Last year, while pregnant with my second set of twins, I was made redundant from my job as a financial advice manager. Facing the reality of having four young children, I had resigned myself to a career break, thinking no one would hire a mother of four children under four.
Thankfully, this was not the case. I was hired as a senior financial adviser at Wealth Design and offered flexible working hours by directors David Philips and Steve Bennett – family men looking for a female adviser to complement the existing team.
I am aware many women are not offered this opportunity. But advice firms can benefit from offering flexible working, encouraging more women to go back to work after having children.
What I found out
I believe the fears surrounding flexible working are that the employee will not always be at hand or that they may not be fully committed to the job. I have found the opposite to be true. I worked 12 hours a week when the babies were five months old, which increased to around 21 hours as I got busier. Even though I work less conventional hours, I can still get back to my clients within 24 hours, normally fewer.
At work, I am really focused, and I want to be there rather than feeling I have to be there. I think I am more effective as a result. At home, my family time is even more precious because I am not there 24/7.
I have continued to study, passing RO8: the pensions update in the month of its launch, quickly followed by AF5: the financial planning process at the first attempt. I hope to gain chartered status by the end of 2018.
Drawing the line
The key is separating work and home, even when working from home. Whatever is happening outside work must never affect the customer experience because client trust is built through being dependable.
However, I am a realist. While so far I have not needed to reschedule any meetings, I fully expect this will not always be the case. I hate the thought of letting a client or colleague down but there will be instances where I need to rearrange, for example if the children are poorly. So far, my clients do not seem to have any reservations when I discuss my flexible working pattern; set hours can actually be more rigid from a client perspective.
The distinction between work and home life does not necessarily have to be so clear cut, however. Our humanity is what makes us good advisers because we can empathise with others. You never know the battles people may be fighting and understanding this helps me fully explore my clients’ goals and aspirations before making appropriate suggestions and recommendations.
Another essential to succeeding at flexible work is having a great support network. Since the youngest twins have arrived my husband now looks after the kids one day a week. He runs his own business so was able to change his working pattern. He understands that my work makes me a happier mum and is very supportive of my career.
Company support and communication is also important. Kiran Mann, Wealth Design’s office manager, has an overview of my clients’ circumstances and as such can easily resolve any queries if needed. I explain this to my clients so they understand there is always someone on hand to help.
But it is not all plain sailing. The main disadvantage to flexible working is the dependence on others to match my availability. I have also missed a few ‘firsts’ at home, such as my daughter Charlotte’s first crawl. But you cannot have it all.
I really value my work. It is more than a job. I am mindful of the trust and faith my clients put in me to help guide them on their financial journey and flexible working has made this possible.
Gemma Oliver is senior financial adviser at Wealth Design.