As a modern woman, juggling a career and my family life, I often call on lots of extra resources. My husband, extended family, nannies, baby sitters, friends – you name it, I’m not shy in asking for a bit of help to get me through my day.
But – just days away from International Women’s Day – I know that what I’m able to juggle today wouldn’t have been possible in the past.
My story is one that would be similar to many women. I’m a wife, a mother, a daughter and a professional… I also carry my fair share of guilt, as most mums (and dads) feel.
As for spending time with my friends and broader family – well, if they’re not on Facebook or Instagram we have probably lost touch.
But when my son was born, I was hit by a very harsh reality. I really wasn’t sure how I was going to manage it all. There was no doubt in my mind, things would always be compromised. I loved my son, my husband and this new adventure in our lives. But I was also driven by my work… my career had always defined me.
I’d always worked hard – jumping at opportunities when they arose. I had never been a great career-planner, but thanks to that hard work I was finding that I was being offered some great opportunities.
But fear and doubt now crept in – ‘was that now going to change now that I was a mum?’ While my priorities had changed, I had a need, both financially and emotionally, to continue to work.
I found that I was reflecting on my mother’s story. My mum is smart. Super smart. Top of her class smart. She was the only woman in her engineering course at university. But it was tough for her – she would often say that her fellow class mates would flip between completely ignoring her or trying to chat her up.
When she married at 21 and left university (with her degree unfortunately uncompleted), she took a role at Telecom – the company that I would join many years later – things were very different.
She had a great job. Was working in a good team. And life was looking very positive.
In the mid-70’s, mum took maternity leave (and received paid maternity leave thanks to legislation being passed in 1973 by the government of the day), and I was the one that she was at home with. When her maternity leave came to an end, my mum and dad made a decision – mum would go back to work, and dad would stay home, for a while at least, to see how it went.
Well – that lasted about a month. Dad wanted to head back into the workplace, so a decision had to be made. With no extended family support, the roles were reversed again. My mum resigned and dad returned to work.
I don’t think that my mum would ever say that she regretted the decision. Three children later she was an amazing support for us growing up. But, if she had more flexible options available to her, as I do now, would her decisions have been different?
Today – thanks to changing technology and more forward thinking, working flexibly has become a reality for many organisations across the world. In Australia, Telstra (the same company my mother worked for close to 40 years ago) now lives and breathes flexibility every day – but it has taken a while to change mindsets.
I now feel privileged that I can work from home regularly to help me balance out my life. This helps me slow down a bit, breathe and prioritise dropping my son off a little later to school and picking him up a little earlier. It also helps me prioritise my health – exercising more regularly and eating healthier options rather than grabbing whatever is in a local cafe.
It’s taken me a long time to embrace this new way of working – and a way of working that we encourage everyone in Telstra to embrace. But it’s not just for working mothers. This new way of flexible working is for fathers, those caring for elderly parents or others who simply have passions outside of the workplace.
On Sunday, International Women’s Day, I’ll be reflecting on the flexible working conditions that I now enjoy. And appreciate even more the tough decisions that my mother made for me and my family 40 years ago when she didn’t have the same opportunities presented to her.