Baby of mine

The below post has been written by Paula Gil Baizan. Paula is a relatively new mum (7 month child) and an experienced manager within the emergency aid sector. She is guest blogging for us on her honest reflections on being pregnant and a new mum while still trying to maintain links to the work place and her life BB (before baby).


For my ‘after 4 club’ pals 

It is 11am on a Tuesday and I haven’t had a shower. I’ve spent my morning scraping dry porridge off the kitchen floor, pureeing broccoli and scrubbing off stains from a tower of muslin squares. I’m also sporting a batik-like stain on my top from my son saying ´mamama’ with a mouthful of blueberry puree during breakfast. I’m tired but happy. In one week my baby will be 7 months old and it will be 8 months since I’ve been on maternity leave from my job in a humanitarian organisation.

Before I had a baby, my work was my life and my life was my work. I was starting exciting projects, meeting interesting people and working in the field as much as possible. I was interested in exploring new approaches and championed innovation. I was passionate and available 24hrs — even if that meant not seeing my husband very often. So when I found out I was pregnant, I hoped that the dedication and commitment I’d put into my work would come back to me in equal heaps of understanding and support.

I found out I was pregnant on a Saturday, and on that same Monday I was offered the opportunity to choose between taking a regional post in Nairobi with my current organisation, or accepting an offer to work in North Africa with another organisation. The first thing I did was to call the other organisation thanking them for their interest but explaining I couldn’t take the job because I was having a baby. “Oh I’m sorry”, was her first reaction. “I mean, congratulations”, she corrected. I then tried to take the Nairobi opportunity, but that didn’t work either. Insurance wouldn’t cover for my regular checkups and emergency treatment at the same time. If I’d gotten pregnant in the field maybe… but as a pregnant woman from head office I had to choose one or the other. I think this has been looked at since then, but at the time I got another “I’m sorry”.

My bump started showing very quickly which meant people in the office had to recognize my pregnancy well before I made the official announcement*. The reactions I got from other women colleagues ranged from joy to disappointment. When I said I would take a year off I would usually get a faintly superior smile of condescendence. I found this incredibly annoying, but then I realised there is a whole generation of women in this sector who have passionately struggled to ensure there was a clear space for them (and every woman that followed) who now might feel a bit let down when one of their peers decides not to take advantage of it. I might become a social pariah for saying this, but irrespective of their marital status and progeny there is a worrying number of lonely women in the humanitarian sector and we should talk about it  (editor note: and then there are SAFHAWs but we need to still talk about it).

Being pregnant also meant I had to slow down, not only because it’s the sensible thing to do but also because I had already lost a baby three years ago. So with this pregnancy I decided not to travel much. This changed the way other people perceived my work. It had a positive effect because suddenly what I did in the field was appreciated and needed. But it also meant that I was not considered for other opportunities and promotions. For me, it changed the way I approached my work and it also allowed me to re-align my priorities which can sometimes be very difficult to do in this sector where everything is tagged with ‘life saving’ and ‘emergency’.

Some months later I wrote a long handover note and left the office with a nice mani pedi voucher in hand. The first couple of weeks I checked my email almost every day (sometimes twice a day) and kept on following the news and the discussions on development blogs and publications. But the minute I gave birth it was like if someone used one of those mind clearing devices that Will Smith uses in Men in Black. In the first couple of months I was so concentrated on understanding what to do and how to survive with 3 hours of sleep a day that I didn’t have time to remember what life was like before. Then when I (kind of) got the hang of it, I tried to remember in between feeding the baby. I visited the office to show him off (and the only non pregnancy outfit that fitted) and I even attended a meeting. But still I felt so far removed from the people and their conversations** that it was difficult to relate to that person I was before having my baby. But now that he is 7 months old and I’m thinking of going back to work, I’m not even trying to remember how life was before. I don’t feel I need to. Thank you Will Smith.

What I’m trying to figure out now is how do women in this sector do the whole baby and work thing? Can we really have it all?  I know some women have made it work and have rewarding jobs working and bringing up their children in places like Sudan (‘where nannies are cheaper’). Other have married other people in the sector who are happy living in Democratic Republic of Congo or moving to Bangladesh and looking after the babies.

But what happens to the other women who, like me, don’t have a partner who is able to leave everything and move to the Philippines to look after the baby? How will I ever get back on the ladder if getting a job in the field is not as feasible as it was anymore? Should I just accept my fate and open a shop in Muswell Hill?

If anyone has an answer to any of these questions I’d really like to know.

Take care

Paula Gil Baizan


* Note to self: announcing you’re pregnant at the end of a team meeting by saying “by the way I’m not fat, just pregnant” is probably not the best idea.

** Warning: After you’d had a baby no one will talk to you about anything else but babies. Even if your baby is not around and all you’d like to do is have a drink and talk about Mali people will still think it is important to honor your condition and talk about nappys.


There are a few other posts on the blog about balancing work and life which might be an interested read after reading Paula post.

Work life balance: How we can put “work” and “life” on equal levels.

Is there life after work?

Can women establish a healthy work/ life balance in the aid industry?

It would be great if you can all post articles and/or links that you have on humanitarian women writing about these issues….we’ve all talked about it but it’s difficult to actually see it written down anywhere!

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Long Distance Relationships: Keeping the Home Fires Burning

And from the women’s perspective….


This was originally written just before my husband returned from a 14 week stint overseas and recently appeared as a guest post on Wanderlust, as a twin to Morealtitue’s wonderful post: In Which an Expat Talks Long Distance Relationships. It received such lovely responses that I wished to share it here also.

I put my husband on a plane to Ethiopia over thirteen weeks ago. This is our longest stint apart yet, never ever to be repeated. He has missed our second wedding anniversary, Christmas, the new year, his birthday, the birthdays of most of his family and the Mayan End of the World. (This was the sort of event I would have really liked my husband around for, as you may have gathered, he is handy in a disaster.) He arrives back the day after Valentines Day. So we miss that too. Yes, there is a strong…

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In Which an Expat Aid Worker Talks Long Distance Relationships

A post on long distance relationships from a male aid worker



My wife and I just celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary.

By celebrated, I mean, we shared a 25-minute Skype chat via grainy video, which had to be curtailed fairly promptly after staff started queuing outside my office door. It was a fairly frustrating experience for me, even moreso for my wife, if the expression in her voice was anything to go by as we hung up- and I don’t blame her.

This was certainly not how either of us envisaged sharing our second wedding anniversary, even a couple of months back. Being a full hemisphere apart, however, separated by oceans and continents and eight or nine time-zones, this is what it looks like. We haven’t seen each other for five weeks, won’t see each other for another four, and even worse, my step-daughter and I will be apart for several months.

It sucks.

It’s more than just the fact that…

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LinkedIn: Top Tips for Use

LinkedIn ( is a social networking site focused on professional networking around careers. The mission of LinkedIn is to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. When you join LinkedIn, you get access to people, jobs, news, updates, and insights that help you be great at what you do.”

A survey was released by LinkedIn themselves in 2011 about the usage of the services it provides. This survey found that in general women were not using LinkedIn to the same level as men and were therefore missing out on networking opportunities that men were taking. Nicole Williams, connection director at LinkedIn in an interview with Media Post. said “women can sometimes shy away from networking because they associate it with schmoozing or doling out business cards, when in reality, it’s about building relationships before you actually need them.” LinkedIn itself is a leading Silicon Valley firms in terms of the number of women it has in executive positions within the organisation and targeted recruitment of women.

So what strategies can women (and men) use on LinkedIn to get the most from its services? Below, myself, Zehra Rizvi and Sarabeth Harrelson have outlined a few that we have become aware of. Please feel free to comment on this post to add your own ideas. This blog site is not sponsored by LinkedIn! This post is more an acknowledgement of the possibilities that LinkedIn allows as a tailored site towards networking.

Managing or Maintaining Links to Current Networks

We all meet people through university, work, volunteering and social events that we admire and respect. These are not all necessarily people that we would want to email personally to keep in touch with. LinkedIn allows you to request this person to be part of your network and this way creates a link between both of you that you can revisit at any time if both of you stay on LinkedIn. I think this is especially useful in the Aid and Development Sectors when often people are living geographically far from each other.

In particular it can be helpful to maintain links with alumni from your high school, college and university alumni. These tend to be people with the same or similar number of years experience as you in their chosen career. It can be interesting to see the different paths people are taking. Also, as you already have a personal link to these people it can be easier to reach out and have career discussions with them than others.

Developing New Networks Through One to One Connections

On LinkedIn you can search for people working in organisations you are interested in or working in roles that you are interested in. People do message people they don’t know to ask for a chat and advice. This can be a great way to get new information and create new networks.

Developing New Networks Through Groups 

Joining one of the many groups established on LinkedIn can be helpful when looking to make contacts that you might otherwise not have access to. Perhaps you are interested in expanding your network in a new direction for example – you can search out groups that will allow you to do this. Some groups are quite active with vibrant discussion and others are more like an identifier, signaling that members have shared interests even though there isn’t a lot of group activity.

Some of the more popular LinkedIn groups in the Aid and Development Sector are as follows:

  • International Humanitarian and Development Professionals
  • Devex – International Development
  • Humanitarian Professionals

All three of the above are mainly focused on job advertisement and searching for new work opportunities.

By actively participating in groups you can build a positive reputation. This may be especially valuable for those starting out who want to ‘build an edge’ and it’s a great way for people to get to know you when they might not have other ways to do so.

If you have other suggestions of useful groups please do reply to this thread and add your thoughts.

Researching a Specific Organisation

If you are interested in researching a specific organization you can use LinkedIn to research the organization, it’s current and past employees and its staffing structure. The following bullet points outline some of the analysis you can do through LinkedIn searches:

  • Experience level of staff – will you be able to learn from senior staff members
  • Progression within the organization – do people come in and out of the organization to new positions or do other people progress from one position to another position staying within the organization?
  • Staff turnover rates – how long do people stay in their jobs in organization x. Does everyone stay for a few years or is six months the standard timeframe?
  • Structure of organization – this takes more time but you can get a sense of the structure of an organization through searches on LinkedIn.

Linking with Recruitment Agencies

You can link up with a number of recruitment agencies through LinkedIn and the HR managers of the organisations that you think you would like to work for at some point. By searching for an organisations name you will find that many now have their own recruitment groups that you can follow. This means you will get an instant alert when new job is posted. It also means that these organisations know that you are interested in them. Many organisations now search LinkedIn for appropriate candidates and personally email them asking if they are interested in applying for a post.

Understand Career Paths in the Aid and Development Sector

You can use LinkedIn to look at others career paths. When you are thinking about your next move or are applying for a particular position you can look at others currently doing that position and what experience they have. Sometimes job specifications can be hard to understand. They say extensive experience but what does that mean? By looking at others in those positions you can gauge if you are applying at the right level or not.

You can also look at what people have moved on to after the position you are considering whether or not to accept.

Building A Strong Reputation

LinkedIn allows people to leave recommendations on your page, and allows you to invite people to do so. This can be very powerful when recruiters are looking at your page. Imaging what you would think if a person that has applied to work with you had 1, 5, 10 positive recommendations from people within the sector on their page? It’s a powerful message!

These are just some of the uses that Sarabeth Harrelson, Zehra Rizvi and myself could think of when we discussed this. Do you have more ideas? What strategies have you used?

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What do the statistics really tell us? Do they tell us anything at all?

Recently a number of my close friends posted a link to a chart that ranks countries based on how good they are for working women. Take a look at it and then continue to read.

This chart used five different indicators as follows (the numbers in brackets is the weighting the criteria was given):

  • Difference between female and male population with tertiary education (23%)
  • Female labour force participation (23%)
  • Difference between female and male median earnings of full time employment (23%)
  • Women in senor management as % of total (23%)
  • Net child-care costs as a % of average wage (8%)

Do note that the weightings of the indicators, makes the cost of child care just a bit more than 1/3 of the importance of the other indicators.

The conclusion was that New Zealand is the “best” place to be a working woman whereas South Korea is the lowest ranking that made it on to the list. 

But do these indicators and the weighting that they have been given really represent what is best for working women? Or what is best for working and non working women?

What indicators would you like to see added to the list and why? As a women what would you want to see measured?

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Work life balance: How we can put “work” and “life” on equal levels

We are VERY excited to have our first post guest post below by Claire Grauer who is a social anthropologist, consultant and blogger working with and interested in NGOs and organizational development, child rights, participatory approaches and Social Media. She is currently based in Germany and can be reached at or via Twitter: @sirisnotes.  We welcome guest posts on any topic, so pop us an email or comment and let us know if you would like to write.

Claire takes the topic of work life balance a step further by discussing current thinking on the topic and then offering strategies she has set up to help navigate this much talked about topic.  Read on and join in the discussion in the comments section below.


Zehra’s recent post on “Is there a life after work” gave me a lot of food for thinking. Like Zehra, I, too, have been wondering why so many people working in aid and development are struggling with their individual work life balance.

“Generation Y“, aid and development: We are all in the same boat

During the past weeks, I came across quite a few articles and blogs about “Generation Y”’s approach to work. “Gen Yers”, sometimes called “Millennials”, are born around or after 1980 and said to look for personal fulfilment in their jobs while being careful about maintaining their work-life balance. It is expected that employers will increasingly need to adapt to their applicants’ changing demands – but I have the impression that this is not happening in most work places and it rather seems as if especially those working in entry-level positions are even discouraged to think about something as a “work life balance”.

I do not want to discuss the usefulness of the concept of “Gen Y” here, but I find there are some similarities between us working in aid and development and the “Millennials”: We all appear to be driven by values, we want to do something meaningful in our professional lives and contribute our share towards improving the world by some means or other.

Having been working in development since 2006 I, too, experienced the difficulties of bringing together one’s aspirations of “doing good” while ending up in an environment where many people holding junior positions (and not only those) feel enormous pressure. This pressure often resulted from aiming at being promoted to the next higher level (where there were fewer positions available), waiting for short-term contracts to be renewed or simply wishing to get positive recommendations for future applications. Maintaining relationships and friendships or thinking about having children often came second or third or hardly at all.

Competition for jobs and promotion: Does it require us to put “life” last?

Judging from the many comments below a recent post at From Poverty to Power and from having talked to many students and recent graduates during the past year, competition for entry-level positions in aid and development is and will remain high. Right from their first days of work onwards, many people are then told to convinced they need to always put their jobs first or else they won’t be able to have much of a career.

This goes on for the years to follow: In fact, many people working on mid-career levels I talked to (including myself) know the unwritten law whereby working long hours and weekends and sacrificing anything outside work including family and personal life to work still are the main indicators of a person’s qualification.

By this, I am not saying that working hard is bad, not at all. I, too, like working a lot and could not imagine myself without work. When dealing with something I find interesting or that has a deadline, I do not count hours nor do I care working late or on weekends – and I suppose most of us have a similar approach. But despite the fact that one can draw a lot of satisfaction from work, it is equally important to make sure one “gets a life” outside of your job, as well-known aid blogger J. recently put it. After all, our jobs are mostly only temporary affairs whereas our lives outside work may ground us and give us a lot of energy and inspiration we can put into our work.

Why not put “life” first to achieve the balance?

When I read how Fi had been leaving meetings because of commitments with friends or family I wondered how I would react if someone left a meeting I am attending because of a family appointment – and it struck me that I first felt irritated, despite my deep conviction of the importance of having a life outside of one’s job. My second feeling, though, was admiration, because I thought about how utterly important it is that more people do just this: Just do it – act in order to balance work and life instead of giving work always first priority.

So even though we are talking about work life balance, “work” still is mostly considered to have to come first. But why not put “life” first – or, at least, put them on the same level? After all, there are many occasions where an email can be answered the next day or even a meeting may be scheduled an hour earlier, isn’t it? And a close friend whom I haven’t seen in a year may well deserve that I reserve an hour or two once she’s in town whereas I can meet my colleagues the next day as well.

Some strategies for improving the work life balance

Many NGOs or agencies or other workplaces in aid and development do not yet have mechanisms in place allowing employees to find out their individual degree of balance. True, changing organizational cultures needs time, but every process of change begins with individuals starting it. After all, are not all of us working in aid and development experts for change?

I am not suggesting this was a nice and easy task (and an evidence-based best practice collection yet has to be put together), but here are a few strategies I found helpful for improving my own work life balance:

–       Collect “case studies”: When putting together donor reports, we are dealing with case studies all the time. I have been doing this more or less consciously for a long time: Putting together my personal collection of “case studies”, mainly of women I met or read about and their approaches to handling their work, life, and family balance. It can be highly encouraging to see how someone else has coped with a certain situation, e.g. losing one’s job or handling life as working single mum and give you the spirit to do just what you feel you ought to do in a certain situation.

–       Create a network of friends, colleagues and mentors: I am grateful to having met some very special women all working in different positions within the aid/development sector along the way whom I regularly meet and discuss with. Most of them are older than me and I very much appreciate being able to turning to them for advice and looking over their shoulders at times in order to learn about how they are managing to handle their lives and jobs and families. A network of this kind does not need to be large (and not necessarily involve only women), but it is an important opportunity to reflect, share and learn.

–       Find out about one’s priorities (and what “having it all” means to you): This may be the hardest part because it can be difficult to find out what we really want (at least I found it difficult at times).  I am not so sure whether we really “can’t have it all” – after all, “all” depends on each individual’s ideas of life. In my experience, especially during the early years of one’s  career, it can be tricky to be aware of what it is that you want in life as opposed to what you believe you are supposed to want, because so much is insinuated on us by media, teachers, supervisors, etc. It helped me to write a journal and discuss this with friends and with a coach.

–       Take care of yourself and listen to trust your gut feeling: We need to free ourselves of the many pressures we feel, particularly in the workplace. We have to start using our common sense, and learn to act according to our gut feeling. Sounds vague? It sort of is, but I only found out after a few years of working that indeed listening to my inner voice and feeling often gave me the kind of advice I had been looking for with my brain and thoughts.

–       Yes, we can change structures and processes: In everything we do, we always have a choice. We can say “yes” or “no”. We can accept conditions in our work environment that we like or do not like. With new technologies all over the place, most office work (and aid and development to a large part is just that), does not necessarily need to be done at one and the same desk 5 days a week. We can thus insist on being given more flexibility while at the same time trying to find compromises, e.g. have regular team meetings or office times in addition.

Now, does this sound too idealistic or outright naïve to you? It should not because I believe that anyone of us, regardless of her position, regardless of her state of mind, can do this and contribute her share to balancing “work” and “life” in workplace discussions about work life balance.

I’d love to hear about the strategies which have helped you improve your work life balance. And how do your employers handle this whole matter? I am sure there are many out there giving their staff greater freedom for balancing work and life so that it fits to their various living circumstances.

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Sexual harassment anyone? Just on the side, please.

The aid sector is an enlightened one filled with codes of conduct and HR handbooks filled with how to deal with being sexually harassed.  I’m not getting into SEA issues when we are in communities but rather within our own work places and with colleagues where there is not a power imbalance (or is that naive of me to ignore that there is always a power imbalance either because of age, culture, socio economic reasons etc–but let’s also take that out of the equation).  Very simply, I was sitting with colleagues after work one day, in the not so recent past and some people I knew, some I didn’t.  One of my male colleagues took two small onions (you know those small pickled onions?) and wrapped a piece of dry meat around it so now it resembles balls and offered it to my other colleague, a woman.

Every single bell well off in my head.

And I did nothing.

I knew this male colleague better than the female whereas the two of them knew each other better than knowing me.  She didn’t seem terribly offended but I wasn’t sure if she was just trying to not look like she was.  This was not a situation of flirting gone wrong either.  Out of nowhere, he just did this.  The thoughts going through my head:

Do I say something?  Is this as wrong as I think it is?  It wasn’t offered to me so do I have the right to say something?  There’s a reason it wasn’t offered to me cuz he knows I would have taken his balls and put them around his neck by this point.  Is he just picking on her because he thinks she’s weaker than the rest of us?  Why do I think she’s weak and why do I feel like her non reaction is just confirmation of this and I’m not really sure if my speaking up will help her (does she need my help?) or will it just embarrass her (is that a reason to not speak up?) but I’m at this table and am having a reaction and I SHOULD say something.  If I say something I am going to be labeled the one who has no fun and I won’t be asked to come out next time OR it’s going to go around on the small gossipy grapevine that I can’t take a joke and therefore don’t have a sense of humor and therefore am a bad addition to a team cuz I take everything TOO seriously.  Am I overreacting?  Why does no one else at this table seem upset by this and if the men on the other side of the table don’t stop sniggering, I am going to say something and I think maybe the women sitting here near me ARE in fact just as uncomfortable with this as I am….and all of the rest of us women are from the west and the one offered the onion balls is not—oh man, was that just racist of me? I don’t get how to help her or why she is not helping herself and just telling him to stuff it or maybe I AM overreacting and this is not a big deal but it still feels like a big deal to me.   What the hell am I supposed to do?

The moment to say something passed (or has it since I’m saying something now).  The thoughts going on in my head are still going around in my head.  I mentioned it to another male who wasn’t there and knew all the people there and I said, I think that was inappropriate and his initial reaction wasn’t yes it was.  He said XYZ is just boorish sometimes and I would have said: yeah that’s the real size of your balls (or some other such witty comeback). Hmm I said.

In my head, that’s not enough.  That isn’t putting a STOP to this kind of behaviour…rather it’s saying, if you can’t deal with it, you are on the losing end.  Here’s the thing that really bites:  I have so much respect for each and every person in this story.  Professional respect and if not great friends, we do have bonds that bind us together.  Situations like this hurt more because of that.

Before you get an idea that I am some sort of a meekling, let me reassure you that I am the poster child of empowered emancipated bad ass woman.  Poster child.  Which are just facades it seems.  I had something happen to me in Haiti….in the middle of the god damn emergency.  An older male colleague of mine, who I was seeing everyday for work related things, says to me one morning while I am putting in a request, I had a great dream about you last night.  This was not whispered to me or said in a low voice or in private.  Right out there in the open, in front of other colleagues.  I had a nice dream about you last night.  I had so little time to react, and I said, lucky you and left.  And stopped being as friendly with him as I was (I was married at the time, no secret and it’s not like, I was “asking for it”…whatever that is supposed to mean). 

Haiti was pretty bad in that sense I am now recalling.  I felt continuous sexual harassment (from whistles, to people ‘bumping’ into me, to emails saying, let’s go spend a weekend at the beach, in the same bed, together), and as one of my friends said to me:  You ain’t no Beyonce—if it’s happening to you, it’s happening to others.  I reported it in that I told the security dude that I felt pretty unsafe.  The response was everyone had to have a Code of Conduct training.  On one hand, I thought, OK, that’s something on the other hand I just didn’t feel like that was enough.  Not sure what I wanted.  And no, I never specifically named anyone when I complained.  I am writing this now and thinking how lame I sound saying that but there was something going on, in that moment, where I was like, don’t want to deal with this I will be labeled a drama queen and if I can’t handle this, why am I here.

Isn’t that just wrong?  And I am hoping by writing this that other women can come forward and tell me that I am not the only empowered woman who has been in this position.  Why is the aid sector culture SO bad in giving us space to deal with this?  How have you dealt with this and let’s talk openly about how we DO feel pressure to be one of the guys or be able to take a joke etc etc.  And what are the options to STOP this from continuing. 

And I get that different cultures talk about sex differently and flirt differently etc but where is that culturally appropriate line and your own personal line and how do you not cross or just tread very lightly between those two lines?

I don’t want to do nothing next time.  It doesn’t sit with me well.

Is this a huge can of worms that will generate discussion/solutions/shared experiences/other perspectives or is it still too icky for us to pick up?

Let’s see.  Over to you all.

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