Should I be worried about being considered fluffy just because my daughter came with me to a business meeting?
A meeting with my baby on board
Before an important meeting earlier this week, I had carefully arranged for my husband to meet me outside and look after our toddler while I completed my work. The plan was to meet discreetly at the venue, wheel the buggy over to him, and then morph myself into my business persona. It was my only option after a last-minute invitation to meet.
Why should I have had to go to such lengths to be a mum and career woman?
The absence of flexible and one-off childcare is excruciatingly painful for a work-from-home mum like me, who often needs to arrange last minute meetings. I'm lucky to be supported by a husband who believes in the importance of being married to someone who is engaged in her work. And since I work from home, I'm on hand 24/7 (literally, given that our toddler still refuses to sleep through the night) for our daughter.
On this occasion, the hand-over did not go smoothly, and my toddler - albeit fast asleep - attended the meeting with me. As I entered the room, pushing the buggy and sleeping tot in front of me, I had to steel myself against the horror of feeling as though I was being seen as unprofessional.
I worried that I would look like I was not taking the meeting seriously, that I was being flighty, or unfocused, and didn't understand the value and gravity of the business meeting. In short, I felt on my back foot, as though my credibility had been damaged.
Is it like this for fathers? What if my husband took our baby along to a meeting? Would he be viewed as unprofessional? Or would he be lauded for his commitment to his child?
Why am I even asking these questions?
In my personal experience speaking about organising childcare is precarious - brought up among other mums but not in public and not in front of men. It is like ovulation, where everyone knows it's challenging, but it's too "gross" or personal to talk about, so we leave it to the women to solve.
The question at the front of my mind is whether my own self-perception as unprofessional is itself corrosive, a kind of self-imposed censorship. I don't believe I am overstating the negativity around mothers who integrate children into their business life, whether in word or deed.
Whether or not I worried about being considered fluffy, the toddler came with me, and the meeting progressed smoothly. My actions themselves became part of the cycle towards dissipating negativity and moving towards acceptability. Baby or no baby in tow, I have every right to be in a meeting, and there's nothing wrong with being open about the fact that children exist.
Only if women are confident that they are not diminished by their children's presence or arrangements will men - and our social and business structures - come to accept that children are a reality of life, and that pretending they don't exist, or that they diminish our capabilities - men's and women's - in business is sheer nonsense.
With more women in the workplace, especially with directives such as the UAE's law that every board should have a female board member, the existence of arrangements necessary to care for children on the job will be one less secret that women need to hide to establish their credentials in the business world.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk