Family, postgrad research and promotion: a family friendly workplace helped
As KPMG Australia celebrates becoming one of Australia’s first accredited family-friendly workplaces, I’ve been invited to reflect on what having a family-friendly workplace means to me.
My journey and experiences are unique to me and I want to acknowledge upfront that whilst I am proud of KPMG’s leadership in flexible work it is not easy navigating a professional services career while having significant carer responsibilities. There are many structural barriers that need to be overcome before we can be confident being a parent or having other significant caring responsibilities are not barriers to our people realising their full potential. I hope that by sharing my story, others can learn from some of the challenges I have encountered and how they were overcome.
Earlier this year I returned to work part-time to take on a new role as a Director, five months after the birth of my second child and three years after I was first nominated for promotion. At the time I was nominated I had reached the end of my first year back at work following the birth of my first child, my son was still waking multiple times during the night and I was struggling to set appropriate boundaries around my availability for work. I was mentally and physically burned out. I could not see a way through, and I certainly didn’t feel confident putting my case for promotion.
So, after seeking some advice I took a different path, a career break and postgraduate research.
Even though I went from working part-time to studying full-time I found that I was much better able to balance my study commitments with my caring responsibilities and improve my own wellbeing.
At the end of my first year of study there was an opportunity to return to work and support my team in a non-client facing role one day per week. This was an unusual arrangement designed to meet a business need I was uniquely able to fulfill alongside my study and caring commitments. I continued in this role until I completed my thesis, which happily coincided with the birth of my second child. I had intended to take twelve months parental leave as I had with my first child and then consider what my next move would be.
Then a Director role came up in my team that presented an opportunity to directly apply the knowledge and insights gained from my research. I had engaged deeply with an issue that had become highly relevant to our clients and I was keen to contribute to the conversation and support the sector’s response. So, I decided to apply. At the time I made this decision my new bub was just four weeks old and while I worried it was a crazy idea, deep down it felt right. As well as believing I could make a valuable contribution to improving practice, I felt better equipped this time around to navigate the challenges of part-time work and my caring responsibilities. Also, after a year of relative isolation due to COVID I felt that another year at home with a baby might not be so good for my mental health.
The application process was challenging, and I spent many hours preparing late into the night with two sleeping children by my side. But I also received incredible support from partners and colleagues who provided advice and confidence boosts along the way.
I am now four weeks into the role and there is no denying it is hard. But this time I have put in place the boundaries and support structures I need to make it work for me and my family. Some of these remain unusual in our workplace but they allow me to fulfil the expectations of my role without compromising my own needs and values or those of my family. For example, on the days I work from the office, my husband brings my son into work so I can continue to breastfeed. In addition to two regular workdays, I am also working an additional flexi day that enables me to be available to respond to urgent requests and accommodate tasks that cannot be scheduled on my regular workdays. Whilst I am as flexible and accommodating as possible, I do not guarantee my availability outside my regular days as my role as primary carer has precedence on these days. Across the week I am also offline between 4pm and 7pm, which is the time my family needs me to be fully present and focused on them.
While these arrangements are unique to me, KPMG’s approach to flexible working means that it is possible to design arrangements that can respond to every individual’s circumstances. It took time to figure out how to make this flexibility work for me. Whilst KPMG’s policies and support programs provide job security, flexibility and a sense of being valued, it is the support from key individuals – both partners and colleagues – that helped me to stay connected and open to the possibility that my career could progress alongside these significant life events. For me, it is the people I work with that truly make the workplace family friendly.