Kathryn has a boy of 13 and a girl of seven and is under pressure to get a dog. Her husband is president of dynamic markets at Starcom Mediavest Group. They live in Clapham and have a house in France. She was interviewed for her current role with then four month old daughter in the room and has, in her time, pumped breast milk in a stationary cupboard. ‘Joyous’ is a recurrent word; she emanates energy.
Christine Armstrong: Tell me about your day
No two days are the same but I generally get up at 6.30am, get my kids up and get my son on the coach to school at 7.45am. We eat breakfast together, during which they always seem to argue at the moment, then some days the nanny and I take my daughter to school, other days I come straight to work. Even if I do drop her off, I am in the office by 9am.
Generally I am out a minimum of two nights a week - no more than three unless it’s Christmas – because it puts me out of balance and I like to be there for homework. But from the 20 November to 17 December last year I didn’t have a week night at home which was tiring. And very boring for my nanny and husband.
What systems do you have in place to make it work?
We have a lovely French nanny called Claire, only our third nanny since my son was born. I get good nanny feedback! She does the washing, shopping, all the house-keepering-type things and she is brilliant. She picks up my daughter from school and meets my son and she organises tea and homework and baths and bed if my husband if not around. She understands the pinch points. I sometimes think I am being managed by her! She has a credit card so she can deal with emergencies. She also has a column on our family calendar so we know where we are on haircuts, new shoes and tights. Otherwise you get to Friday and you realise you haven’t got the sheep’s outfit you need for the school thing…
Because my husband travels for work, every quarter we sit down and work out when he in the country and not and we plan my life accordingly. I quite regularly call my husband’s PA in case he has forgotten to tell me he’s in Germany over night.
We have a wooden box for all the post during the week which we open after breakfast on a Saturday morning together.
I also have filing systems – A4 hard back files of school stuff for each child to keep consent forms, trip information and so on in one place. At the end of the term I throw it all out and start again.
When doesn’t it work?
The worst phase was when a previous nanny was pregnant and stopped turning up because she was too tired. I would be on the phone begging for a temporary nanny, arranging for my builder to give them keys and then calling the school to say a woman I didn’t know was coming to pick up my kids. I felt out of control. I felt I was letting down my children and work.
Do you feel judged by others?
No and why would it bother me? There are great women at my kids’ schools and I like all of them whether they work or not; they’ve made the choices that suit them. I’ve not experienced any sniping. One of the other mums is a paediatric surgeon and she trudges up to north London and does a great job and then still feels she needs to apologise if she can’t make a mums night out.
Where are you limits, what can’t you fit in?
I’ve long since stopped feeling guilty about not going to the gym or yoga. I signed up for 14 classes of yoga on the grounds that my husband could be home by 8pm. But then he would ride back on his bike at 8.15 pm and I’d get too stressed to do yoga! Then I had a personal trainer at 5am. Then I thought, ‘Why am I doing this? I just need to walk between appointments’ and that gives me thinking time too.
You need to be selfish: if you need a blow dry to feel good at a black tie do where you are representing your company until midnight then give yourself a break and book it in. Book a meeting a bit later so you can walk back from somewhere. Give yourself space not to be on the run all the time.
You have to be very clear what you expect of yourself. Be realistic. Don’t beat yourself up for committing to things you can’t do. Don’t have an unrealistic to do list. Have five things you must do, five that would be great to do and things that you might possibly do if you perhaps got snowed in at home. And take half an hour to read your book in a long hot bath when the kids have gone to bed and don’t feel guilty about it.
What advice will you give your daughter (who currently wants to be an Olympian and a doctor)?
Marry a really lovely man who supports you emotionally. My husband is my biggest supporter; if I said I think I should take over Ban Ki-moon’s role he’d say, ‘you’ll be great at that’. If you have a great partner everything else will work.
But you also need a bunch of mates around you who say ‘No you are not going to feel guilty about this, that’s ridiculous’. WACL is also an amazing support network for me.
What could/should the government do to help?
Whatever you legislate for, it’s your down-on-the-ground dirty experience that matters. I’ve learnt things along the way but nothing you can legislate for: I do sometimes think they should legislate against women volunteering for impossible tasks in meetings [laugh heartily]. I think of a lot of women have this thing that we feel we are responsible for making it all right, everywhere with everyone. You have to keep the silence – look at the table! - and shut your mouth when the random tasks come up.
Seriously, I think the best thing the government could do would be to set up a mentoring system for women to encourage other women.
Thriving or surviving?
I have the best job in the world with people I love and I work in films – films! - with really great people and I’m happily married and I have two fabulous children. All set against the perspective of having lost two siblings when they were very young (an older sister died of leukaemia, another was hit by a car while crossing a road). It is a defining thing. So what do you think?
Meet the other POWERMUMS from the series:
Christine Armstrong is VP of research agency Penn Schoen Berland.