Co-founder, Helly Summerly, talks about life as a working mum, and why she’s championing flexible, freelance opportunities for working mums.
A very warm welcome …
I’m delighted that you have found Army of Mums. If you’re reading this, I assume you are either a busy working (or would be working) mum. Probably like me in search of a more balanced, flexible life. Or perhaps you are a progressive, diverse business that recognises the value that women can bring to the workforce. Either way, I am thrilled you are on board the journey with us. I can’t wait to share the exciting plans we have in store.
You and I both know that mums are simply brilliant at getting things done, and actually enjoy working! Yet in the last year, more of us than ever seem to have left the workforce. Either because we’ve been forced, or felt forced, to leave due to the impact of the pandemic.
We know that many working mums were already struggling to juggle expensive childcare and long working hours before Covid-19 hit. Since then we’ve had the closure of schools and nurseries. The impossible demands of homeschooling and repetitive episodes of isolation. All of these have for many simply become incompatible with holding down a full-time job. (Never mind any hope of finding five minutes for a bit of ‘me’ time or self-care …)
Why do we need Army of Mums?
For many working mums, the return to work after becoming a parent can feel a bit ‘either/or’. Either you pay for expensive full-time childcare (which can eat up well over half the salary of even a well-paid job). Or you stay at home to raise your children, acknowledging that you may miss out on career progression opportunities or get left behind in your sector. (As a former marketing director, I am painfully aware of how much the digital marketing world moved on in the short time I was away bringing a tiny human into the world!)
There has been some great progress in terms of shared parental leave, job sharing and part-time opportunities. But we know that these are still few and far between for many working mums and sectors. We have heard countless stories of a tirelessly bargained for four day week realistically meaning five days of work crammed into four. All for a 20% pay cut …
And most overwhelmingly, the number one reason working mums gave for wanting flexible work was this; they simply want to spend more time with their children and not miss out on precious moments in those special early years.
How we help working mums
We believe there are hundreds of projects and one-off tasks that mums can competently complete from home, and they can do this on a freelance basis in a way that works around their family life. It also means businesses get access to a huge wealth of talent that may otherwise be inaccessible to them.
Perhaps you’re a highly qualified lawyer who can offer a couple of hours’ legal advice to a start-up business. Or maybe you’re a social media expert keen to keep your skills fresh without returning to work full-time just yet.
You might be a business looking to outsource a discrete task such as writing a new employee handbook. Perhaps you have a task that your permanent team just can’t fit in on top of the day job.
What does a more flexible working life mean for you?
For me personally, as the Co-founder of a start-up, flexible working isn’t always about working fewer hours. But it’s definitely about working on my terms in a way that fits around my other commitments. Of course, the obvious benefits are being able to drop my daughter off at school and pick her up. And be around a bit more in the school holidays. But I also really value the mental benefits of being able to work when I feel most energised, and have a healthier lifestyle with time to exercise.
Having recently lost a parent, I’m also acutely aware of the importance of making time to see family and friends. And finally, music is my other big passion in life. I’m a freelance singer in my ‘spare’ time, so being able to fit that in is definitely a big factor in what makes me tick as a person!
What is your career background?
I studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Keble College, Oxford University where I was also a choral scholar. My father was a marketing director for Unilever, and brands and advertising have always fascinated me. So after graduating I decided to follow in his footsteps and pursue a career in marketing alongside my music.
After 10 years or so cutting my teeth in the corporate world of FMCG, I moved to a private equity-backed company where I eventually joined the board of directors with responsibility for marketing and innovation.
After I had my daughter, it enabled me to take some time out before setting up my own baby music business. Great fun and a bit of a change to my previous jobs! When the pandemic hit, I was once again in a board-level role, but after 6 months of juggling a 70 hour week with no childcare, I realised something had to change.
After a few months of much needed time out and soul searching, the opportunity to work on Army of Mums came up. I’ve now joined as Co-founder heading up all things brand, communications and community.
What’s the road map for Army of Mums?
Right now we’re in data collection mode. We’re trying to connect with as many brilliant mums and open-minded businesses as we can. Then we’ll properly launch our full project matching platform later in the autumn. If that sounds like you, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d love to chat with you personally about how we might be able to help or work together. We know we are only one small piece of the puzzle, and we also need many other reforms around childcare and maternity rights. But we’d like to at least be part of the solution. Working mums; your time is now and change begins here!
Click here to sign up to Army of Mums