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Sam Smethers: I needed to ‘take some time out’ after juggling a busy career and family life

The former chief executive of the Fawcett Society has described how the “mental clutter” of juggling a busy career with family life led to her quitting her job.

Sam Smethers, who was the head of the charity – which campaigns for women’s rights – until the end of last year, said that balancing the demands of running a small organisation with childcare “grinds you down” and that she decided it was time to “take some time out”.

Ms Smethers, who has four children – two in their 20s and two younger ones aged 9 and 12 – said that “the worry factor…making sure something’s done…tends to be more on women’s shoulders” and that she had decided it was “time to step back to actually clear that clutter a bit and to do a bit of refocusing for myself”.

The former chief executive spoke about the reasons for leaving her high profile job in The Telegraph’s new podcast, The Juggling Act, which explores how women have found returning to work after having children, and which you can listen to on the audio player above.

Her comments are likely to reignite the debate about how women can be supported after having a family, with research showing that women’s careers have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic as they struggle to juggle home schooling with work. 

Ms Smethers, who has been chief executive of the Fawcett Society for five years, said that her decision to “take a step back” was for her “own sense of wellbeing as well as my own performance in the job”. 

“I think you get to a point where, with a job like this you just have to know that you know you’re not necessarily functioning as well as you were a year or two ago,” she said. 

“It’s important to know when you need to recharge yourself and that however much you consciously balance this stuff it’s hard. It’s just hard work and it’s like attrition, it just grinds you down after a while.”

The “mental clutter” was one of the most difficult aspects, she said. “Loads of mums I think will say the same thing. You’re thinking about so many different things at only one time, you know, it’s the worry factor, it’s the sort of making sure something’s done.” 

And whilst these issues are part of “responsible parenting”, they tend to be “more on women’s shoulders, it’s women that do that worry all the time”, she said. 

“I’ve got a job where I have a lot of mental clutter as well because it’s a smaller organisation you’re kind of carrying multitasking and if someone’s not here, someone’s off sick, you’re covering that….I haven’t got people I can really share it with and delegate to in any number. You’ve only got to have two or three people off and you’re then really, really stretched”.

For Ms Smethers, “self-care” is important. “We don’t put enough emphasis on what that self-care actually looks like and what that means,” she told the podcast. 

“Stepping away from doing something like this for a period of time is not a sign of defeat or failure…It’s just [what] I need now”.

Listen to Sam Smethers on The Telegraph’s new podcast, The Juggling Act, on the audio player at the top of this article, Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Join the Telegraph Women Facebook Group to discuss The Juggling Act and more.

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