Conferences are fun - they are a melting pot of inspiration, ideas and innovation. They help you and your company grow, by hearing first hand the stories and journeys of your peers. I love both attending and presenting at conferences - but as a mother of three, with the littlest still very much dependant on me, conferences can pose challenges I never considered pre-children.
In the last few weeks, I have had the pleasure of presenting at three different conferences: two in Sydney, one in Melbourne. Given that I live in Brisbane, there were a few more logistical challenges than just turning up and presenting. I tackled them differently for each of the conferences.
The first was a one day conference in Sydney. Luckily for me, Sydney is only an hour away. On this day, I woke up early and got myself ready, woke my baby up, and gave her her morning feed. Then I kissed the kids goodbye and went off to the airport. I was only at the conference for a few hours - long enough to deliver my presentation, have lunch and mingle, then hop back in a taxi to the airport.
The day was simple enough for me, although I did miss out on most of what conferences are about - hearing other people's ideas. The day was a little more challenging for my husband. In order to accommodate my travelling, on a day where I would normally be home looking after two of my kids, he had to take the day off.
The advantage of leaving all the kids at home was that it made the travel and speaking arrangements simple and easy (plus, I got to feel like a carefree adult for a few hours). The disadvantages are that my husband lost a day's work. I also carried the guilt and worry with me all day that the plane would be late, and I would not get back in time to do the bedtime feed.
The second conference was a little further away in Melbourne. When applying to speak, I noted that I would need to travel with my baby. My conference acceptance came with a note to say that they would accommodate whatever I needed. This time I travelled with my baby. We flew the day before, so we were settled for the conference the next day.
I engaged the services of Abracadabra Nanny Agency to find a nanny who would babysit at the hotel during the conference. (We have used this service a few times for internal Thoughtworks events, as well as sponsoring Childcare for the DDD Brisbane conference last year, so I was familiar with them.) This allowed me to stay a little longer at the conference.
Fortunately for this conference, my other two kids were at school and kindy, so my mother handled school drop offs and pickups as well as after school care until my husband came home.
The advantage of hiring the nanny meant that I could travel the day before, and come to the conference focused without the added stress of travel. The disadvantage was that my baby was left with a stranger, which added to her stress and anxiety (and my mum guilt) and that I had to call on extra help back home.
The last conference was a two-day conference, again in Sydney, and coincided with a week that my mother also had off. For this trip, I took not only my baby but also my mother who looked after the baby when I was at the conference, so I was able to actually attend for both days.
However, because my usual babysitter was with me, my husband had to take two days off work (one he could work half-day from home when the boys were at school and kindy, the other he took the whole day off because kindy didn’t run).
The advantage of taking my mother was that I was able to attend the whole conference, knowing that my baby was happy and well cared for. The disadvantage was that it impacted my husband the most.
Three conferences, three different ways of attending. All had advantages, and all had disadvantages.
What is the best way for a mother to attend conferences?
I’m still not sure, but I do have ideas for how conference organisers can make it easier for mothers to attend:
First - solicit upfront any requirements that would be needed, just like the conference organisers at the second event did.
Second - make it easy for mothers to take their babies (if needed) by providing travel and child-friendly accommodation.
Third - provide childcare options, either names of nanny agencies or include childcare as part of the conference.
Ultimately, though, the biggest difference is empathy. Providing supporting ways for mothers to attend and present at conferences could only impact the melting pot for ideas, inspiration and innovation for the better.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.