Why being a mum has made me a better trustee
18 May 2023
It’s not always possible to simply say ‘We are going to do this my way’ and force decisions forward. You may need to take a step back, find another direction or think through challenges with a different perspective.
Returning to work after having children can feel all-consuming. When drinking a cup of tea uninterrupted is a major achievement, the idea of finding a career that gives you flexibility, uses skills you feel confident with, and where you won’t feel like the odd-one-out for being a parent sounds like an uphill battle.
As a parent myself, I empathise. But as a professional pension trustee, I have continued to build a career that is flexible as well as inclusive, and I’ve found a surprising number of transferrable skills between parenting and trusteeship.
Here are just seven:
Anyone who has experienced children putting on their shoes while their train departure time ticks closer will know that goals aren’t always achieved in the way you might like, or to the timescales that you expect. Tasks might need to be broken down into smaller steps; you might need to celebrate achieving one small milestone at a time, and it’s important to know when to experiment with a different approach. Many of the same principles apply in trusteeship. It’s not always possible to simply say ‘We are going to do this my way’ and force decisions forward. You may need to take a step back, find another direction or think through challenges with a different perspective.
Learn to prioritise
Parental prioritisation usually involves spotting situations that are going to cause children real harm (hanging out the window), rather than simply annoying (jumping on the sofa). In trusteeship, that same skill comes into play in identifying situations that could cause serious damage to the scheme or prioritising decisions that keep the scheme compliant. It also means knowing and accepting that some work tasks will have to wait until a later date while the trustees deal with those priorities.
Pick your battles
A sure-fire way of running out of parental energy is to argue about everything that your child does that you disagree with. It’s just not possible to take on every point of difference. Instead, you learn to draw behavioural lines, set rules, and stick to them. The same principle applies in business, including trusteeship. There is no benefit to arguing with everyone about everything. It doesn’t help to build effective relationships or make anyone happy. However, in situations such as negotiations with sponsors during valuations, there will be important points of principle and red lines that you will need to fight for. Save your energy for those negotiations.
See the big picture
Alongside the good times, raising children has tough phases, especially when they involve lack of sleep. But they are just phases, they do pass, and are all part of the pattern of parenthood. As trustees, there will be times when business-as-usual ticks over calmly and other occasions when the team will be dealing with difficult, pressured decisions that feel overwhelming. In those difficult times, keep your head up, remain focused on the long term and remember that it’s just a phase.
The raging fury that accompanies a child having a haircut might sound a world away from trustee board disagreements. In both instances, it’s crucial to see things from another’s perspective and recognise that what’s at stake is vitally important to that person at that moment in time. By putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, taking time to understand the problem and what lies behind it, and building empathy with their position, you can then help to find a resolution.
Ask for help
There are times in every parent’s life when they will need some help. It might be a behavioural problem that you can’t solve alone, or a babysitter for a rare evening out. In the same way, there will be times in trusteeship where there are gaps in trustees’ skill sets or projects that need resources beyond the board’s capacity. Knowing when to ask for help, and where possible planning in advance to arrange it, prevents trusteeship – like parenting – from becoming too overwhelming.
Parenting and pensions sometimes feel like the most difficult jobs on the planet, but they should both be fun. As an added bonus, having fun can help get unpalatable tasks done and decisions made. For parents, turning tidying-up into a game rather than a chore is likely to get better results. Round a boardroom table that translates into helping the whole board engage with decision-making, planning and work tasks in a positive, supportive way that builds good relationships.
Being a professional trustee is a demanding job that draws on a wide range of technical and inter-personal skills. As I – and many of my colleagues caring for young children alongside our trustee roles – can attest, modern trusteeship is also a challenging and fulfilling career. It rewards people from different backgrounds, bringing an array of lived experience. My trustee role often makes more demands on my interpersonal skills than my technical ability, and I believe that becoming a mum has made me a better trustee.
How ZEDRA can help
A ZEDRA professional trustee can help your pension scheme whatever your situation or goals. We support employers and our co-trustees with strong governance, a focus on strategy and cost-effective implementation, and strengthening trustee decision-making for the long term.
To find out how our team can assist your pension scheme, please contact, please contact Kim Nash.