Last year I was privileged to be appointed as Executive Director Communications at the Peter Mac Cancer Centre, an internationally recognised brand doing amazing things for the community. As one of 8 women out of 10 on the leadership team, the organisation had an impressive 80 per cent women making up its executive – a statistic that demonstrates just how far society has come on this International Women’s Day 2018.
After four years consulting while my children were young, I felt I was ready to return to a full time, in-house, senior role. I was notified I got the job on the day of my birthday. I took it as a good omen. As I spent the proceeding months bringing myself across the business, building a strategy for the long term, and cementing a high performing team to work with me; I waved goodbye to my five year old daughter with tears in her eyes in the mornings, not wanting me to leave.
At first I thought my children would go through a transition phase as they became used to me at full time work again, but as the weeks rolled on the transition became harder – not for them, but for me.
I had suddenly found myself isolated from school life and detached from the lives of my kids, I wasn’t able to ferry them to after school activities or hang around in the playground with them on a sunny day. I barely made it by close to after school care, and they were often the last ones waiting for me. When the Christmas concerts rolled around and I had to miss one of them, my worlds started to collide.
Even with a modern, supportive and flexible work environment, made up of many understanding mothers – and fathers – on the leadership team, the realities of a senior full-time management role meant the demands of the job were adding up to be more than I could give as a mother.
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Mine was not an unusual position to be in as an executive level working mum, and I began to reflect on the literature making headlines. In particular, an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department resonated with me. Working for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Anne-Marie had a tremendously supportive boss, but had still decided to return to an academic career that gave her more time for her family. Her article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All raised poignant and important issues.
I concluded there was truth in her notion that we’ve been raised as modern young girls being told we could have it all – an active family life and a high flying career – but we’ve been told little about the true cost of trying to balance it all. Society needs to better support us, and families in general, if this is going to work.
The reality is, the collective ‘we’: modern day society, is biting off more than we can chew. If both parents are to work (and my husband has a highly successful career in which he travels regularly), then something around the expectations of our workforce or our schooling system has to change. The hours are not compatible for a start.
My aunt was one of the early incredibly successful international business women, and she mentored me heavily in my early work years in the UK. She drilled me with the importance of being a modern woman who values herself equally to men in the workplace, my ability to be a female leader, and the importance having a successful, independent career.
She was a wonderful mentor to me and I will always be grateful for the many successes I have enjoyed due to her lessons, but she was not a mother. Perhaps my vision of what I could achieve with children was warped from watching her? I’d like to think not.
I’d always assumed I was consulting while the children were young as an interim step to returning to an in-house executive role; now that I was back, I couldn’t see how I could be a present mother and be in an office environment at the level in which I would be challenged.