Louise Mensch’s resignation makes us question if senior roles & family life mix

Just two years into her role, Mensch resigned as she struggled to balance work and family commitments, not helped by the fact she is married to a manager of rock band Metallica based in New York.

Mensch isn’t alone in finding the worlds of politics and family life don’t mix well. Former labour transport minister Ruth Kelly quit to ‘put family first’ and former shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson also left politics for ‘personal’ reasons.

The challenge of juggling senior roles and family life aren’t new and they aren’t entirely female. However, greater numbers of women than men tend to struggle. You only need to look at how few women, let alone working mothers are working at board level in FTSE companies to recognise that women face a number of challenges.

Whilst we are working with several companies who are working hard to progress women to board level and improve the retention of their female talent, it is widely acknowledged that women find balancing the kind of hours and commitment required at board level with family life incredibly difficult.

A common problem is the lack of flexibility offered by companies. Even with advances in technology, many still have rigid rules about flexible working. Just this week, a report from Skype and You Gov showed that whilst 70per cent of employees wanted to work from home, over half of them said their companies wouldn’t allow it.

Surely, with technology such as high speed internet, Skype, video conferencing and telephone conference remote working could be integrated into any working culture without impacting productivity?

If companies want to attract and retain talent at all levels, many will need to rethink their culture and introduce greater flexibility into corporate life. They will also need to remember that one size doesn’t fit all – someone will small children will have certain needs whilst another employee might have commitments looking after elderly parent or helping children through exams.

All these situations are equally important and if companies are going to introduce greater flexible working, it needs to include everyone.

The bigger question here also is whether companies are doing enough to progress and support women at all levels. Have they examined if there are any barriers to progression for women in their companies?

Are they losing female staff at common ‘pinch’ times such as maternity? Have they created pipelines of talented women at all levels and are they progressing them? With the right processes and support in place, corporate life and family life can mix, but it needs careful thinking and investment; it won’t happen on its own.

Paul Jones

Editor of Business Matters, the UKs largest business magazine


Editor of Business Matters, the UKs largest business magazine