Portrait 08

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"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."
© eveleen007 - stock.adobe.com
© eveleen007 - stock.adobe.com

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.

How did it come that you took over the department management?

Female Scientist: When the head of department position was offered to me, I had just been back from parental leave for three weeks. I had not yet settled in properly, and I was just in the process of getting my daughter used to go to the daycare. Nevertheless, I decided to take over the position. Over the next seven months, there was a gradual transition. I worked in my old position while being taught the future leadership tasks. When my predecessor retired after these seven months, I took over the management of the department.

Did you have concerns when you took the leadership role?

Female Scientist:  Professionally, I was totally confident, I had no reservations on this matter. My concerns were more about how I manage to cope with the position while having reduced hours and less presence. Before I agreed, I spoke with my predecessor. He encouraged me and he was convinced that I was the right person for the job. So I said to myself, “this is a challenge – I accept it – what can possibly go wrong”.

Before you became a mother, you worked full-time. How do you work today?

Female Scientist: I took two years parental leave. The first year, I was completely at home. I started again with 26 hours and additionally had a teaching assignment at the university – so I had 29 to 30 hours per week. When I took the leadership position, I increased to 30 hours. Over time, I have increased my number of hours more and more. Meanwhile, I work 37.5 hours a week – that is 96 percent. On two fixed days a week, I work from home.

What ideas and plans did you have for reconciling work and family when you learned that you were becoming a mother?

Female Scientist: I had planned to return from parental leave with 13 hours a week. When I calculated, I realized that it did not pay off financially. I did not actually make plans. I knew that I would stay home for a year and would care for everything else when the time comes.

I honestly did not think about the reconciliation of family and work. Probably because I never feared that there could be a problem. I am a member of the works council and I knew that some of my colleagues had already taken parental leave before I did and then returned to their current position.

And how did you coordinate with your husband on reconciling work and family life?

Female Scientist: My husband is a teacher and there is almost no better job than this when it comes to reconciling work and family life. He usually works from home in the afternoon so it was clear to him that he would not reduce his working time. Of course, he has to prepare lessons in the afternoons, but he is flexible in terms of time with that. My husband takes care of the training of the trainee teachers and therefore does not have so many fixed dates. He can look after our daughter even with a full-time job. I could not work 7.5 hours a day if my husband was not as flexible and would not pick up our daughter regularly from the daycare. If my husband had a 9 to 5 job, it would be much harder to organize family life.

The fact that my husband did not reduce his working time was also a financial decision: the place where we live is expensive and you do not want to give up your gained standard of living. Since my husband as a civil servant doesn’t have some social security contributions, he earns a lot more than me, because the net salary is higher.

How did your supervisor and colleagues react to your plans?

Female Scientist: My superiors responded totally relaxed. Probably also because there are already other parents in the group. It was like a request program: I said I wanted to work for that amount of hours and he agreed.

The colleagues were happy that I was expecting. The offer of the leadership position, so shortly after my return, surprised some a bit. I think today they are quite happy with me. Noticeable was that especially female colleagues congratulated me. I think they were delighted that there was more femininity in the leadership.

What is special about a leadership function when you have a child?

Female Scientist: What is 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. You get up at 6 o’clock in the morning and have to be the boss at home because the child is in the defiance phase and does not want to get dressed. When you come to the office, you are also the boss and everyone wants something. In a leadership function, you have much more meetings and there is less time for the work that stacks up on the desk. On some days I feel like I am on the run in the office and hence I really enjoy my home office days. Despite working from home then, I am always reachable. I use a tool for that with which I am reachable at home via the normal office extension.

How did you organize your child's care?

Female Scientist: My daughter goes to an all-day childcare facility. The grandparents live a little farther away and cannot jump in spontaneously if something comes up. However, in the past two years, it has only happened two times that both my husband and I had urgent appointments when our daughter was sick. In case of a sickness, I take care of my daughter and work the best I can from home. I have made the experience that the world does not end down when I am not there for a few days.

Which framework conditions of your institute contribute to your reconciliation of family and work?

Female Scientist: I work at an institute with a high proportion of part-time employees. There was always acceptance here for the fact that some people are more and some are less often at the institute. I can set up my working hours the way that suits me best, as long as I am so flexible that I still take part in important appointments. In fact, Monday is my home office day, but every two months a compulsory meeting takes place on Mondays, so I have to be at the institute then.

Our head of the institute understands the challenges of families. Currently, a parent-child office is supposed to be set up at the institute. It is not yet clear which room to choose or whether it will be a mobile solution.

At my institute, there is also a new works agreement for telework. Until now, the home office was only possible for persons with children or relatives in need of care. This changed. In addition to the fixed teleworking at my institute, there is also occasional domestic work, if you have to stay at home for a day, because, for example, an artisan comes.

How satisfied are you with how the reconciliation of work and family works with you?

Female Scientist: My institute has no influence on the things I am unhappy with. Like, for example, that the day only has 24 hours. It is a challenge to do justice to everyone. One is always torn between child and profession. However, I see that my daughter is doing well. In this respect, I do not have to have a bad conscience. Of course, it would be more relaxed if you could get the same money for less work. But I like to do my job and I would be miserable if I were only at home. After ten months of parental leave, I felt very bored. Nevertheless, if the financial pressure were not there, I would live more relaxed with only 50 percent of my working time. When the work is piling up at home and the child wants to be entertained, I say to myself: housework can wait. I rather enjoy the time with my daughter.

What are the biggest challenges for you in everyday life?

Female Scientist: For me, the biggest challenge is commuting. I need one and a half hours per way with public transport if it runs well. This had led me to buy a car. It makes me a bit more flexible and I can go shopping on my way home.

The childcare opening hours are another challenge. Through my long drive, it is difficult to pick up my daughter in time if my partner cannot do that exceptionally. Most of the time my daughter goes to daycare from 8am to 4pm. I work 7.5 hours a day and have another three hours driving time.

What advice do you give to other parents?

Female Scientist: Do not listen to advice! As a mother, it doesn’t matter what you do, someone always finds it inappropriate. You’re an uncaring mother because you are working. On the other hand, you neglect yourself because you are not working. No matter what you do, you cannot please everybody. That is why my advice is: Do your own thing. Nobody else is in your situation. For me, this model fits me and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Being parents is a process you have to grow into. You get a child and all of a sudden the world is a completely different one. The term love is completely re-defined. Feelings emerge that were previously unknown. One suddenly has responsibility and worries around the clock. You have to be flexible and listen to the inner voice

What could your research organization change to make it (even more) possible for you to reconcile private and professional life?

Female Scientist: So far, my research organization is a large authority, where some things work very slowly. I have heard from colleagues that it was relatively difficult to take sick days for children. This should be simplified so that you do not have to wait months for the refund. Since as a result, parents do not take advantage of the children’s sick days that they are entitled to.

I personally would have wished for more support and information on maternity protection and parental leave. It would have been helpful to have a checklist to know what my employer needs from me and what the health insurance company needs from my employer.

What would you do differently retrospectively?

Female Scientist: I would have set up the nursery at least two months before the birth. My daughter was surprisingly born six weeks early. Except for a stroller and a baby seat, we did not have anything then. Getting children is the only unpredictability that you still have in life. Apart from that, you have a plan for everything. But getting kids is a real adventure. You do not know what to expect.

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