On being a working mum in the Jewish Community

Michelle Mitchell, Head of Major Giving at World Jewish Relief

I’ve been working in the fundraising team at World Jewish Relief for nearly six years. During that time, I have also been fortunate to have two gorgeous daughters, who are four and nearly one. At the end of my first maternity leave with my eldest, I reduced my working hours from full time to three days a week. Between having the two girls, I was also promoted twice.

I’ve worked very hard over this (slightly manic) period in my life, but I have also been fortunate to be employed by an organisation that has demonstrated a genuine commitment to advancing the careers of working parents. However, I know from friends of mine who work across a range of sectors, that this is not commonplace. The legislation that exists to support working mums (and dads) only truly works when combined with fair and equitable pay, affordable childcare and an organisational culture that rewards the quality of a person’s work, the impact that they have and their potential to achieve more – rather than simply looking at the hours that somebody spends at their desk.

I’m grateful to be working for an organisation that recognises how much give and take goes into advancing the careers of those who have familial responsibilities. If I need time off to care for my kids when they’re sick, I’m given it, no questions asked. Equally, when a humanitarian disaster strikes, as they often do on one of my non-working days, I’ll move heaven and earth to get into the office to launch the emergency appeal. I’m lucky to have a very supportive family, who pitch in on these occasions, or when I need to travel abroad for work, and I recognise how impossibly hard it must be for those who are on their own.

Fair and equitable pay, affordable childcare and reward principles are all important discussions for us to be having, but I feel that it is a privilege for these to be our issues. Globally, women are much more likely to live in poverty, be unemployed and face unjust discrimination - just because they are women. They have less access to land, education, income, decision-making, political influence and opportunity. Through my work, I’ve met single mothers in Ukraine who were totally unable to get a job due to the discrimination they faced, and have been forced to take benefits so they could feed and clothe their children. I’ve heard harrowing accounts of women forced to flee war, doing whatever it took to ensure their children’s survival. I’ve shut my eyes to block out images of mothers holding starving babies, their faces haunted by the devastating knowledge of the pain that their children are in, and yet, unable to do anything about it.

It may be up to each and every employer to ensure that they are treating their mums fairly, but it’s up to each and every one of us to look beyond our own problems, see the immense struggle of others and react with generosity and compassion, however we can.

World Jewish Relief is striving to raise the profile of the global issues facing vulnerable women and girls and increase awareness of the inspirational work that we do around the world to support them. If you would like to get involved, please email me at michelle@worldjewishrelief.org