Leaders Plus Profile

Funke Abimbola MBE – General Counsel & Head of Financial Compliance, Roche UK

Childcare arrangements: Single parent family set up sharing care of my son with my ex-husband. My son lives with me most of the time and spends alternate weekends with his father and half the school holidays. We had live in au pairs for over 12 years until my son was old enough not to need one

Children: One 15 year year son

 Twitter handle: @diversitychamp1


1. Have you used skills learnt as parent in your career?

Definitely! When my son was younger, I learnt to do a lot of things very quickly, especially if he was having a nap. We are a single parent family so I became a lot more efficient in how I spent my time generally. I found this mindset very useful when I returned to work full time after maternity leave. Part of this was learning to prioritise very quickly what was important and what could wait. I became less of a perfectionist after having my son and realised that ‘good enough’ was what was required – perfectionism is totally unattainable.

2. Has your leadership style changed after having children?

Yes. I am less likely to suffer fools and my core values are deeply entrenched. I refused to compromise on my parenting, ultimately leading to me leaving my role as a corporate solicitor in a central London law firm for a similar role with a regional firm. At the same time, I moved out of London to Hertfordshire, creating a much better life balance. I became a lot more decisive (again, because this makes best use of time) and even more driven to deliver and get things done within the time available. Ultimately, having my son improved my leadership style and my overall performance.

3. Why do you know you are a good enough parent?

I look at my son and realise that I must have done something right! He is a very mature, 15 year old boy who helps me a lot with chores around the house and is really kind and considerate. He is popular at school with a very loyal and supportive group of friends. We, of course, have silly rows (he is a teenager after all!) but everyone comments on how polite, respectful and articulate he is. He knows right from wrong and has a clear sense of his own identity, always standing up for what he believes in. My diversity campaigning has also clearly rubbed off on him – he is a HeForShe advocate and a strong male gender champion. I am very proud of him.

4. When do you love combining leadership roles with caring for children?

I love combining leadership roles with caring for my son when he can benefit from seeing the impact of my leadership.

On top of my day job, I do a lot of voluntary, diversity campaigning work within the legal profession which involves many speaking engagements. From the age of 9, my son has been coming with me to some of my speaking engagements.  Initially, this was due to childcare issues but then I realised he really enjoyed coming to see me speak so I would take him with me as much as I could. He has been to several law firms and to Parliament to support me speaking. I have a picture of him sitting in Parliament next to several MPs when he was only 14!

 5. Tell us about a memorable Leader with Baby moment.

It was definitely the first time my son came with me to a speaking engagement at the London office of one of the world’s largest law firms. He was only 9 years old but immediately started ‘working the room’ and networking with others. He spoke to everyone from the receptionist to senior partners of the firm. I have a picture of him sitting on the balcony with the firm’s global chair, having a conversation, a priceless and memorable moment!

6. What is the biggest barrier you have overcome?

 Initially, it was juggling long hours working as a corporate solicitor in central London with being a mum. Eventually I left London for a regional law firm where I could enjoy a much better life balance.

Living with some of our au pairs was my next biggest barrier. We have had several au pairs over the years, many of whom are still good friends of the family but several of whom I would be happy never to see again! They always took good care of my son but some of the young ladies were incredibly rude and disloyal towards me. This was very difficult because time and time again, I would compromise my own happiness at home to ensure continuity of care for my son.

7. What do you admire in parents?

The responsibility that all parents have to shape a young life is truly admirable.

8. Do you experience feelings of guilt?

 I rarely feel guilty these days as my son is older but when he was younger, I did experience a lot of guilt. This is par for the course when you have very young children whilst also holding down a demanding career – you never feel as if you are doing a good job either at home or at work. However, before you know it, your ‘baby’ is a teenager who needs you less and less and you start yearning for the days when he was more dependant on you!

9. What advice would you give to your younger self?

To not worry so much about the things I couldn’t control and to focus on changing the things that I could control. This attitude would have saved me many sleepless nights and lots of angst.

10. What are you still hoping for?

More affordable childcare provision for working parents. The economic benefits of empowering parents to work is huge yet many families find that it is not worth both parents working due to exorbitant childcare costs. This has a direct impact on the pipeline of women in business and is a huge factor in why we have such a small number of senior, female leaders. I would love the opportunity to radically shape and influence government provision and policy on this as a way of both boosting the UK’s economy and empowering parents.

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