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Recent governments in the West seem to have become champions of working mothers. Quoting affordable childcare as the main obstacle for mothers looking to return to the workforce, they are encouraging companies to provide daycare facilities on-site and childcare providers to lower their costs. That’s great, right? We’ve got so much government support. They want to help us, right? Do you really think so? I would love to give you a bit more background on why governments seem to champion feminist ideas of financial independence for women, and this might even help you decide if and how you want to return to work after having children.

Let’s play a game to start with. Imagine Mummy A had Baby A. Mummy was a teacher before having a baby. Then there’s Mummy B. Mummy B used to be a nanny and is now on maternity leave taking care of Baby B. In one scenario, Mummy A quits her job and dedicates her day taking care of Baby A and teaching her. Baby A is happy and Mummy A is happy, although she misses her salary and the recognition that came with her teaching job. The taxman is not happy because Mummy A is not paying income taxes or social security contributions anymore. To make matters worse for the taxman, Mummy B also decides to stay home, asking why should she pay someone else to take care of her child, just to go off to work and look after someone else’s child as a nanny? So have we two stay-at-home mums looking after the children, with no income, and the state who has just lost two taxpayers.

What happens when Mummy A and Mummy B are encouraged to return to work? One idea would be for Mummy A to become a nursery teacher and take care of Baby B. She will earn a salary now, pay taxes and social security contributions again, and create a job, because someone needs to take care of her baby, Baby A. Who is going to take care of Baby A? Mummy B! Mummy B settles her baby into daycare nursery, pays considerable nursery fees for the service, and accepts a job as a nanny looking after Baby A. Even though she pays income tax, her net salary is still higher than what she pays the daycare nursery, because Mummy A is looking after five children at the same time, which is very efficient economically. So what do we have now? Two “working mothers”, fulfilled, building a career, and a happy government, because both mothers are paying taxes now. If you asked the baby A and baby B, they might not like this arrangement, but in pure economic terms, GDP goes up, employment goes up and tax revenue goes up. So that’s why most governments are supporting feminist ideals. They don’t care if your child is happy or you are happy, they want their employment statistics to look good and oversee a bigger budget.

For educated women in highly paid jobs, it often works the way described above because their net salary does tend to be considerably higher than their childcare cost. But because, as we see, a share of 20-50% of your salary is diverted to the state in the form of taxes and social security contributions, unless you earn multiples of what a nanny or a nursery worker earns, at some point it doesn’t pay to go to work. For example, I did eyebrow threading recently and I asked the lady threading my eyebrows who was 7 months pregnant how long she was going to take off from work. She had already decided she was definitely not going back to work until her child went to school. She asked me what my daughter’s nursery cost. I did not want to tell her the monthly cost, because it would sound too shocking, so I just said it came to about £10 per hour (the equivalent of about $15). There are many jobs that pay less than that, so even in economic terms, it doesn’t make sense for people in low paid jobs to go back to work.

Of course, my daughter goes to a very nice nursery with a garden and plenty of staff, where each staff member looks after as few as three or four children at a time. Of course, we can bring down the nursery cost to £5 or even £3 per hour if we

  • increase the number of children each staff member looks after from 4 to 8 or 10 or 15
  • decrease the space the children share, although this might mean they fall ill more often
  • decrease the quality of food, no organic food, no fresh food

Does this sound appealing to you? Is this a good outcome? I am just trying to make it graphic because when a politician talks about bringing down childcare costs to help working parents, it sounds great, but you as a parent need to be aware of how childcare costs can be bought down, and it usually involves lowering the quality of childcare. Maybe as a society it should not be a priority to bring childcare costs down but to recognise the importance of our children’s well-being and development to the extent that we know it is worth gold. Why should we aim to build a society where all the mothers are back in work, paying taxes, while their children are warehoused in childcare centres that are designed to be as cheap as possible? What is the long term benefit of that to anyone? Maybe we should start seeing the value of high quality childcare or mothers dedicated their time to their own children for at least a few years to the benefit of society? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for mothers having the option to work and be financially independent if they want to, but let’s not glorify the idea of all mothers returning to work as soon as possible to the detriment of our children. Life is short.

IMG_4906For those of you who don’t know yet, I quit banking quite a while back now and have joined the world of  entrepreneurs and freelancers. Of the many reactions I got, this was my favourite note from a fellow freelancer:

“Well done you for leaving banking and going on that one way journey to self-employed status. Once one works for oneself, there really is never any going back!”

I couldn’t agree more! My still employed friends, on the other hand, sometimes ask me funny questions like

– “do you miss banking?” or

– “do you regret quitting your job?”

and it usually makes me burst out with laughter. Seriously? I love the freedom of working for myself, even though it means spending evenings / nights and part of my weekends on work. My work is with me all the time now because it is part of me and part of my life, rather than a separate activity I have to endure to earn money.

I remember when I worked at McKinsey, leaving my home town at 6am on Mondays and then collapsing in bed on Friday evenings, waking around noon when the bakeries were just starting to close, I saw nothing of real life that was going on in my community. On rare occasions, when I took a morning off to renew my passport or attend a dentist appointment, I would see people having coffee somewhere or walking to work around 9am in the morning, and I was wondering who all these people were who didn’t sit in offices and how they were paying their bills?

Now my life is very different. I know the mail woman by name, I know my neighbours, I know the people in the shops, the waiters in the local cafes and restaurants, and many other freelancers and entrepreneurs who are free to meet up and exchange ideas in the middle of the day. I pick my favourite coffee shops and restaurants for meetings, or work quietly on my own sofa when I want to be by myself, and it works perfectly. Sometimes, I meet other entrepreneurs in co-working spaces, such as the lovely Forge & Co in Shoreditch, and I feel like the luckiest person on the planet.

It really is a one way journey! There is no going back. Are you thinking of quitting your job? I highly recommend it!

London Business School MBA

It’s been over five year now that I graduated from the London Business School with an MBA, in my case with specialisation in finance. Not a week goes by in which I don’t interact and meet with former MBA classmates or other LBS alumni in London or from around the world. It’s time to take stock and reflect on what the MBA in London was worth.

  • Networking: London Business School has a very strong and active network. The alumni network is large enough to have people across a variety of industries and jobs from around the world, yet it is also small enough to be friendly and close knit. You can ask for help or advice from anyone and you should usually get a response. I’ve had classmates asking me for advice on how to get a loan for a small family business or on how to get tickets to art fairs, people asking for help with case studies, alumni swapping holiday homes, and especially in recent years, many alumni get together to work on start-up projects or exchange ideas on new ventures. Of course, networking during your MBA is very important, but it doesn’t stop there. Many alumni continue to use the LBS network very actively following their MBA or MiF (Masters in Finance).
  • Friendships: for me, this is personally the most valuable part. Most of my best friends in London are former LBS classmates (and their partners and children, by now!) and my daughter is starting to be friends with my MBA colleagues’ children! I’ve also made LBS friends years after graduating from LBS by attending networking events and meeting MBA alumni and students from different year groups.
  • Career: Many of you who don’t live in the UK (or US) know there is a hiring bias for local students in these countries. Getting a job in London not easy when you sit in Moscow or Tel Aviv or Berlin, no matter how qualified you are. I found it much easier once I was based in London and attended London Business School. I had always dreamed of living and working in London, and I felt I had to be based in London to really have the opportunities I needed to succeed in my job search in London. Towards the end of the MBA, I had three very attractive offers to work in London, and most of my classmates were in the same situation. Subsequent years were hit by the financial crisis and had to work much harder (and some returned to their home countries where they saw better opportunities)

Do I recommend the LBS MBA? Unreservedly – if you can afford it! The school provides a generous amount of scholarships that you should take into account when looking at the cost of the MBA.