Developers & TechnologyView profile
The purpose of our ‘MotherBoard’ content series is to highlight incredible working mums within tech & data, as well as businesses that are supportive and progressive within their approach to creating more inclusive tech & data teams for women.
Hanlin: My name is Hanlin Xu. I am currently a Lead Insight Analyst within the BI team at Bloom & Wild. My role has evolved a lot over time – initially I was covering retention and product analytics. I have decided to take on new challenges in Finance and Business Development analytics since returning from my mat leave. Supporting mums working within any industry is important. Within tech and data, especially in start-ups and scale-ups where new technology and tools can change more rapidly than bigger companies, it’s even more important to support the mums appropriately so that the working mums feel empowered and connected to perform at their best.
Hanlin: Before the pandemic, due to frequent commutes into London from Cambridge, my workday was a bit more manic and I think the fellow ex-commuters would agree! Thankfully my son has been a late riser and my husband worked near home at that time. I woke up at 7am to catch the fast train into London and got into the office around 9.30am. Around 4.30pm I would need to make a decision to leave or not for the 5.07pm or the 5.37pm or even later, depending on the meetings and discussions I was participating on that day. After getting home around 7.30pm, I would have dinner with the family, bath the children, and put them to bed around 9-9.30pm. I would usually spend an hour tying the loose ends of some work before my own bedtime.
One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is making working from home a norm. This has revolutionised my lifestyle drastically.
I am very happy about not having to stand under someone’s armpits or sit on the floor in a cold winter on my way back home! I could continue my train of thoughts or discussion well past 4.30pm. My output at work has increased. I am now able to pick up my kids from school and nursery and spend more time playing with them and really treasure these crucial early years. From 6pm to 9pm it’s strictly family time. On Wednesdays, I finish at 3pm to pick up my son from school and have some exclusive mother-son fun time.
I do still catch up with some work after their bedtime but rather than spending time doing unfinished work I now do more exploration work within this golden hour. The downside of working from home more often is of course the difficulty in socialising with colleagues in person but I try to make up for it by proactively participating in off-sites, conferences and parties!
Hanlin: I always have a can-do attitude and I have never been afraid of changes, including job changes and having babies. Rather than thinking of motherhood as an impossible challenge, I view it more as a natural progression in my life and I plan my jobs and travels calmly and strategically around family priorities.
I have chosen to work with a caring company and I have taken a role that energises me most so that my time spent away from family is most worthwhile. I also ensure family and work are 100% separated. For example, I leave my phone and laptop in a different room when I am with my kids so that I do not get distracted by the messages or emails. Bloom & Wild is also very thoughtful when it comes to respecting individuals’ after-work hours and providing flexible hours for people who need them.
Despite our best efforts to balance, there have been physical and emotional challenges. Sleep deprivation has been a huge challenge for us as a family when our 4 year old and a 1 year old did not sleep through the night and woke up at different hours one after another. It was particularly difficult in the initial months after I returned to work from maternity leave. My immune system also gave in after a long period of sleep deprivation so I had tonsillitis, adult chickenpox and covid one after another. Children’s sleep issues are difficult because it’s deeply personal and unpredictable. It can create friction between couples, affect mood and mental health as well as physical health. It is also an issue that cannot really be helped by external sources such as nannies or doctors. With pure patience and love, we now sleep a lot more but still deal with different sleepless phases when they come our way. Another source of stress or imbalance is the uncertainty about childcare availability. There was a stressful period during which I could not get my son a place in the afterschool program and I was frantically looking for alternatives. It’s especially difficult for us to find any temporary solution as we have no help from grandparents as they are 8000 miles away from us. Luckily I found someone in the end! But now it’s time to worry about half-terms and holidays…
Hanlin: The hardest moment for me was the initial 3 months after returning to work from maternity leave when all sorts of painful adjustments took place. For example, I took a new role, and the team size evolved from 4 to 11 (the wider team tripled in size too) and a new tool was launched so I needed to upskill rapidly to catch up. Like everyone else, coming out of lockdown (and mat leave), I was catching all sorts of viruses too with minimal sleep. One month into the new role, there was a performance review cycle where lots of peers were promoted and celebrated.
While I was fully appreciative of others’ progress and success, it was a difficult moment to swallow the fact that there may have been missed opportunities because I made a firm and conscious decision to prioritise my family for a year.
The following two months were particularly challenging and tearful as I was coming to terms with this realisation while trying to catch up with everything around me. Looking back, these darker moments were tough but essential steps for me to grow and led me to where I am now.
Hanlin: To try to recognise and value growth during motherhood. The growth and development that we, mothers, achieved during that time were not necessarily recognised in our career. The knowledge and soft skills we picked up during motherhood are immense. We never really stop working and thinking – as we are always planning and strategising on what’s best for the children and for the whole family – from nappy sizes to figuring out how to talk with kids. To give the time and space needed to re-board any mums or dads returning from leaves. In Tech & Data, or any start-ups and scale-ups, new technologies and tools evolve and change quickly. It is important to make sure mothers take enough time to absorb and adapt. I am lucky to be working in a company who constantly thinks about how to improve this process.
Hanlin: I still think in the UK the childcare cost is too expensive compared to other countries such as Germany. The sheer expensiveness usually leads to parents having second thoughts about their career and usually the woman makes that sacrifice. In order to solve the childcare cost crisis, the government may also need to subsidise or financially encourage more individuals or businesses to set up good childcare facilities for employees. e.g. in the area I live, there are only 2 nurseries closer to home that are way over-subscribed with a waiting list till 2024 and they cost at least £1300 a month for a full time space.
Hanlin: I once had an interview with a mum candidate who’s taken some years off to take care of her family. During the
interview, she sounded apologetic for the gap on her CV. I have had calls and conversations with friends who found out they were pregnant but anxious about missing out on professional opportunities or goals. Other friends have taken shorter maternity leaves for the same reasons. I would like to emphasise that we make our choices based on our family circumstances and we shape our own paths. As a society, we need to say no to these anxieties and stress imposed on us. As mums, we deserve respect and praise as we make these decisions that we think will benefit our family and kids in the long term. We are all brilliant in different ways!
Amber Rowbottom & The MotherBoard Team