Mylene Sylvestre
Age: 43
Born: 1972, village 50 miles north of Paris, France
Lives: In Clapton, E5, with husband Martin, who is an academic
Job: Works for The Guardian, Head of Newspaper Publishing Division
3 sons, Isaac, 10, Jonas, 7, Ephra, 20 months
Hours: Three full days and two shorter days, all at the office in Kings Cross
Childcare: Ephra at nursery three days, and with Mylene’s brother for two mornings. Older boys go to school and attend after-school clubs on some days.

‘I never heard my mum or dad say you couldn’t do that, it never occurred to me actually that there were some jobs I couldn’t do because of my gender.’

‘I guess I was quite ambitious from early on, and always imagined myself working… I ended up doing business studies, and I weirdly never really questioned it and I was quite happy with that path… I was quite good at languages and arts, but it never occurred to me that I could study that because it was like a dead end – you could not get a good job with that. It’s a big cultural difference from here in the UK, where you can do the subjects that you’re interested in.’

‘I went through phases. At some point I wanted to be an air pilot, and then an engineer; I thought about being a doctor but I’m really squeamish!... And then when I was doing business studies I wanted to do a job where I would travel loads, and so export or something, and I ended up doing that for quite a few years.’

‘I never heard my mum or dad say you couldn’t do that, it never occurred to me actually that there were some jobs I couldn’t do because of my gender. At school I guess a lot of the boys ended up going down the engineering route, and the girls did the kind of business route. On reflection, that’s what happened.’

‘My mum kind of did everything. She’s still the real pillar of the family, but in a quite understated way. She’s never complained about it. So she was doing everything – cooking, chauffeuring us. So we used to do loads of hobbies and activities, and so she would take us. And my Dad was more, he was very present, more involved in academic work. We would do more reading with him, or, kind of, thinking. So mum was more the day to day. But we used to think that my dad was more exciting because he was a musician so we would do music with him, and all the fun stuff was more him…I think my mum loved the fact that we were so close to him, and he created special moments for the family. So she was doing the routine, and he was doing the more exciting stuff.’

‘I kind of knew that it would be really equal.’

‘I always saw myself with five boys! It never occurred to me that you might not be able to have children. I was quite naïve I think about everything – I though, ok, I’ll get this job, get a husband or – my parents were not married so I didn’t think I’d necessarily get married – but I’d get kids… Things were quite easy for me, so I didn’t worry very much...My mum never seemed to struggle, so for me it was like, ‘yeah! Of course you can!’ And she progressed in her career. The only thing is that at some point she didn’t go for the top job and my Dad went, so they were kind of competing, but she always said “I could have got that job if I wanted to!” But she didn’t go for it.’

‘I was travelling loads, but once I had got Isaac I needed to travel less, so The Guardian were brilliant, they introduced me to flexi-working, and I worked from home, so that was ten years ago. And then I moved on to the domestic - the UK - market, and that worked really well.’

‘I kind of knew that it would be really equal. Martin has always said that I’m the sexist in the family! He’s got two sisters and a mum who’s worked as well, his family is very political. I just knew. I can’t cook, I’ve never done any cooking so when we were together without kids he was always the one cooking. We didn’t really discuss it, and it happened even better than what I thought it would.’

‘Most years I’ve loved my job, and it so it was really difficult when I had Isaac because it was quite a big job and I thought how am I going to do it? …I was quite an expert in my area so it was not clear who would cover for me if I worked fewer hours. So the first few months I tried three days a week, and I hated it. It was a disaster. I felt a fraud when I was leaving the office on Wednesdays…I was feeling I was not doing my job properly, and I was not with Isaac properly because I was feeling guilty. I remember on Wednesday nights when I had finished my week, some of the older guys in my team would say, “Oh, okay have a good weekend!” So it just made me feel like, this is not working.’

‘Then Martin came up with the brilliant idea – he said “Why don’t you go back full time but try to do different hours, so you could do three longer days and then two mornings”, and then my brother looked after the boys for those two mornings, and I would take over at lunchtime… My boss at the time didn’t want four days a week, he said “I’d quite like you to be in the office every day,” so Martin came up with the idea of different hours, and that’s been a genius idea. That’s what I’ve been doing since Isaac, basically. And it works really well because I can pick the big boys up from school, and also there was this amazing set-up with my brother, looking after them two mornings, so they’ve got a really strong bond, and we liked the idea of them having a male role model. It was great.’

‘That was really revelatory moment for me when I realised actually you need to be there when you are with them. And so now I can switch off when I’m at home.’

‘The older men in my team had stay-at-home wives, and so the big difference for me was when my boss, who’s got three kids, his wife worked as well – not full time – but we’re kind of the same age and we live kind-of parallel lives, and so that made a big difference. He could understand what I was going through. So that’s when he gave me some freedom and has always been really lovely with my settling back into work from maternity leave, and keeping in touch while I was on maternity leave. So I’ve been really lucky and looked after, basically… The younger men on the team don’t really question it at all.’

‘I’m mentoring two younger women at work, and they are very sweet and always say that they like the way I’m really into my family but also work, and how I manage to combine them. So I know that it gives them confidence in what they can do. It definitely helps, I think. But I couldn’t do it without a husband like my husband, I’m clear on that.’

‘I had antenatal depression when pregnant with Ephra, which I hadn’t had with the others…That was a kind of wake-up call. I realised then that I used never to switch off very much, and so though of course I love the boys, but in my head work was always there. And when I got really ill… the only thing that was soothing me was just to be in the park with the boys and do nothing and just watch them – and so that was really revelatory moment for me when I realised actually you need to be there when you are with them. And so now I can switch off when I’m at home. It’s been amazing, just to reassess my priorities.’

‘The Guardian does a lot of things well – like flexitime. But men don’t feel that they can ask for it… The only people doing flexitime are women… I don’t think it’s to do with The Guardian, I think it’s men who don’t think about it. I think it’s more an individual thing, because I remember some men when I started saying “Oh, I wish I could do that,” and I said “Actually you could – you just need to ask for it.”… It’s clear that anyone can apply for it… I don’t know of any journalists who have taken a sabbatical for childcare.’

‘Both my parents and Martin’s parents are really involved – they’ve helped us a lot. So whenever someone’s ill one set of grandparents will come. And we’ve also got a neighbour who’s got a child who is the same age as Ephra, and we’re doing childcare swaps. She works as well. That’s been another really brilliant back-up. And my brother too.’