Given the recent rise in remote working, the world has seen how less rigid hours does not equal less work. This could be a revolutionary moment for working parents in Malta who want to enjoy a fulfilling career whilst still being able to raise a family. Roberta Metsola MEP, a mother of four and the Vice President of the European Parliament, spoke to us about how being a working parent does not have to be as difficult as it is, but employers need to offer support and a degree of flexibility in order to benefit from this often abandoned, but incredibly valuable, demographic.
Our tag line at Island Bebe is ‘It Takes an Island to Raise a Child.‘ What support system do you lean in to?
I am a mother of four boys – the eldest is now a teenager, the youngest is four. Both my husband and I have very high-pressure careers and so we make sure our calendar apps are synced, we know our schedules in advance and plan accordingly.
We are so fortunate to have a family we can lean on for an extra hand (or three). As any parent will tell you, children have an unfortunate habit of not sticking to schedules and plans. Despite all the advances in childcare and flexible working, the truth is that my husband and I would not be able to raise a family and have a career without the help we have – and I am determined to do what I can in the time I have in politics to make it easier for other parents.
The promise my husband and I made to each other is that no matter how tough our day has been, when we’re at home we do our utmost to make time for homework, for dinner – we juggle with a phone in one hand and a copybook in the other. We prepare lunches early in the morning before everyone starts rushing out, and somehow we get through the day only to do it all again the day after.
How did becoming a mother impact your career?
My husband and I have been changing nappies for the past 15 years, with every packet I open, I hope it’s the last, but at this point I’m quite pleased with my multi-tasking skills.
Children ground you like little else and that helps in any career – but politics in particular. There is nothing quite like coming home after being elected First Vice President of the European Parliament to distinctly unimpressed faces demanding food.
I recognise of course that my job as a MEP means that I am, to a certain extent, able to plan my own day. That is something not afforded to most working parents. I was determined to continue politics with kids or without – I’ve run campaigns pregnant with a toddler on my lap. It is not impossible, but it does not have to be as difficult as it is. It just should be a little easier for everyone.
What would you say to a woman who is choosing to become a mother but is concerned about the future of her career?
This is something that parents are concerned about. But being concerned doesn’t mean you should not take the leap. Understand that it is not easy. Give yourself time. Often, when you’re at work you’re worried about spending less time at home, when you’re at home you’re worried about your work.
But you will quickly develop the ability to make every second count. I remember meeting an employer who told me: “Employing parents – mothers particularly – makes good business sense – because they know how to make the most of an hour.” They were right.
We fundamentally believe women can nurture a family and still pursue a fulfilling career. Is there anything that needs to change in Maltese employment culture for this to be acknowledged?
This is something that should concern both parents, not just mothers. What parents need is a degree of flexibility, of having the time to take their children to school before going to work, or being at home to help their children do their homework or prepare for the daily family dinner, and technology can help to make this happen in various sectors. We need to do better when it comes to tele-working, childcare, paternity leave, work-life balance and the culture of many workplaces. We are still too far away.
There have been numerous headlines about the impact of Covid19 hitting women’s employment harder than men due to their role as primary caregiver at home.
Has this been discussed at European Parliament level, and if so, are there any plans to support this demographic?
The pandemic has exposed and amplified pre-existing inequalities and vulnerabilities. It has not been the great equaliser, rather with many women it has meant impossible tasks of acting concurrently as full-time carers and full-time workers.
Many, too many, have been forced to lock down with their abusers in domestic violence scenarios that are horrific – without escape, suffering in silence. We have seen a rise in online sexual abuse, revenge pornography and image based abuse and often our children, girls in particular, have been thrown into a 24/7 online world that they were not prepared for.
We need to address all these issues and there is much that we can do from increasing our criminal law sanctions to perpetrators of image based sexual abuse, to pushing for safeguarding to be become a central part of any school or organisation, to ensuring we go after domestic violence and pushing for Member States to ratify the Istanbul convention.
We also need role models. And we need to emphasise the impact women have had in our communities and our societies. The truth is that women in politics, in journalism, in arts, in science, in sport have changed the world and we don’t say that enough.
In Europe we are still in a situation where women on average earn less than a man for the same job. It is unfair, unacceptable and must be consigned to the pages of history books.
We are in a position to do something about it. To do our bit to forge a path for all those who come after us. And we need allies. This is not about men versus women, this is about men and women – together. When we both move forward, the world moves forward.
What do you think is more difficult, being a good boss or being a good mother? Do they require any of the same skills?
I do not buy into these stereotypes. Have we ever asked a man whether it is more difficult to be a good boss or a good father? To me, this is not an either/or issue. What I will say is that it is time for the world to achieve full gender equality. UN Secretary General Antonio Gueterres underlined just how difficult the situation is when he said that Covid had erased years of progress. And sadly, he was right. We need female leadership now more than ever.
Huge thanks to Roberta Metsola for taking the time to talk to us about what it is an important subject for Island Bébé.