29 June 2019

Dementia in the workplace: the implications for career development practice


Next month, Dr Valerie Egdell and I will be presenting at the British Society of Gerontology 48th Annual Conference which takes place from 10th – 12th July 2019 in Liverpool. We are paper 136, part of the Work, retirement and the economy session. An abstract for our paper can be found below. 

This is the first public presentation of our (with Dr Louise Ritchie) highly important work on this topic. 

Abstract
It is recognised that dementia is, and will increasingly be, a workplace issue. While continued employment is not appropriate for all, it is possible (Ritchie et al., 2018). At present however, many individuals leave the workplace before, or on receipt of, a diagnosis of dementia (Ritchie et al., 2018). Continued employment, facilitated by reasonable adjustments, or redeployment, may not be considered; such that employers may fail meet their legal and human rights obligations to support employees with dementia (Egdell et al., 2018; Ritchie et al., 2018). The workplace exits of people with dementia are often poor, compromising dignity and self-esteem (Ritchie et al., 2018). This paper argues that more attention needs to be given to supporting employees with dementia to either remain in work or exit the workplace, and that career development practice has a key role in this. While attention has been paid to the career development needs of older workers and persons with disabilities (Chen, 2011; Soresi et al., 2008), there has been no consideration of persons with dementia. This paper considers the role of careers practitioners can play in the development and implementation of coping strategies to aid the continued employment of persons with dementia. When continued employment is not possible, the role of careers practitioners in the range of decisions, that extend beyond the cessation of work, is considered. In reflecting on the role of career development practice in supporting employees with dementia, the importance of cross-disciplinary work between this area and (social) gerontology is stressed.

3 June 2019

Scottish Breastfeeding Awareness Week

A post for Scottish Breastfeeding Awareness Week

I'm not going to post specific stats here about breastfeeding. This post is simply about how I wanted to breastfeed my children and I have done, against the odds. I grew up in the UK borough with the lowest rates of breastfeeding and having gone for 2 years with my first child and breaking the 1 year mark with my second today I'm in a minority of women who breastfeed their children beyond an initial period of weeks or months. 


Two things that have made this possible:

1. My first child weighed, wait for it, 11lb 1oz at birth. He breastfed in the hospital after a traumatic forceps birth. He refused to feed when we got home. He lost 10% of his birth weight. When the midwife (from the team at the then Glasgow Southern General Hospital) came round to check on us we were on the verge of being readmitted. Said midwife cleared their diary for the rest of the day and told me they were staying with me until we got it sorted. I wanted to breastfeed, so breastfeed I would. Dad was sent off to Tesco for a breast pump, a steriliser and a small box of formula, just in case. By the time he got back the baby was latched on and pretty much didn't latch off again until the week before his 2nd birthday. 

2. I had seen other mothers breastfeeding as they went about their daily business.


Being a visible breastfeeder

The second point is why it has been important to me, especially over the last year, to be vocal and visible about breastfeeding and to get on with it wherever and whenever it's been necessary. My second child had absolutely no issues with breastfeeding but has never taken a bottle of expressed milk. It's made exclusively breastfeeding trickier, but still doable, and has had the added bonus of meaning I've been out there role-modelling to the max for other women who might want to breastfeed in the future. 


A few things that I personally think would make breastfeeding easier (for women like me): 
  • Ditch the Breastfeeding Friendly campaign: (controversial I know but...) in three years of feeding I've not once checked to see if it's OK to breastfeed. If you could drink a cup of tea or coffee somewhere then you can breastfeed your baby there. The sign "lets you know that businesses like cafes and restaurants will make an extra effort to look after and welcome breastfeeding mums" - What exactly are we talking about beyond common decency and being part of a society where we would look out for someone who has both hands full with a baby feeding from the breast or bottle? Not all babies want a quiet space for feeding, not all mums want to hide behind a curtain whilst breastfeeding - we can't be prescriptive about what's needed. (Note: if we are talking foot massages and haircuts while feeding, that's a different matter)
  • Fund broader concepts of peer support: peer support is not set up for working mums and we need to stop assuming that all breastfeeding mums are on extended maternity leave and can trot off for a chat about how they are getting on during the day on a weekday
  • Please, Scottish Government, put reusable, washable breast pads into the baby box: the plastic backed ones make your boobs sweaty, fall out and are an example of a single-use plastic that doesn't make the job any easier





4 May 2019

Presenting at a conference, with a baby

mum with baby presenting at conferenceLast month, I took my ten month old baby with me to a conference away from home. It's not common to see a baby accompanying a delegate on the academic conference scene and I had quite a few questions and comments whilst at the conference and more since. For those curious as to how it came to happen, here's how (and why) I did it.

 "Did you ask if you could bring her?"

I had a baby less than a year ago, so she comes with me to a lot of work events. She's been seen regularly throughout this academic year, as I returned to work "early" when she was only 3 months old. For the conference "all" I need to do for explicit practicalities was ask the hosting venue for a travel cot and high chair. There were plenty of other logistical issues to navigate.

First of all, I'm not going to suggest bringing your baby with you to a work event is easy or suitable for everyone and every working environment but it has often worked for me and it worked in this instance. It won't always work. They get bigger, and noisier, but believe me, a baby can certainly break the ice and absolutely deliver a bang-on-time sigh when everyone is thinking, "Please no more of this, it's lunchtime."

[...] (What everyone is perhaps thinking but remains unsaid)

Let's discount the alternatives in this specific scenario of an academic conference. Some conferences do offer childcare support, but childcare doesn't work for everyone. This conference didn't offer it and even if it had, a conference creche or ad-hoc nursery place nearby isn't the answer. At the moment, my baby is very attached. It takes her several days to warm to someone enough to let me, her dad or her brother leave her alone in a room with them. A cuddle...don't even go there. We joke she has an "off button" when she's passed back to us, roaring.

mum and baby
Conference dinner
Almost before people ask, I feel obliged to mention her older brother in school and the kids' dad, back home, and how we don't have any of these healthy, wealthy, local and time rich grandparents who are flexibly propping up the childcare system for a lot of parents. Did I mention my daughter has never taken a bottle and is only now, two weeks after the conference, even beginning to entertain the concept of a beaker of water? The breastfeeding literature doesn't show women juggling babies around at work, just a cosy room to express milk whilst reading a magazine and baby who cares not who feeds them.

"I left my 10 month old behind for the first time, and I never even thought to bring her."

It's hard now to think of the conference without her being there. She was welcomed and people couldn't have been more helpful or supportive. So many people said it had changed their perceptions. Nobody flapped or fussed. It felt like everyone wanted a cuddle. Not for the first time people mentioned how they wished they had considered doing the same, either now or in the past.

"You're both so relaxed!" 

The baby barely grumbled throughout the conference. In fact, I think on a couple occasions, her giving the occasional squeal may have jolted people who had drifted off back into the room. The week after the conference, the last of my daughter's first block of teeth erupted. She was just over a cold. She wasn't, as we might put it, on her "best form." But she was with a parent, someone she knew, someone she felt secure with. As her mother, I wasn't worried about how she was coping with a change in routine or without me for longer-than-usual periods.

baby in conference presentation
The youngest delegate
Presenting

The logistics of my actual conference slot are more of a behind the scenes story. It was perfectly planned. To go up last in our panel presentation, meant I had time to judge how the baby was on the day. I put her into her baby carrier in just enough time for her to settle but not to get bored. In all honesty, it wasn't the best presentation I've ever done, but who ever does their best after a day or two of travelling and in a new venue with an unknown audience?

The back-up plan

What if it had all gone terribly wrong? What if, after driving 225 miles, she had screamed throughout my session? Well, I had a back-up plan in that I had a "plant" in the audience. Huge thanks to fellow academic-parent Rosie Alexander who volunteered, without question, to be on call if needed because, like so many others, she understood why I was doing it. I had a double back-up plan had Rosie been struck down with an ailment or stranded somewhere en route as she had quite a distance to travel and a convoluted route from Orkney (a friend local to the conference location and a buggy that faces away from the pusher, so the baby doesn't actually know who is pushing her for an hour or so).
gin and baby foods
Emergency conference supplies

And I was prepared for disaster. I had a bag of emergency conference survival supplies passed over to me at our drive-down stop off by Claire Dean. Claire is another academic and recently completed her PhD after a long journey that started when her own boys were little. As she states in the acknowledgement in her thesis, one day maybe her sons will understand why she worked so hard.


More important perhaps than "How did I do it?" is "Why did I do it?" 

The only alternative to taking the baby, for me, in this instance, was not to attend. I did it to prove it can be done. To prove that people don't react negatively, in their masses, when a baby appears. To prove that all babies and all parents' needs are different and can be met in ways outwith expectation. What working parents need are options, and what we all need to do is to put inclusion at the forefront of event planning.

24 April 2019

NICEC 2019 - Conference Slides

My presentation from the NICEC conference 2019 is available via this link.

This is a succinct summary of my PhD research to date, on gender and career decision-making, with a focus on the Scottish Modern Apprenticeship programme, and now includes some initial findings from my quantitative research. 

23 April 2019

Election to the CDI Professional Standards Committee

Following the recent ballot, I am pleased to say I have been elected to the Career Development Institute Professional Standards Committee as the Career Education constituency representative.

Many thanks to members of the CDI who voted for me!

21 January 2019

Milestones, balance and support

A milestone has been significantly, and quietly, passed: it is over 4 months since I came back to work off maternity leave. A milestone because this date means I've been back at work for over half of my baby daughter's short life already. And we have all survived.

I'm continually infuriated by the lack of inclusion of mothers who "go back early" from the maternity leave narrative, the lack of focus on the benefits of and barriers to parental leave, the difficulty in finding baby changing facilities in academic institutions and the fact that my daughter is being set up for a lifetime of disappointment once she realises that girls' and women's clothes don't all contain the multiple pockets she's become accustomed to in her baby wear.

But I'm also invigorated by how welcome my baby has been at work. We've joked about how she's clocked up more CPD hours than most in our profession since she arrived in June, but it's true. She's attended conferences, partnership meetings, seminars and at this stage, if you are one of our students, you're more likely to have met her than not met her. She's part of the team. And has having her around had any detrimental effect on the outcome of any of those meetings and events? No. Has it meant that I am happy in my work roles and in my home life? Yes. Has it been a juggle? Yes. Have there been unpredictable challenges? Yes. Has it been hard work? Yes, and, no.

I've been back at work now for longer than I was off on maternity leave, when the general perception is that all women are off for a year. They aren’t. But we "early" returners have all the same issues as those mums who do take a longer maternity leave. For me, the baby is 7 months old and still very much attached. She has never taken a bottle and isn't keen on being spoon-fed so after 6 weeks of offering purees we have given up and gone for complete baby-led weaning. She doesn't want to roll but loves sitting. She hates being on her tummy and her favourite place is being held by mummy or daddy. Basically, she's the entire opposite of her older brother. Which proves only one thing: all babies are different and you can't plan for all eventualities because nothing is predictable. Except perhaps that they will sleep eventually and that the absolute killer nappy will occur as soon as you've dressed them in a brand new outfit.

Not all babies are as content as she can be (my first was a lot harder work!) but if I've done nothing more than prove that it is possible to be a full time working woman and a good mother to a newborn / infant, and be the role model I wished I'd had in my own life, then the last few months have been worth it all round, not just for me.

But I had a tough December. My health nose-dived. I had throat issues, a couple of viral infections and lost a weekend (and the last of my pregnancy weight) to a vomiting bug. This all followed on from a short episode of poor mental health. I didn't want anyone to know, because I didn't want fingers of blame to be pointed. It's not because I went back to work “early” or work too much - I love my job, my work and even though I'm doing it at the pace of a snail, my PhD. I have a supportive partner and my children are doing OK (nits, colds, tonsillitis have all struck recently but they are just things that happen - the having of the kids far outweighs any stress they bring me). But life is overwhelming and after two very demanding work years it was more the realisation of how hard it's been that hit me as much as where we are now. I experienced unexpected anxiety and low mood and several of the other symptoms of PND which I didn't experience after my previous child's birth. But I can say once again that the NHS support I've had has been excellent and that if you find yourself in the same position, you must seek help and support sooner rather than later.

I'm doing a lot better now, taking more time out and switching off. I'm sporadically back running, albeit slowly for now, doing a couple of classes at the gym, and I'm working on getting regular massages to keep myself at my full height rather than potter about with hunched shoulders. A couple of commitments have had to fall by the wayside and I'm wary of taking on too much in the way of extra work projects.

So for 2019 it’s priorities only: health (for as much of it is within my control), balance and a refocusing on my PhD, on which further blog posts can be expected as I finally have a good clear stretch to concentrate on exactly what I need to get done over the next 2 years to get it finally finished! I can’t have two children in school and the damn thing still rumbling on…

PhD Survey: Prize Draw Winners

Thank you to the 464 respondents to my PhD survey which ran in the second half of 2018. 

The draw for 5 x £20 Amazon gift vouchers has been made today. Congratulations to Chelsea, Michael, Kirsten, Ryan and Greg, who have been contacted by email to confirm their email addresses and to ensure safe receipt of their prize which will be sent shortly!

A ghost from the past - a tiny play

An interesting start to the week as I received an email asking for the text of a very (and I mean very) short play I wrote some time ago for Gi60 which was staged a few times in the UK and US. This time it's heading over to a theatre in New York for it's mini-revival. Full text below! Looking over it I'd describe it as more of a sketch than a play, so I hope it raises a smile.


Househunting for Ghosts

 A ghost (white sheet) sits at a table, opposite a vampire (cloak and fangs).

Ghost:             I’ve been in a graveyard the last three years and the nightly wailing’s bringing me down.

Vampire:        There’s been an upsurge in consecrations in the area that you’re looking at but I think I’ve found the right property for you. Four bedrooms. Unblessed. Family of heathens. Three children. Full cable package.

Ghost:             ESPN and MTV Europe?

Vampire:        Oh yes, and the eldest can apparently see auras so you can play around with her a bit when you’re bored. I’ve two poltergeists looking to relocate-

Ghost:             I’ll take it.