Five years ago, I made the decision to go part-time. One of my sons is disabled and I need – and want – to share caring duties with my wife.
This has always been ‘accepted’ on face value by my bosses, yet the treatment I receive suggests my workforce at least is far from accepting that I’m genuinely just as capable and committed as a full-time worker.
The worst instance of this was at a role I had four years ago. I originally worked 36 hours a week, then negotiated it down to three days. While I don’t think my employer was particularly happy with this set up, I was allowed to do it due to my seniority and the skills I could offer the firm.
However, after a year in this role a new general manager of development started, Chris*, and he definitely had a problem with me. In part, I think this was because I wasn’t a stereotypical ‘alpha male’ like him. In fact, during this particular role I had spent a lot of time talking with nurses at a retirement home, (as it was relevant to our company), after which my CEO sent me on a course, which was centred around respectful care for elders. This was very much at odds with Chris, who was purely focused on developing land.
But working part-time really didn’t sit well with him either. At one point, he organised an evening out for the management division, to which I wasn’t invited. When I asked him why – via email – he shouted across the office, ‘It’s just for the big boys, not the part-timers’.
A new project manager started, Paul* – a friend of Chris’s – and he started bullying me around right from the off. One example of this is when the two of us were discussing a development, and he suddenly said, ‘I’m making the decisions around here, so unless I ask for them, keep your opinions to yourself.’
I had been really senior for a few years by this point, so it was such a slap in the face to have someone ‘put me in my place’ so aggressively. He apologised and said it was ‘just the way he worked’ but I knew it was very much ‘you’re not one of us’.
I also began to notice that meetings kept taking place when I wasn’t there. I would come into the office and start talking about the meeting later that day, only to be told that it ‘had to be changed to yesterday.’ I would point out that they knew full well that was my day off, only to be told, ‘Oh we can’t be waiting around for you’. But they could have, we’re talking 24 hours.
The tipping point came when Chris’s PA asked me to sign off the minutes of a meeting – one that had taken place without me. Reading through these minutes I discovered that half my projects had been outsourced to Australia. I was the design director – if we were going to bring in other design firms, it should have been my job to do so. I’d been totally cut out of the loop. So, I confronted Chris, but his reply was simply that Paul wanted to move in that direction, and he would back him. I resigned there and then, as I knew I didn’t need to be there anymore.
Since then I have worked in more supportive environments, but I have still been penalised for being part-time. Despite the fact that I am at my most senior level – a registered architect running large projects – my advancement hasn’t gone anywhere. For instance, I was in my most recent role for three and a half years, yet only advanced to a managerial position. Compare this with a job I had in 2012 where I worked full-time: I advanced from a staff-level designer to associate director in just 4 years.
Largely, I believe this is down to a deep suspicion of anyone who does not spend a 40-hour week at their desk. People talk a good game about how the ‘workforce is changing’, plus we have so much technology now that allows us to work remotely and at flexible hours, but in my industry at least it seems working flexibly or part-time is seen as a sign of weakness.
The saddest irony is that a lot of the ‘old dogs’ in my industry wax lyrical about the importance of spending time with your family when they’re young – ‘You won’t get that time back’. But that’s precisely what I’m doing; it’s time for employers’ ‘action’ to start marrying up with their words.
*Names have been changed