have her on as a guest. I love people who love what they do - and it is so obvious that Kate is in her absolute element. When she says later in the interview that she’d love to be an MP, it’s not hard to see why.
In the episode we discuss a huge range of things. Of course we talk a lot about flexNHS, why it is exists and its brilliant birth story. We explore why flexible working should be the default and not the exception, whether you’re a parent or not. We also talked a great deal about the importance of the female network - of women who make up the giant and sometimes invisible web of support for the millions of families trying to head back to normality after a baby, whether it’s the nursery assistants, childminders and nannies, primary and secondary school teachers, who all as a vast majority are female dominated professions - without which our economy and country would grind to a halt.
Kate did the ‘back to work’ cycle three times, and her wisdom on the topic is fascinating. As a currently mother of one, I only have to juggle one childcare schedule, so the thought of juggling 3 and holding down a senior job was both obvious yet also intimidating. It brings home to me personally the absurdity of a school day that finishes at 3, and a workday that finishes at 5, which company annual leave being totally unaligned to school holidays. This is not beyond the realm of the possible to resolve. In Sweden, nurseries and workplaces close at the same time. There, and in France, august is a month off for most to give families a chance to go on holiday together. In Slovenia, all school holidays align with work ones. Just because these things are undeniably hard does not mean that they are not worth pursuing and exploring. Covid has brought some amazing innovations forward. The fact that the education secretary is considering longer school days to help catch up the millions of children held back nay covid, shows that this is indeed possible. I saw Claire Balding at a Sunday Times Women in Business conference back in 2018 who pointed out that we are in an obesity crisis - and that two hours of sport or physical activity after formal ‘lessons’ have ended could be a possible solution to both this obesity crisis as well as the crisis of women being held back from participating in their full working day by structural sexism.
There are many answers to the tricky question of how we can get women back to doing what they love and reclaiming their personal identities - but more than ever it is clear to me that we need a radical overhaul of our working practices to make the motherhood tax no longer the accepted norm, to make the phrase ‘she chose not to go back to work’ as a euphemism of ‘we can’t afford for her to go back’ obsolete, and to support FAMILIES, dads included, to have happy and well cared for children AND parents. Ok, speech over. Time for my next brilliant guest. Introducing, Kate Jarman.