Mela Lush loves being a mum. She also loved being a marketing manager, working for six years at the Institute of Management NZ. But Mela didn't see why she couldn't have one without the other.
"You shouldn't have to choose between having a family and a career," says Mela, 34, from the Whangaparāoa home she shares with her husband, former professional rugby player Bryan Lush, and their two children, daughter Nyla, two, and one-year-old son Ellery.
"There's a way to do both, to use your skills in a flexible way that isn't at the cost of your family, because none of us want to be part-time parents."
It's what led Mela to create the employment platform Jobs for Mums. The free service connects job-seekers looking for flexible work with employers open to part-time, remote and work during school hours.
Launched in July, so far more than 1800 employees have registered, applying for jobs with employers such as Zuru, Oceania Healthcare and McDonald's.
When Mela had the idea for the service last year, she was, she admits, "totally broken".
"I remember standing in a shop with a sick child, heavily pregnant with my son. My husband was having mental- health issues, so I was looking after him and also working four days a week. It was exhausting, and I'm so thankful I had a flexible employer and help from my parents. But I thought about all those women who don't have that privilege, including single mothers without family support. I realised I could help others who needed flexible work."
To test the waters, Mela posted a message on several online mothers' message boards. Within days, she had 1500 replies from people looking for part-time work.
"I didn't realise so many people were in the same situation. It's really about unlocking New Zealand's largest hidden workforce, which is critical right now with major staff shortages and with the high cost of living."
Despite the name, it's not just mothers using the service – Mela calculates around 5% of users are men and not all users are parents. "It might be called Jobs for Mums, but the service is open to anyone who wants flexible work that fits their skills."
It's only been six months since Mela launched what she calls the "family-friendly jobs board", but already it has connected workers with employers across 36 different industries, from nurses and lawyers to truck drivers. "These are jobs at all levels of seniority. I recently had our first CEO role, which made me cry. We have around 50 people a day signing up and the feedback I'm getting is that Jobs for Mums is changing lives. Lots of people thank me for being brave enough to start this."
Mela has form when it comes to being brave. Born in Albania, she and her parents came to Aotearoa in 1996 after fleeing civil war in their country. "I was only seven, but I remember how unsafe it was in Albania. We'd hear of kidnappings and harvesting bodies for organs. We couldn't play outside."
After completing an economics and marketing degree at the University of Auckland, Mela started her career in media and marketing.Today, she's focused on looking after her kids and building Jobs for Mums to the point where she can pay herself a salary.
"This was never about making money – it was about filling a need that badly needed filling," she says. "There are employers out there who understand that scraped knees, changing nappies and bath times are going to take priority. But at the same time, the target market we're dealing with is highly capable and have amazing transferable skills. It was about putting the two groups together."
It might have taken a global pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis and labour shortages, but Mela admits the tide is finally turning.
"Both employers and employees are seeing the value of flexible and family-friendly work practices, especially for mothers who previously might not have been able to find work to fit around their parental responsibilities."
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