Being a parent is a job in and of itself. Being a working parent, therefore, means finding balance. Of course, this requires effort, prioritization and being kind to yourself.
For Zara Jeffery, global director of social impact partnerships and programs for Marsh McLennan, being a full-time working mom means ditching the guilt so that she can be both a productive professional and an engaged mother. Fortunately, she loves her work.
“I’m privileged to be working with a number of non-profit partners promoting and supporting topics, such as racial justice, mentoring for women in low- and middle-income countries, and empowering school students to aspire to the world of work,” Jeffery tells Fairygodboss.
Jeffery has been working in the social impact (formerly corporate social responsibility) team for 11 years, and her role has changed over the years from one with a UK focus to one with an international and now global focus.
We caught up with her to talk more about her work at Marsh McLennan and how she creates a work-life balance for herself as a full-time working mom. Here’s what she had to say.
Paint a picture of a typical day for me. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to sleep?
Most days, I try to exercise first thing in the morning. I make it my priority before anything else happens. Typically, this is 20 to 30 minutes of dynamic yoga (we have a mat on the bedroom floor) or a run or brisk walk. This isn’t always possible, but it helps me start the day with a focused mind. As the last thing at night, I try hard to close off any technology one hour before bed and read a light-hearted book or educational topic that diverts my brain from churning through work issues.
Attaining work-life balance can’t be done solo. What people, resources and tools do you rely on to get it all done?
As a full-time working mom, I definitely need help — for my week to run smoothly, I usually need double the help than I think I will! Before the pandemic, I had a full-time nanny who worked the hours around the school days, as I was commuting and away from home quite a lot. It’s much easier now that I’m working from home full-time, but I still need a long list of people to help. This includes paying for student- and au-pair-type help, plus a cleaner, my husband when he can and other school moms.
What’s one misconception that you think exists around work-life balance today?
We are all individuals, and we all have individual needs around work-life balance. There is no one-size-fits-all. Companies and bosses need to be open, adaptable and supportive of what each one of us needs adequate down-time for. Whether that’s family, exercise, relaxing or recharging to ensure that we are productive in our roles.
What’s your go-to stress-relief activity or routine?
Going for a run or a walk surrounded by nature!
What kinds of boundaries have you established to separate work and family time?
I work for a global company headquartered in the U.S., so my afternoons and sometimes early evenings are very busy. I’m mindful to let my team and colleagues know that I won’t take calls after 6 p.m. unless it’s really important and cannot be moved. Most days, I catch up on emails after supper and my kid’s bedtime, but am strict about turning off technology by 9.30 p.m.
How long were you on maternity leave and what was it like to return to work?
I returned to work when my son was nine months old. To start with, it was an emotional time, and I was consumed with guilt — guilt about leaving my baby and guilt if I was not fully present at work. It really helped me to talk to other working moms who had experienced the same thing and to realize that this was quite normal.
The first few weeks were tough, but then I remembered how much I enjoyed my role, interacting with my team and colleagues, and I regained my confidence. It was refreshing to put on some smart clothes and engage the professional side of my brain, whilst being able to return home to being a mom. Being away from my son made me relish the time with him, really look forward to it and focus on my role as a mom.
Why do you think Marsh McLennan is a particularly great place to be a working mom?
Marsh McLennan offers flexible working hours. For example, if I need to be at an important school meeting, I block the time and flex my hours around it. Having an understanding boss is incredibly important too — my boss knows that the work will get done and projects delivered even if I have to flex my hours.
What’s your #1 tip for new moms who are navigating the delicate balance of working and mothering?
Lower your expectations of yourself, focus on the priorities and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Throw away the guilt. We all do it, and it’s a horrible feeling. Feeling guilty that you are not there with your baby every minute and guilty that you may not be giving every piece of yourself to work — It’s normal! You can dispense with the guilt; you are capable of being a wonderful mother and productive employee at the same time. Focus on being in the present first and focus on the priorities second.
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