Digital mums: training the UK’s most flexible freelance workforce
24 September 2018
We shine the spotlight on Digital Mums, an organisation that is helping thousands of mums return to work by learning digital skills that lead to rewarding and flexible work opportunities.
Mums are used to multitasking, being resourceful and adapting to change (as anyone with a stroppy toddler and the wrong shaped sandwich will testify). But returning to the world of work after starting a family can be a fraught and frustrating experience.
It’s quite common for mums to lack confidence and to feel ‘left behind’, even after only a few months out of work.
So, it’s comforting to know that a group of Digital Mums is taking on the challenge of helping mums gain the skills and confidence needed to return to work, by offering training and advice that lead to freelancing opportunities.
Mum’s the word
For many women, becoming a parent can mean having to make some stark career decisions. Opt for expensive childcare or rely on family goodwill and go back to work full-time; take a flexible job (which often means menial and low paid work), or decide not go back to work at all.
Of the 76% of women who want to go back to work after a care-related career break, only 39% will have access to flexible work. This inflexibility results in 65% of women ending up in roles beneath their ability.
The challenge isn’t just in finding flexible work. For many women, having a child creates a shift in identity that develops into a diminished sense of self. The struggle to reconcile the role of ‘professional woman’ with being ‘mum’ often results in a lack of confidence.
This combination of organisational rigidity and professional anxiety mean that mums all over the country have sacrificed around £1.3 trillion in lost earnings.
Navigating the skills gap
But for those mums that do return to work — what lies in store?
Research from the World Economic Forum (WEF) shows that the landscape of work and the skills needed to succeed are changing. These changes are happening now, and at breakneck speed.
The impact of these changes is predicted to be as profound as the effects of the industrial revolution on the horse and cart.
Coupled with the general perception that a career break is synonymous with a breakdown in skills, the prognosis for getting (and keeping) mums in work seems poor.
However, some skills are predicted to be more valuable and have a longer lifespan than others.
With 90% of households having access to the internet, and 86% of adults going online every day, our world is becoming increasingly digitised. We get more of our news and information online than ever before, and more than half of adults use online streaming services and social networking sites.
Clearly, digital skills make our current world go around, but there’s a growing realisation that the gap between need and knowledge is vast.
Research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found that nearly half (48%) of business owners in England felt they and their staff lacked basic digital skills.
More specifically, these entrepreneurs felt their lack of knowledge stopped them from pursuing online growth — vital in today’s market.
Gaining real skills in a virtual world
Attempting to plug this gap is Digital Mums, a pioneering social media training company dedicated to improving digital skills while empowering mums all over the country.
In our increasingly digitised world, the power of the internet just keeps on growing. The result is a mountain of data. Data about consumer usage, mindset, motivation. Data about best strategies, key influencers, best practice and different platforms.
But without the skills to unravel and interpret all this data, it’s just white noise. In the hands of someone like a Digital Mum — it’s the basis of a social media campaign.
Helping businesses navigate the digital age, Digital Mums offer social media management courses to women from all career backgrounds. But mums with marketing, comms, PR or TV experience can participate in the social media marketing associate programme which matches mums with a business during training.
These mums work with business ‘programme partners’ to plan, implement and evaluate the company’s social media campaign in line with its brand values.
All courses are online and offered as full-time and part-time options, giving mums the flexibility to study and raise a family.
There’s a virtual campus and modules are delivered through a variety of mediums, including webinars, podcasts and interactive videos, with mums working on real projects for real companies (who expect real results).
For women looking for more general skills, there’s a new 10 to 12-week ‘Digital Retox’ programme which aims to upskill mums with 21st-century digital workplace skills.
Octopus and digital mums
Mona Steininger, Head of Digital for Octopus Group, first heard about Digital Mums through word of mouth. Here, Mona describes what was so appealing about Digital Mums when it first came to her attention:
“For us, becoming a partner was a win-win. We were able to help a Digital Mum develop and enhance her digital skills while benefiting from her social media experience — an area we were only just venturing into.
“Not only that, supportive digital communities such as #DMCollective and the #WorkThatWorks Facebook group, showed us that Digital Mums valued the same principles of community and inclusion that we do at Octopus.”
To get to most out of the programme, Mona describes how commitment from both sides is a must: “as a programme partner we needed to invest time, effort and resources to enable our Digital Mum to create and execute an authentic campaign. “
Mona also adds: “getting involved gave us the perfect stepping stone towards fully realising the marketing opportunities available through social media channels. Overall, we found the Digital Mums programme hugely beneficial and it’s certainly one that we’d consider using again.”
Retraining, reigniting and rejuvenating work
The concept of Digital Mums was a leap of faith and the decision to launch the initiative brought its own anxieties. Founders Nikki Cochrane and Kathryn Tyler already ran a successful digital media agency. When they saw demand for well-trained, professional social media managers severely outstripped supply, they chose to make a difference and do something about it.
“The transition from leaving the safety of a full-time job and taking the leap to go it alone can be very daunting. But if you really believe in what you’re doing and can make a difference to other people’s lives, it helps eradicate the fear.”
Nikki Cochrane, co-CEO Digital Mums
Getting mums back into work isn’t a new idea. But not only is Digital Mums addressing the need for professional cyber skills, it is also giving women expertise with longevity.
In its Future of Jobs and Skills report, the WEF suggest one industry where skills will remain more stable than others, is media, entertainment and information — affirmation that the Digital Mums programme is not only getting women back to work, but providing them with future-proof skills too.
Five years on and Digital Mums has made a difference. More than 1,800 mums have completed courses with four out of five finding flexible, fulfilling work within 12-months. Their greatest rewards are hearing the success stories and seeing the difference their training has made to the lives of the mums that have come on board.
“We’re all about women helping women. From the start, we set up Digital Mums to be a supportive community to combat the isolation women can sometimes feel both as a mum but also a freelancer. We also recognise that confidence and imposter syndrome are huge barriers preventing many women from achieving their career goals — either in their existing workplace or when looking to return to work.”
Nikki Cochrane, co-CEO Digital Mums
Retraining takes time, effort and for some mums — exhausted with the fog of childcare, it can be a real leap of faith. But as well as providing women with career opportunities, graduates have been rewarded with something more — confidence. Comments about increased self-esteem and a belief in ‘I can do this’, make Digital Mums feel like more than just a training opportunity.
Getting women back into work after a career break could boost economic output by £1.7 billion. Entrepreneurial enterprises like Digital Mums, offer women another way. One where they can contribute to the world of work, feel fulfilled, but still be someone’s mum in a way that they choose.