For our third provocation Sade Banks, founder and CEO of Sour Lemons (a charity that exists to disrupt decision making tables in the creative and cultural sectors), takes some time to talk about leaving secure full-time employment, setting up her charity, the arrival of her ‘second’ child and learning the importance of establishing and nurturing a space for self-care. Over to Sade to share her piece of writing for Raising Films, and thank you Sade.
‘There’s no point crying over spilt milk.’ Believe me, that saying has never meant more to me than the time when I spent an hour pumping breast milk in a dingy cupboard on my lunch break, only for it all to spill in my bag as I ran to catch the train home to my three month old baby.
“You deserve this,” my inner warrior and harshest critic said, “only you have chosen to make this harder for yourself. You could be in a playgroup somewhere singing nursery rhymes with your new-born baby.”
I beat myself up throughout the journey as I stood squeezed into a Virgin Birmingham to London commuter train with my engorged breasts leaking through my denim dress and telling every single person next to me that I had chosen to prioritise work and leave my new-born baby at home. “You deserve this,” my inner warrior and harshest critic said, “only you have chosen to make this harder for yourself. You could be in a playgroup somewhere singing nursery rhymes with your new-born baby.” I pushed back fiercely knowing that my work is my purpose and without my purpose I would not be a good mother so although I knew something had to change, giving up work was not an option. And neither was not being a great mum.
When I gave birth, it felt like I had given birth to a second child (the first being my charity Sour Lemons which disrupts decision making tables in the creative and cultural industries). And it was so, so hard. I couldn’t choose between the two. And no mother should have to. I made a conscious decision when I found out I was pregnant to wrap my new baby into my world – that is to say, work wouldn’t stop (in fact it increased) and that she would become a very significant part of me, but not all of me.
I had just left my full time, well paid (for the arts anyway), job at a World Class Arts Institution to launch my charity. I was in a moderate amount of debt, but I wasn’t worried because I don’t know another young Londoner who doesn’t wait to get paid to balance their overdraft. Leaving my job meant that I would be leaving a whole host of employee benefits – including maternity pay and pastoral care from HR – but none of that mattered to me because I wasn’t trying to get pregnant, and I had fire in my belly to tackle the race and class inequality in leadership within the industry.
I was so tired and frustrated at being the only ‘diverse’ voice included at decision-making tables. In my department of 30ish staff, I was one of two mid-level managers of Colour, the only person who hadn’t been to university and the only openly working class voice. It was exhausting. Minority leaders when they reach the ceiling (because that’s what it was, a pale, narrow ceiling of institutional power), are asked to either assimilate and become part of the problem, face burn out and fragile mental health due to fighting from within (been there, done that) or they decide to leave. So there I go, 24, fiery and free from institutional red tape and systemic oppression. Forget your tables, I’m designing and making my own table.
“I had fire in my belly to tackle the race and class inequality in leadership within the industry.”
I managed to earn enough income to claw my way out of debt and cover three months’ salary by the time I was due. It’s a long story but I ended up losing all of my savings, this meant by the time I gave birth I had no money to cover me and I didn’t have a choice but to go back to work seven weeks later. I wasn’t ready for motherhood, but it came naturally to me and I am a good mum. I love my daughter so very much and we bonded from the first day – I knew we would.
What I really wasn’t prepared for was the crushing loss of identity and confidence that knocked me sideways and left me wanting to hide under blankets instead of stepping into my newfound power. It didn’t feel like power, it felt like a weakness. I was scrambling to find the woman I was before I gave birth and hadn’t realised that she disappeared the moment I became a mother, and my daughter was introducing me to the new woman I was becoming. And I needed to be patient with her.
“I was travelling across the country with my newborn baby to facilitate workshops, give keynote speeches and dazzle influencers. I have vivid memories of the awe and respect in people’s eyes as they said ‘how do you do it?’ And the truth was, I didn’t know. ”
On the outside, I was killing it! I was travelling across the country with my newborn baby to facilitate workshops, give keynote speeches and dazzle influencers. I have vivid memories of the awe and respect in people’s eyes as they said ‘how do you do it?’ And the truth was, I didn’t know. Inside I felt like I was failing. I was a hot mess and nurturing a tiny human, facilitating space for others to learn and grow, whilst being riddled with imposter syndrome, was zapping all of my energy. Most of the time, I could hear me speaking and I had no idea who was saying those words. It didn’t sound like me. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I didn’t know if I even cared about inequalities. I mean we are talking about dark times!
The best thing about running my own organisation is that I set the terms, so I designed my days around the realities of being a working mum. I would rock up to meetings and set up a play space in the corner for her to roll around and once I had finished breastfeeding, she would be passed around the circle of colleagues (most of whom I had never even met) to be burped, which gave me a break to present at the front of the space. I have participated in and facilitated three leadership retreats with her at my side (see picture for proof). I pitched to a global corporate and halfway through realised that I had green poop trickling down my leg. I have flashed my breasts to multiple CEOs and Senior Decision Makers. I have hugged colleagues and realised that I’ve transferred baby sick onto their clean shirts. I have done all of this and not been very kind to myself.
Packing for our first leadership retreat…
I called a team meeting (with myself) and agreed that we could not continue like this; constantly on the back foot, feeling like we don’t deserve to be taking up space. I spend so much time developing others and designing support packages that enable them to show up inclusively and I had missed a beat in doing this for myself. Duh. So I began to curate a radical self-care plan based on generosity and the abundance of pleasure. Every few months I check in with myself and my action plan and review it – each season has brought a new set of conditions that I’ve adapted to and I have been radically inclusive of my needs. In practice, this has included training, finding a mum tribe, taking breaks, utilising my village for childcare, learning about my body and the trauma I am holding on to, recognising that I am enough. Always. And most importantly, listening to myself and taking time to breathe.
“Every few months I check in with myself and my action plan and review it – each season has brought a new set of conditions that I’ve adapted to and I have been radically inclusive of my needs.”
It got me thinking about the support that CEO and freelance mothers don’t receive during pregnancy, post birth and beyond. What if there was a wellness body looking out for us? What if this support enabled us to rebuild our new identities together? This fills me with so much joy. Anyone reading this who can relate to what I have said, call a team meeting now! Consider what radical generosity looks like for you and how are you filling up your cup before you fill everyone else’s? And if you don’t have a mum tribe yet – go and find one! Raising Films is leading on a brilliant initiative called Making It Possible that offers the chance to connect with fellow parents working across all areas of film and TV while developing a plan to develop your career and build the resilience to face the barriers and challenges that might fall across your path. Go seek out Making It Possible and share, share, share.
Sade Banks is an award-winning social entrepreneur and the founder of Sour Lemons, a charity addressing the lack of diverse leadership within the creative and cultural sectors. Her life motto is to turn sour lemons into lemonade; using challenging circumstances to create positive experiences for others.
Sade is a creative producer who specialises in nurturing diverse talent, partnership development and community engagement. She started her career as an apprentice at the Bush Theatre and has since then worked for The Lyric Hammersmith, Ogilvy & Mather and the Barbican Centre.
Throughout her career, Sade has used her life experiences to inspire positive action and has consistently worked to create inclusive cultural spaces. As a consultant, Sade has designed and led leadership interventions and training initiatives with Somerset House, The Science Gallery, Red Bull Amaphiko and UnLtd. Her passion for proper representation and inclusive education has led her to deliver speeches at the House of Commons, City Hall and at The Southbank Centre.
Sade is a 2020 Clore Cultural Leadership Fellow, a Founding Member of the UK Lived Experience Movement, a Friend of Red Bull Amaphiko and currently serves on the board of the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre. She was the Social Entrepreneur in Residence at UnLtd from 2017-19 and a Founding Member of the Centrepoint Youth Parliament.
Sade has been recognised by Natwest WISE100 as a ‘Leading Woman in Social Business’ (2018), Campaign and AMV Top 50 Diversity Trailblazers (2018), and received an award from Prince William for ‘Turning Her Life Around’ (2015).
Visit the Sour Lemons website and follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram via @SourLemonsUK.
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