I am Jess, 31 years old and mum to two pretty incredible children – Saffron who is 14 and Carlos who is 8. I am the Director of Sales at Hotel Football and began piecing thoughts together after finding myself on furlough, volunteering where I could to help keep our brand ethos and culture alive.
I have been in hospitality for 12 years, and although I never intended to take a career in this industry, it has become my passion and my hobby all in one – it is not often you find you can combine the two but somehow this works.
When I think back to growing up and how I had planned my life, being a hospitality professional was never on the agenda. Back in school the travel and tourism studies were focused around being an air hostess and to be honest my height meant I was told I would probably never make the cut.
Without any real desire I decided to play it safe and continue my studies with ICT – it was the only A I had received in my GSCEs and I felt that it was a good enough reason to ‘roll with it.’ Then I became pregnant.
Without going into too much detail about that time (I will eventually share this journey and its’ lessons in the form of a journal) it was difficult and a great deal of character building was done. One thing I will say is that the 3 year ICT course was passed with a triple distinction as I was too committed - or stubborn to allow the outcome to be any other way.
It was being 18 with a 2 year old that I started a role with Hilton, I will never forget the care and commitment my GM gave to me, as he enabled me to work full time and attend university part time. This allowed me to gain valuable experience whilst not sacrificing the opportunity for my efforts to be recognised academically. It would only be for the duration of my degree right? Wrong!
12 wonderful years later I am still here, after developing with Hilton in total for over 8 years, 2 cities & 2 properties, a shorter stint with Thistle and finally GG Hospitality, where I find myself today.
I have loved every minute of it, the highs the lows and everything in between and the best part is my children have enjoyed this journey too.
I have to admit it was difficult at first, the uncertainty of being 19 with a 3 year old –
Do you introduce yourself as a mum?
Should you tell people?
Can you take the internal judgement as the person in front of you turns the cogs in their head as they realise you in fact were pregnant at 16?
All sorts of questions swirled around and I learnt that I needed to change the perception. I did have children to think about, but this made my time more precious – even priceless. I had a set number of hours in the day before I had to leave to complete a ‘mum run’ to nursery, and as long as I knew this and pushed myself for the best – what could anyone say?
Over time as I grew older, I began to notice that for some reason, being an event executive, event manager or commercial manager never really seemed to spark too much controversy – it is predominantly 9-5 with the occasional training or late meeting, but as soon as I took the plunge into proactive sales, the contrast became clear – this was now early 2015 with 2 children to consider.
How will you manage multiple late nights/Client Entertaining/ Networking and general prospecting with clients if you have children?
It was never an issue for me but it seemed to be an issue for the employer I had taken a gamble on – I simply replied that it was my concern to be had and my children were not sales people so that wouldn’t concern them. It is safe to say that after 5 months I no longer saw eye to eye with this particular employer and it was time to move to somewhere I could merge the two and be trusted to manage myself. I am still here, and my children live and breathe the product I sell as if it were their own.
The main reason for sharing; is to spark conversation and discussion.
The truth is; there is a question to be asked – is there a shelf life to hospitality, especially when as females we find ourselves in the territory of starting a family? I personally had to adapt early on and by the time I actually took a maternity leave in 2011 with child number 2, I was more confident and resilient to any external judgement.
There is a great deal of work still to be done to create the correct balance; not only when it comes to parenting - (just as I wanted to pursue a ‘non 9-5’ a father may want the opportunity of putting their little one to bed at night both without judgement) but coupling this with the thought of the next generation and what their opportunities and progression look like.
Too often the negative stereotype is given to young mothers, and this can have a lasting impact on how they view themselves. I am fortunate that I did have a strong family network, spearheaded by my mum and every time there was a new obstacle to face, I was able to take counsel and make a decision that would best serve me – maybe not in the short term, but for the future. I owe my mum a lifetime of ‘thank you’ s’ and even that would probably not be enough - back in 2019 I won the first ‘Top Female Role Model’ with Girls out Loud and upon acceptance, I needed the room to know that my rock and cheerleader was present in the room.
Hearing a biography of myself being read aloud to over 400 guests with my mum, my younger sister Georgia and one of my closest friends, Abi in the room was surreal and I can only describe it as one in a million.
What is your superpower?
We ask each other this on many occasions whether a table talk or an ice breaker. We answer as we feel comfortable, ‘I’m organised.’ Or ‘I’m a secret chef.’ But do we ever really understand what we are saying, or truly think about our response.
Fourteen years ago, I began to discover mine and it wouldn’t be until I truly sat back at thirty one that I would fully understand – resilience.
Resilience is defined as ..’the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness..’ and by the time you have finished reading this journal I hope that you can see why this is my self-proclaimed super power and how this has moulded me into who I am today.
I have debated for a long time whether or not sharing personal experiences is a good move.
Through the introduction of MTVs’ popular series ‘16 and pregnant’, it’s hard to know whether the right message is going through.
Being a ‘teen statistic’ isn’t great, so at twenty three and on maternity leave for the first time (although with child number two) I decided it is time to pen my thoughts.
Living in today’s’ society can be a daunting and difficult thought. Trying to get through life solo whilst planning a future for yourself is hard enough, without dealing with a major life change before anything has even begun.
I am certainly not trying to claim that I have mastered the art of life – we are always learning! I am hoping I can give the slightest serving of inspiration to young mums & that they do not have to take on the stereotype that society has created.
We had found out our news at a family planning centre, I had not felt right and we decided the best way of ‘ticking the box’ would be to attend a session where I could take a test and go home without anyone knowing we had been. The thought of anyone we knew seeing me in the local Tesco with a testing kit was not on the agenda.
The initial shock of finding out can actually be quite sickening. The feeling that swirls around inside is enough to leave you in tears, especially when you are sixteen. When I first found out both myself and my partner didn’t know what to say, think or do. I immediately sank into a sea of tears, whilst he surrounded himself with a deafening silence. He did not know how to comfort me – or not, as the fact of the matter was I had to take this all in.
In the real world, we hadn’t even been together very long, both had relatively strict parents – more so than most of our other friends at that time. He was very calm and had made the decision that it was MY decision as to what the next steps were. At the time I felt grateful for this, but looking back that must have been very hard for him to deal with, my decision would affect his life too, but nevertheless he left it in my hands.
For a while we sat by the fountains in Piccadilly Gardens, trying to put a plan together- this was something we were good at…a list for everything!
I remember looking around at everyone going about their Saturday. It was early September and people were rallying round in the ‘back to school’ rush, suddenly it seemed that everywhere we turned there were babies!
When I returned home, I couldn’t concentrate on anything, it was a complete nightmare. At this point my stomach turned as I thought about how my mum would feel – after some unhappy years this was the last thing she needed. At this time, it was difficult for me to see the true impact on my mum as it wouldn’t be until I was pregnant for the second time that we would sit and discuss this moment in time. In hindsight, it was most likely due to me being able to compare the responses to each set of news.
During the course of the next week we were given an appointment to discuss our options – let the struggle of emotion commence…
A Major Crossroads
‘Discussing our options’ - this phrase gave me the idea that we would sit down, and decide what the right decision was for us. The appointment was made by the family planning centre and we were to attend the pregnancy advisory service.
In my head I believed this would be the chance to talk to someone neutral and come to the best conclusion. There were so many feelings floating around, emotions were high and at that point we had gone a week without sharing with anyone and it was hard.
The day of the appointment came and we arrived at the centre. Straight away my partner was told to wait outside as he would intimidate other women. Hmmm…. I was confused by this as surely, he had an opinion too?
We were here to discuss OUR options but being naive & slightly on autopilot, I went inside whilst he waited at the door. Little did I know I would be in this building for four hours and all the while the other person that needed support too was left to sit on the steps outside. I can never thank him enough for that.
It soon became clear that the opinions of the other girls- some married women, were very one sided. They were all sat discussing in the waiting room how they wouldn’t be able to cope & how they would have a termination, some without husbands or partners even knowing.
My head sat swirling as I went through the motions of being called into one room, then called into another room waiting but all the while realising no discussion was about me keeping this baby.
Why? I would find out when I went into a room with a doctor, who had advised he would check how many weeks pregnant I actually was, and after an internal examination (yes I would become quite used to this over 9 months, but nothing prepared me for this) he handed me a slip with a signature.
I sat in the waiting room, numb. I just wanted to get out of the building. Thirty two year old me wouldn’t have sat and gone though the motions to be polite, she would have stood up and walked straight out, but that’s sixteen more years of life experience that I didn’t have.
The last room I went into was with the ‘advisor.’ Finally, someone that was going to hear me out and help me piece together my thoughts. I was wrong.
I spent 10 minutes having words put into my mouth, and statements written on a sheet of paper that I had not said, all one sided explaining how I couldn’t cope & I wasn’t financially prepared.
‘Where will you live with the baby?’ – ‘I will be with my mum whilst I finish college.’ Translated as ‘No room in the house, parents unhappy.’
I left that room with the same slip, only with a date written 20/10/2005 and an address to attend.
Then it hit me.
I had done quite well in high school, I received 11 GSCES all A-C, one of my favourite subjects was religious studies. I loved the debate, I loved getting under the skin of varying traditions. Funnily enough Saffron has chosen to take this a GCSE too.
This piece of paper did not sit right with me. As I sat in that room with it in my hand, I began to feel angry. I had taken my GCSE’s a mere 10 weeks earlier, and I distinctly remember revising the subject of abortion for my religious studies exams. Totally out of character I simply said;
‘Where is the second signature?’ The woman looked at me momentarily confused. I repeated the question followed with ‘to have an abortion agreed, you need two signatures from two doctors who agree that this is the right decision, where is the second one?’
The response I got was, ‘Don’t worry about that, it will be signed on the day.’
It was at that precise moment, I decided I was going to become a mother.
I left the building as fast as I could, when I reached the outside my partner was sat waiting confused as to why it had taken so long. I described the events of the past four hours, and how it had made me feel. I researched the name of the place I had been and it was in fact an advisory service that prepared you for the actual termination and secured your appointment. In short, the family planning centre hadn’t even given us a chance they had seen two teenagers, and made our choice for us – most likely thinking we would just go along with it.
Faith has a strong presence within my family and has done ever since I can remember. Whether it be from my dads’ side as firm Irish Catholics, or from my mum with a mix of both Christianity and Ukrainian orthodox. Although my actions at the time, are far from that of what you would define as a ‘Christian girl’, I do try – and with that I began to explain to my partner that this situation was not the fault of the unborn child, why should it be punished. Why did complete strangers feel they had the right to decide this unborn child fate without the mother and father even in agreement?
I prayed quite a lot for help more than anything, I needed some form of notice that I would be ok, the more I looked at the slip I had been given it made me firm in my decision. The date 20/10/2005 was my mum’s birthday. There was no way I would ever be able to look back in years to come and tell my mum that I had terminated her first grandchild on her 46th birthday.
We talked for a while about each other’s thoughts and feelings as his life would change forever too; we didn’t know what the future would hold but what we did know was that as soon as we would tell our parents, there would be no going back and life was going to be tough for a while.
The reason for putting this together is because I strongly felt that it was needed. At the time I was witnessing a lot of girls; some I knew personally, becoming pregnant and that almost being the end of the line. Whether by choice of bad advice.
Whatever your personal belief or opinion I watched on as girls went through the motion of termination, or going it alone without truly realising how this may affect them mentally in the future.
Research undertaken back in 2010 by the FPA, shows that groups who are more vulnerable to becoming teenage parents include young people who are: in or just leaving care, homeless, underachieving at school, children of teenage parents, members of some ethnic groups, involved in crime or living in areas with higher social deprivation. These girls may have not had the greatest of start in life themselves, and to end up in a situation where they have to give life, this can be a daunting task. Then there are girls like me, who don’t have any of the above trauma overshadowing their past but still find themselves in a difficult situation and life test. For me it felt like fight or flight.
Back in 2005 there were 39,804 conceptions in girls aged eighteen and under in England alone – of this 46.8% resulted in abortion (ref https://www.fpa.org.uk/factsheets/teenage-pregnancy). For me that is potentially a high volume of young women who may have felt alone and that makes me sad.
At this time there wasn’t a focus on mental care and emotional feelings, it was very process driven, which is a reflection on the action the family planning centre had taken without a worthy consultation.
This has been stored in my head without a way of me knowing how to get the message out there and help young girls in the future, especially since I now have a daughter that is not too far off the age I was when presented with the situation. The Girls Out Loud came along.
It was in 2017, I was introduced to Girls out Loud by my wonderful friend Penni Pennington. We had briefly touched on my experiences and she championed me to find a way of becoming involved.
Girls out Loud is a multi-award winning social enterprise, dedicated to raising the aspirations of teenage girls in the UK. They are passionate about empowering girls to find their voice. Their programmes are all about embedding more confidence, emotional resilience, self-assurance and self-esteem. In turn, this leads to real aspiration, real change and long lasting success.
They strive to inspire girls to believe in themselves, know they are enough and encourage them to make the right choices.
Hearing this, and attending the first Shining Stars Ball in 2017 I knew I needed to be a part of such an incredible organisation. The initial introduction was via Jane Kenyon, wow – if you spend 5 minutes with Jane you honestly feel like you could take on the world.
After years of searching for my ‘greater why’ and my meaning in life, I had attended a virtual conference ran by the Hollis Company, it was here that a whatsapp group with the ‘Rise Girls’ mentioned earlier was formed and after days of messages post conference, it dawned on me: It was time to share my story and somehow piece this together to explain my superpower – resilience. We all have it, you just have to dig deep, keep calm and remained focused. This isn’t about learning the art of not giving up on your dreams, it is learning to not give up on yourself – at all costs.
This is one of the main reasons I was drawn to where I have worked for the past five years, as exciting as the concept is, it was the motto in the original PR campaign that resonated with me – ‘Hustle & Heart set us apart.’ Over the years I have developed a greater sense of self and with some incredible support from my business and a die-hard love for the brand itself, have been able to explore new directions with an incredible backing from my own leadership team.
My mission now as I enter the thirty something stage of life with a teenage daughter, is to ensure that no other young women ever feels like they are alone, but on the flip side there needs to also be the support for young fathers too – As I have learnt over the years it isn’t always about becoming a mum it is about becoming a parent.