On finding confidence in a portfolio career: Lucinda Acland

Obelisk community manager Lucinda Acland shares her #MyMillionHours story of carving a path to work through her ever-evolving family life

When I first heard the term ‘portfolio career’, I was delighted to have a rather dignified description applied to my somewhat idiosyncratic working life. My experience is certainly not unique and since I have joined Obelisk Support, I have come across hundreds of others who have also had to cut-and-paste themselves into a variety of different working styles.

On a personal level I can identify strongly with the #MyMillionHours campaign as the question of having the time to devote to family whilst working has been at the heart of my life. I have worked in the legal sector on and off for the last 25 years. In the 1990s, I spent several years practising in commercial litigation, both as a solicitor and as a professional support lawyer in the use of technology and litigation for an international law firm. As a solicitor, I returned from maternity leave to my full-time job, as I was the breadwinner. I was still a junior assistant and the ethos was to work long hours to meet billing targets, and attend client and firm events. It was then that the day-to-day reality of the tension between competing interests of our two careers and parenting responsibilities hit home. My husband and I alternated between going in early and staying late and working weekends, and we shared a nanny with another couple.

When our third child came along a few years later, I decided to leave work and return to full-time stay at home parenting. It gave me the freedom to focus on our own family life, which needed stability during some very difficult times. I continually looked for ways of returning to work, but in a way that would cover all the bases of the moving targets of family life. I certainly experienced the ‘loss’ of myself without a separate individual endeavour. I also felt that I had somehow failed professionally and lost economic independence. I knew many other women who had opted out of various careers to focus on their families and who had huge amounts of skills and experience that were going to waste.

I needed to get back into the job market but it felt too difficult to re-engage with my previous career. In 2007 I started work as a writer and presenter, and then Legal Editor for The College of Law (now University of Law) for their online CPD course. It was full time in the office but I was able to work 8am to 4pm, which worked well for school hours. This was a good way of using my legal knowledge, research and writing skills. I also enjoyed interviewing people and the filming process.

When my eldest child was doing her GCSEs, I decided to look for a more flexible home-based solution. This came from the launch of a new legal services provider Riverview Law in 2012, where I oversaw the social media campaigns and managed their online presence. This was quite a change as I had to learn the principles and application of social media from scratch.  Nevertheless, I knew about the legal marketplace and the structural changes it was undergoing and was able to promote the company in an individual way and harness the interest in the new law environment. I could do a lot of it remotely, I liked the buzz of being involved in a new start up and felt my efforts made a difference. The hours suited me very well as I could choose when and where I worked, but I knew I was on the look out to do more than just social media.

In 2015 I joined Obelisk Support in the new post of Community Manager. I work 30 hours a week, with flexibility to work from home. The business is growing and expanding fast. The role involves being the day-to-day point of contact for our pool of consultants, developing a learning and development programme of events and involvement in our tech-enabled operational platforms and tools. I am also involved in the First 100 Years charitable project set up by CEO Dana Denis-Smith, which is the creation of a digital museum to celebrate the journey of women in law.

It is important to me that I can work within a team where the atmosphere is collaborative and supportive. It is by far the most impressive organisation at which I have worked in terms of having an authentic ethos driving the commercial activities. Working at Obelisk aligns with my values of encouraging people to have confidence in themselves, and recognise the value of their experience. I believe it helps promote a growth mind set, so that we develop curiosity alongside wisdom, fostering new ideas and innovation when applied to the workplace.

I speak regularly with lawyers who are keen to use their professional knowledge and abilities but, because of family and childcare responsibilities need a flexible working pattern. One of the hurdles that we aim to help them overcome is self-esteem and confidence. Often lawyers have come from a high achieving background and they can feel cut adrift when they step outside the career path. It’s important to stress that this is not just a women’s issue – we have many men consultants who are working in a different way too. Previous constraining attitudes are giving way to support and recognition of modern life’s demands on family and careers.