How She Does It | Emma El-Karout

What a year 2020 is slowly turning into! Every month, a new pressing matter, randomly risen to add up to the series of extravaganzas incessantly tormenting public opinion. A global pandemic. The mainstreaming of remote work. Racial injustice and discrimination. Crisis management in all dimensions! Bold steps for humanity to make in an ongoing quest for development towards embracing the future…

Speaking of the future -determined to maintain a positive viewpoint of this ever changing landscape- I find it fitting to introduce you to an amazing working mom for this month’s How She Does It column. One of the most forward-thinking professionals I know, dedicated to giving back to the Human Resources Profession, Emma El-Karout is the “cheerleader” of an online community of freelance HR experts ready to work on HR projects on-demand. At a point in time where remote work is sinking in and the impact is bigger than we realized, Emma has founded the coolest virtual platform for freelance HR consultants: a fresh way to access virtual HR consulting services! You no longer need to hold a 9-5 job to work in HR: Emma has got your back! No wonder this innovative idea of a business model came straight from a working mom!

I was informed about Emma’s work through one of her inspiring articles on LinkedIn, the one where she vouched to be Present as a Mother as her resolution for 2020 and, boy, how relevant that line thinking was for me too! I cold-mailed her, and here we are!

I find Emma’s work utterly inspiring, and I remain convinced that such niche platforms supporting the gig economy are the way-forward for many working parents out there striving to strike a balance between work and family-commitments! The Remote Work extravaganza has made this clear for all eyes to see: working from home is feasible, working from home… works! And Emma is helping HR professionals in particular to rethink their traditional 9-5 working lives, while providing them with a viable alternative to office work: something that the profession (and the world for that matter!) should be eternally grateful for!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m an entrepreneur supporting the Human Resources industry to push change in our very relationship with this concept of “work”, through my digital platform called One Circle. However, I started the previous 20-odd years using my MBA in HR as springboard into corporate jobs. My last roles in this world were Director-level ones based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Since late 2018 Johannesburg, South Africa has been home for me along with my husband and 8-year old daughter; my 2 elder boys (both in their late teens) live in Montreal, Canada where they are completing their education. Therefore, one of the hardest questions my family faces is, where do you live?

I am by nature a deep-diving problem-solving advisor with a commercial mindset – perhaps it is to do with my ancestry as a Lebanese, or the fact that my late Dad was a trader with a PhD in Economics from Sorbonne! Whatever the reason, nothing gets my energy flowing as much as being presented with a complex problem and being told it is unsolvable. This is why I developed One Circle as a platform for HR experts to have a different work relationship and, in so doing, overcome many current problems they face through the traditional 9 to 5 work model.

Stemming from your personal experience, what is the toughest part of being a Mom, and how do you manage it?

As a working Mom I often felt guilty that my work prevents me from having more special parenting moments that are unscheduled, like use of a complex word or a new dance step.I don’t think I am unique in this, and most working parents find the achievement of this “balance” unattainable. 

This is precisely the reason I decided to create a means to not just solve this for myself, but all other HR professionals who might be feeling the same. My vision is to allow HR industry experts to work on their own terms, when and where they choose to. I am fond of saying that there is no such thing as work/life, there is just life!

In the meantime, my husband and I juggle our work schedules as a tag-team to ensure that at least one of us is always present. It works around 95% of the time!

Who is (are) your go-to person(s) when you need support as a Mother? What type of support are you mostly in need of?

Ironically enough, from my husband! Growing up I was exposed to a rigid style of parenting that I promised not to pass on to my own kids, especially regarding dogmatic answers to the tough questions that children always seem to have.   

This is why I call on my husband’s support when one of the kids have such questions, as he brings a counterbalance to my generally more analytical or scientific responses.

What’s the No1 Skill (or Ability, or Knowledge) you have found handy in your role as a Mom?

I grew up in a country at war, when we would race to bomb shelters for periods of time and have to get by with whatever was available and in stock. This made me more adaptable to unplanned or unforeseen events, and an ability to keep moving despite surprises. 

As anyone in Johannesburg will testify, there’s no shortages of surprises here! My husband had to go on a business trip shortly after we first moved here and while he was away our entire neighborhood had an electricity blackout for 8 hours. I reverted to my home country, wartime mode, started a fire for the barbecue and turned a potentially scary experience into a spontaneous camp-out with my daughter!

What advice do you have for a new Mom?

Don’t stress! None of us knew everything the first time around and you will figure out what’s best for your own child, regardless of what others may say. Things change constantly, your child will too, and nobody is perfect enough at any point in time. 

Also, your love is abundant so don’t for a second think that loving yourself will diminish from the love for your child. You must continue to love yourself after the birth, pay attention to yourself and take care of yourself, as much as you do your baby. You are as much a miracle as s/he is!

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