This sentence and the word “just” has always irritated me.
Over the past few months I have interviewed many mums who have taken career breaks and I can tell you these they are ambitious, resourceful, talented and motivated women with career aspirations, they are so much more than “just” mums.
They are women getting on and doing it all. In a system that isn’t designed to support women who have had a career break.
Most arrived at their situation as their partners had greater earning potential. As one lady explains “that is why I took the hit on all the other elements, it seemed logical at the time.”
Many originally went back to work after having children, but became burnt out or an unsustainable family environment drove the exit. “I was catching up with my husband at the airport him flying in, me flying out and a nanny at home. Something had to give, so I went part time to make it work”.
The women I spoke to covered all industries from professionals, teachers, psychologists, retail, self-employed, others paving the way as single parents and all of them trying to make it work with the options available.
All the women have at least one Bachelor degree, many have multiple. They have worked for at least 12+ years and have reached senior roles within their fields. Many have volunteered both professionally and in the community. All of them want to work in roles that will challenge them and utilise their skills.
Their journey’s to re-establish their careers have been plagued with knock backs, dead ends, no reply’s and dealing with self-worth “when the nanny gets paid more than you, you sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it”. Yet the perseverance of these women to push forward is remarkable.
Balancing life as a primary carer adds further challenges to returning and as many commented “It feel like I am always on, I carry the mental load whether I am working or not”. The amount of co-ordination, problem solving and effort spent to get to an interview or press send on an application becomes a feat within itself.
Every story I heard showed amazing resourcefulness and their ability to adapt to change and re-invent themselves - across home, work and their industries was not always an easy proposition. As one women explains “I managed 500 people and had large responsibilities, when returning I couldn’t find a flexible role at my level. I still wanted to be challenged, so I got another degree, I have started at the bottom again, but aim to gain flexibility through building my own business eventually.”
What I have heard is women working against a system and trying desperately to make it work with the opportunities available and in spite of the barriers. The women I spoke to are inspirational. They represent the daily struggle of so many women across Australia, but they also represent extraordinary perseverance and depth of talent. I strongly believe we have a system that is failing these women. It’s not deliberate, but I think when it comes to recruiting, diversity, talent management or leadership strategies - this group is invisible.
I am surprised businesses aren’t looking for people with empathy, growth mindsets, problem solving skills and adaptability or perhaps just a mum!