Portrait 06

Home/Portrait 06
"Although we work so much, we spend a lot of beautiful time with our children.“
© eveleen007 - stock.adobe.com
© eveleen007 - stock.adobe.com

The portrayed female scientist has been working at her Institute for more than 20 years. She began her career as a research assistant. For the last seven years, she has been working as a department manager. She recently became a professor at a university. In favor of this new task, she has given up the management of the department, but she continues to work for her research institute. She is married, has a son and a daughter with Down syndrome.

Have you already had children when you took a leadership position?

Female Scientist: In the same year that I became a group leader, my son was born. Four years later, I became a department manager. My daughter was born another two years later. When I took over the position of the head of department, I already announced to my institute directors that I would like to have a second child.

What is special about a leadership role when you have children?

Female Scientist: Before I had children, I could work when and especially as long as I wanted. As a mathematician, I tend to think big things through in one piece. Today, this is no longer working, because I often have to jump from task to task. This is not only due to the children, but also due to my department management function. Due to the children, I learned to discipline myself and to work more efficiently. Since the birth of the children, my days and weeks are tightly organized.

When after the birth of your children have you started working again?

Female Scientist: I started working again after maternity protection at both times. My husband and I shared the care of my son. There was no possibility of an external childcare at that time. I have therefore reduced to 30 hours per week for one year and my husband has reduced to about 60 percent. Each of us worked two whole days and one half day. We also split the nights. So the one who works the next day could sleep through.

After the birth of my daughter, I went back in full time after maternity protection. I knew as a department manager I was working full-time anyway. Hence, it made no sense to reduce my working hours. The kindergarten of our son offered us to accept our daughter at four months already. This was an exciting experiment for us, but it proved to be very good. However, we also had a Plan B: if the care had not worked in the daycare, my husband would have drastically reduced his working hours.

Did you have any role models that have also re-entered immediately after birth?

Female Scientist: At my institute, there were already colleagues before me who, after the birth of their children, quickly came back to work. That calmed me down because I saw that it could work. However, even without these role models, I would have get back to work right after maternity protection. Above all, these colleagues were helpful in terms of information on breastfeeding. They have advised me for the matter of pumping and storing of the milk. Breastfeeding was very important to me and that way I was able to breastfeed despite my work.

What is your husband’s profession?

Female Scientist:  My husband is a vocational teacher and additionally the crisis intervention manager at his school. Now, my husband works 75 percent, which corresponds to a working time of about 38 hours – even more in crisis situations. During the holidays, he is almost completely free.

What ideas and plans did you have to reconcile family and career before you became parents?

Female Scientist:  We have been explicitly thinking about the reconciliation of family and work long before the family was founded. That was still quite abstract at the time, because we did not know what expect. I think it is important to look for the right man if you want to pursue a career as a woman and want to have children.

We have agreed that we will share the upbringing of the children and that I will have the career-oriented position. The financial aspect was not the crucial factor, even though I earn more. As a teacher, it was easier for my husband to reduce working hours than for me.

How did you organize the care of your children?

Female Scientist:  Our daughter goes to a full-day kindergarten. Most of the time, we will take her at about 8:00 and pick her up at 4:00. Sometimes we get her earlier, too. My daughter likes to go to kindergarten and everything works out very well. I worry about how it will be when my daughter starts school. There are far too few places available in schools that have experience with children with Down syndrome. Good secondary schools with many years of experience with children with Down syndrome exist, but with elementary schools, it looks bad. We expect that it is necessary to accompany the school beginning very intensively.

Our son went to an open all-day elementary school. There he ate lunch and was cared for until 4:30 pm. Meanwhile, he is in 5th grade and an afternoon care is possible at this secondary school as well. However, if he does not want to stay there, he can go home. He is very independent and has his own key. After lunch, he does his homework on his own – no one has to sit next to him.

In the afternoon, my husband takes much time for our daughter and I spend one to two hours every evening with our son. This time belongs entirely to him, in this time we play, we read or I support him with the homework. Due to the flextime, I can go to a special sports group for children with Down syndrome with my daughter on Friday mornings. Although we work so much, we spend a lot of beautiful time with our children. Our children have more time with us than some of their friends with their parents.

My son sometimes has the impression that his sister gets more attention due to the Down syndrome. Unfortunately, one cannot prevent others from always asking for her first and not for our son.

How high is your travel activity?

Female Scientist: In my worst year I had exactly 50 business trips: these lasted for different length – some only a few hours, others several days. Over the years, I have been able to reduce the number of days I travel. I pay attention to stay overnight as rarely as possible. For this, I get up very early and come back very late. When I travel, my husband takes over the dropping and picking up of our daughter. Then they already have to be at the kindergarten at 7:15, so that my husband is in school in time at 8 o’clock. It is not a pleasure to be on a business trip all the time, because the substantive work is left undone.

What role does your partner play in the organization of everyday life?

Female Scientist: My husband plays a very important role. It is very important to him that his very significant part is seen and acknowledged. It happened to me in other interviews that it was neglected. That was very annoying to my husband and me. The situation was portrayed as if I were managing everything alone. We are, however, completely equal and split cooperatively.

Today, many men want to split cooperatively. These men, however, are faced with reservations – this often begins in their own family. Especially for the children it is a great advantage if they are cared for by several people and have early contact with other children.

We have optimized our domestic work. The household has to work as time-saving and more on the sidelines as possible. We both participate in domestic work, but my husband manages the bigger part.

Which particularities for the care, family and work arise from having a child with Down syndrome?

Female Scientist: By having a child with Down syndrome, one gets to know Germany from another side. A side that I didn’t know before. One is suddenly confronted with things that have not been thought about before: How does our society deal with people who are different? The answer is quite clear: they are discriminated. My daughter, for example, only gets a twin room in the hospital, while the same health insurance is paying a single room for other children. I think that is grotesque.

We parents have to ensure acceptance a lot. As a woman in the department management, I’m used to being tenacious, which was very helpful. The administrative dealing with authorities that you have to deal with is not my favorite occupation and it is an extra chunk of work .

You also learn how important networks are. These are important for all families, but especially for families with children with Down syndrome, it is not working without networks. You get answers to many of your questions there. I think it is a pity that there is no network of my research organization on disability. It would be nice if colleagues could exchange ideas that are either self-affected or have affected relatives.

What are the biggest challenges for you in everyday life?

Female Scientist: For us as a family, the biggest challenge is when a child is sick. Then our system is knocked out and we have to improvise. I exceptionally work from home sometime or the grandparents help out. My organization offers a family service. We have not used that yet, because I could not imagine the care by a completely strange person so far. In addition, because my daughter understands everything, but mainly communicates with gestures and speaks only a few words – hence strangers often underestimate my daughter.

For my research organization, the biggest challenge is that we have to generate more and more money and at the same time become more and more expensive. I think the workload has also increased. Fixed-term contracts are a major issue in family planning, for men and women. I have had very interesting applicants who I did not get because I could only offer them a fixed-term contract.

Which framework conditions of your research organization contribute to the reconciliation of family and work?

Female Scientist: The most important framework condition for me is the flexibility of working hours. A fixed model would not allow me time for important private appointments on the one hand and business trips on the other hand. But my flexibility is also based on the fact that my husband is very flexible.

The commitment of the institutes of my research organization to reconcile family and career varies a lot. At our campus, not so much happens; other institutes make much more for that matter. Overall, my organization should be much more innovative and pioneer with new models for the reconciliation. Who else could live innovative models, if not we?

What could your research organization change to facilitate the reconciliation of private and work life (even more)?

Female Scientist: My organization should be honest with itself. Because how many employees with a fixed-term contract have children? I see the time limited terms of contracts as a major obstacle for family planning. I myself already had a contract of indefinite duration when I became a mother for the first time. Because of that, I had a very different scope of action than colleagues who only have a temporary contract.

I am glad that my research organization has taken up the issue of care-needy relatives. That’s where it actually pioneered. The offer of the family service should be definitely made even more known. Since the care of relatives is a very important subject, which can be a mental burden.

What advice do you give to others who want to have children and pursue a career?

Female Scientist: I advise everyone: discuss very early with your partner – and far in advance of a pregnancy. Be aware of what you want and free yourself from conventions.

Role Models

Individual paths for the reconciliation of private and working life

Pictures © eveleen007 - stock.adobe.com

  • "The both of us didn't want the traditional family model."

    The portrayed female scientist started 10 years ago with a PhD scholarship at her institute.
    Six years ago, she was hired as a research associate. She has been deputy head of department
    for four years. Her husband works in the same department. Together they have a daughter in
    toddler age and a son in infancy. Currently, both work 40 percent to look after their
    son at home.

    Read on.
    Portrait 09
  • "Special is that you have responsibility around the clock.
    At the office, you are responsible for the employees and at home,
    you are responsible for your child."

    The portrayed female scientist has been working at her institute for 10 years.
    After the birth of her daughter, the female scientist went for parental leave
    for one year. Shortly after she returned to her old position, the management of
    a department was offered to her. She has been in charge of the department for
    one and a half years now and her daughter is three years old.

    Read on.

    Portrait 08
  • "A tandem only works with good coordination and absolute confidence."

    The portrayed female scientist A and the portrayed female scientist B jointly
    lead a department. Both work part time. Female Scientist A has a doctorate.
    She has been working at her research institute for almost 15 years. She is
    married and has a daughter and a son in primary school age.
    Female Scientist B started working as a research assistant for the research
    institute alongside her studies 8 years ago. She has been a research
    associate for 2 years.

    Read on.

    Portrait 07
  • "Although we work so much,
    we spend a lot of beautiful time with our children."

    The portrayed female scientist has been working at her Institute for more than
    20 years. She began her career as a research assistant. For the last seven years,
    she has been working as a department manager and recently became a professor at
    university. In favor of this new task, she has given up the management of the
    department, but she continues to work for her research institute. She is married,
    has a daughter with Down syndrome and a son.

    Read on.

    Portrait 06
  • "Role models were very important to me."

    The portrayed female scientist has been working at her research institute for
    10 years. The portrayed scientist has a doctorate and is a group leader at a university.
    Both are married and have a 14 months old son, whom they look after together.

    Read on.

    Portrait 05
  • "There is nothing special about taking on a leadership function
    and working part-time."

    The portrayed female scientist has been working at her institute for almost 20 years.
    Almost a year after she took over the leadership of a group, her son was born.
    Her son is now four years old. The female scientist is still a group leader and works
    part-time to be able to spend time with her son.

    Read on.

    Portrait 04
  • "A Dad home alone with a baby is really recommendable."

    The portrayed scientists both work at the same research institute. They are married
    and have two daughters, which are in kindergarten and elementary school age.
    The scientist has been at the Institute for seven years. When she started working
    for the institute, her first daughter was five months old and because of that,
    her father cared for her until her first birthday. The male scientist has a PhD and
    has been working at the Institute for two years.

    Read on.
    Portrait 03
  • "Instead of two bosses the employees now have two contact persons."

    The portrayed female Scientist and the portrayed male scientist lead a department
    of their research Institute jointly. The Institute has several locations. The two
    portrayed scientists work at a location that is rural without connection to an
    university town. The female scientist has a PhD and has been working for the
    institute for almost 10 years. She is married. The male scientist has a diploma
    and has been at the Institute for almost 20 years. He is married and has two
    children in primary school age. His wife works part-time at the same institute.

    Read on.
    Portrait 02
  • "The most beautiful time is when the five of us are together.
    That beats everything."

    The portrayed scientists have been working in the same department of a research
    institute for 10 years. Both are research associates and deputy group leaders.
    Today married, they first met during their studies. Nineteen months ago, they became
    parents of triplets. They organize the everyday family life on an equal footing and
    split all tasks half-half among themselves.

    Read on.
    Portrait 01