“Hey, Mom” – Interview with Nadine Jürgensen

Introducing Nadine Jürgensen
Nadine Jürgensen is a journalist, lawyer and entrepreneur, co-founder of elleXX, the first financial platform for women in Switzerland. She is the co-president of WE/MEN and Helvetia ruft! has been writing about gender equality and gender gaps for many years. Nadine is as mother of 2.

Nadine, you are a committed person, fully involved as a volunteer and as an entrepreneur with the recently launched company elleXX. How do you organize yourself to balance everything?
Well, the question is actually wrong, it should be “how do you and your partner organise yourselves”, as the children fortunately also have a father. And he plays an important part, in addition to the after-school care that our children attend three days a week after kindergarten and school, so that we can both be gainfully employed.

You decided to have children and a career – why?
It was never really a question of either or for me – I actually always assumed that both had to be possible. As a young mother, however, I had a rude awakening. That’s when I realized that Switzerland really needs to catch up when it comes to reconciling family and career.

What are the biggest challenges for you as a “working mom” in everyday life?
Since the children are older and both are in school, things have really improved a lot. I want to encourage all mothers with young children: they eventually become more independent. In addition, the external childcare allows my children to become very independent and self-confident. In the past, the high daycare costs were a problem for us, as were the rigid work structures with meetings at early or late in the day. We don’t even need to talk about the situation when a child suddenly became ill. Then the whole division between my husband and me, who does what, when and where, got mixed up. Since the pandemic has made home office acceptable, even for my husband, we can cope better with the unexpected.

It’s not always possible to do both. How do you deal with it when you have to choose between work and family commitments?
When in doubt, I choose my children, be it that I reserve Tuesday afternoons for their hobbies or that I don’t take on moderation when my children have Christmas markets or celebrations. But of course, at the moment I work a lot and the children also know that I don’t always have time for them. Most of the time they can keep themselves busy by playing, reading or listening to a CD. Or they are in the after-school care center, where they have lots of friends and are also fed at lunchtime. Dinner is always together – and there is also reading aloud every evening – maybe listening to one or the other worry… We go through this ritual every evening, even if only my husband or I are at home. It’s sacred, also for the children.

To what extent is compatibility an issue for you – especially in your role as entrepreneur, COO or as co-president of “WE/MEN” – at work?
Self-employment helped me balance everything. Independent work isn’t an issue. What worries me, however, is that so many women have low part-time jobs and therefore earn less and are less able to provide for their old age. Pension provision is closely linked to employment and many women have neither a pension fund nor a pillar 3a. Switzerland will have to tackle this systemic problem of women’s labor market participation in the coming years, if only because of the major shortage of skilled workers we are heading towards.

What is your ideal workload and why?
That is very individual, of course, depending on one’s life situation, but ideally a woman should have been employed for at least 70% of her entire working life so that her pension is secure.

As a mum of two children, you certainly know the problem of the high costs of day care. How did you solve it back then?
Yes, it was terrible! At the time, three days of daycare for one child  cost 2500 francs, plus all the stress of being a news journalist. At some point we actually did the math to see if it was “worth it” for me to go to work. After taxes (since we still don’t have individual taxation) I was earning 900 francs a month. Unfortunately, I quit my job then, and I wouldn’t do that again today. This left me with a big gap in my finances.

Did your career change after the birth of your first child? If yes, how?
Yes very much, I was actually only expected back for 60% without being asked and I had to do a huge balancing act between my job and my small child. Of course I always worked more than 60%, often sitting in the kitchen with my laptop and my child next to it, I even still have a picture that my little one once took of me. I found it very difficult that hardly anyone at my workplace could empathize with me, because there were hardly any young mothers in the company at that time. My supervisor even boasted that as a young father he had always pretended to sleep at night. The early days, when you sleep so little and always run around a bit like a zombie, are physically and mentally exhausting. On the one hand, you have to find your way in the role of mother, on the other hand, you often have to prove yourself at work during this time in order to stay relevant after maternity leave. The first year, indeed the first three years, are tough until they are out of toddlerhood. But also wonderful. In spite of everything, I like to reminisce about that time.

Role distribution at home: What is your situation like? Are you equally responsible for the kids and the required organization in everyday life?
In the past we had a much more traditional division and I had a large part of the mental load – that has changed now. My husband also packs snacks, organizes presents or thinks about packing swimming gear. It wouldn’t work any other way now.

What advice do you give your daughters (and other girls) for their later professional life?
Do what you love! For me, it’s important that they choose a profession that they live with heart and soul, the financial side comes by itself and isn’t everything. A wise woman once told me as a teenager: “Nadine, make sure you always earn your own money so you don’t have to beg for a new pair of shoes.” I have always kept that in mind. Of course I would hope that the income would suffice to earn their own living and not just be enough for new shoes, and that my girls would one day lead an independent, self-determined life, also as mothers.

Awina is committed to improving the compatibility of work and family life by providing earmarked loans for daycare financing. But what does reconciliation actually look like in everyday life? In the series “Hey, Mama”, “Hey, Papa”, working parents talk openly about their experiences and challenges as working parents and give insight into how they personally reconcile children and career.