Making partner as a single parent
Tabitha Elwes joined CIL in 2017 to set up and develop its media practice, having run her own firm for five years. Here, she joins us to talk about juggling single parenthood with being a Partner and how she achieves that ever important work/life balance.
What made you decide to leave your own firm to work at CIL?
Prior to joining CIL I ran my own media strategy consultancy. I started my business as a single mother with a young child; I wanted complete control over my time and so working for myself was the perfect way to create the balance I needed. Whilst I enjoyed running my own business, I missed the dynamic of working with a large team of bright people. As my daughter got older, I decided it was time to look for something else.
Choosing CIL was very much driven by the amazing people I met at the company. They understood my priorities and gave me the flexibility I needed to balance my time between my child and the firm.
How did CIL support you in the transition from running your own business to being a member of the Partnership?
To start at a new company, especially as a Partner, can be quite daunting. However, CIL made me very comfortable. They were very open, not wanting to set me in any particular direction and letting me take the lead on how I wanted to build and develop my practice.
How do you balance your time and responsibilities as a single parent with being a Partner at CIL?
My daughter was in secondary school when I joined CIL. While it’s a tough balancing act, some of it is just pragmatic. Living close to the office allows me to go to parents’ evenings, watch netball matches and remain present in my daughter’s life while still being able to get back to work relatively quickly if needed. Even prior to the pandemic I would work from home one or two days a week to make sure that I was around. I would take the time to drop her off at school occasionally, even if it meant starting work a bit later, as I feel it’s important to do these things.
I have found that having a good support structure at home is important. Compromise is needed on both sides – CIL accommodates working parents, but you also must be able to return the compromise occasionally. Having my parents babysit every now and then allows me to continue my work at busy times when I am not able to be at home.
What support does CIL offer to parents in the workplace?
There is always a slight tension between home life and work life that shouldn’t be underestimated. But, there are ways to reduce that tension and make it work better for you. CIL takes a very pragmatic approach to flexible working.
The leadership team operate by the shared understanding that sometimes life must come before work. CIL has both mothers and fathers who aren’t working full time as well as those who take extended leave to spend time with family – we can make it work.
There are always going to be trade-offs when you’re balancing family and work so it is crucial to be upfront about what you want to achieve, the compromises you are willing to make and how you want the firm to accommodate you. Consulting is a challenging career, and when your children are young, you have to be realistic about how much work you take on. I was lucky enough to have help at home to care for my child when I was working, but there are other ways of doing it. At CIL, we are still learning how to make these compromises and it is not always easy, but we have some excellent role models that show how the balance can work.
How does bringing up a child change your attitude towards work?
It definitely changes your view on work – it gives you balance. I found that it grounded me somewhat. It made me more disciplined when it came to separating work from my personal life. My perspective on what is important in life certainly changed.
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