A Few Words on Motherhood and Work
by Katrin McMillan
I started building projects in African communities when my husband, Tom, and I were living in Nigeria. Our move to Ethiopia reinforced my concerns about the education deficit and I decided to try to do something about it. It became clear that I’d need a legal structure if I was going to develop the work so, that year, I set about registering an organisation that eventually became Hello World. I was also pregnant with our first child. Since the charity was launched 7 years ago I have had three children, and I’m just about to have our fourth.
I am often asked how I juggle children and running an ambitious charity. I don’t believe that Tom has ever been asked how he manages to run his start-up as a father.
People seem to assume that I’m either a bad mother, or bad at my job.
I love being a mother. I’m a hands-on parent, and Hello World seems to have thrived despite that, which is not to say that it has been easy.
Motherhood has motivated me to work even harder for children who are not born as lucky as mine. It makes me want to build something that my own children will be proud of. It has taught me how to care for children and their development. It has made me better at my job.
I built an organisation that aims to promote a healthy work-life balance so that we could attract, and keep, the very best people. We give mothers and fathers equal maternity and paternity leave and pay (shame on far larger organisations that don’t do the same). We have flexible working hours and we can work from the office or from home. It’s a mark of success when anyone in the team stands up to leave for a school pick-up. We have an unlimited holiday plan so that parents don’t have to miss out on seeing their kids when school is out and we enforce a minimum of 3-weeks’ holiday a year. This work isn’t easy. We’re facing one of the world’s most intractable problems with a brand-new approach; we are innovators in the fields of technology and in community-led delivery, and innovation inevitably brings out the naysayers. Running a start-up with ever-looming funding targets is stressful. I ask our team to face head-on the unjust and often brutal lives of the kids we work for. It takes intelligence, dedication, courage, and perseverance to do this work and I trust my team to do their jobs. I don’t mind when or where they work from.
We bring our babies to work when we want to. Mine have been to countless meetings when they were still nursing, or when I didn’t have childcare, and I stopped apologising for their presence, or even commenting on it, and just got on with the meetings. I’ve also taken them to work on Hello Hub builds in Nepal.
Being another mother in the community, someone who also wants the best for her children, gives me a common understanding with the women I work with. And kids get on and play and make friends wherever they are, even if they have no language in common.
My children have made me better at my job. It doesn’t mean it’s easy to juggle work and motherhood but, in the right organization, it’s certainly possible and, in my view, everyone wins.