Reflecting on the last twelve months, I find myself in an entirely different world, and not just because of the pandemic. Like so many others, I spend my days juggling work, home, study and trying to find time for myself.

In January 2020, I welcomed my beautiful daughter, Faye, into the world. I was never sure I wanted children of my own. I was focused on my career, and I couldn’t see how I would manage both. Yet, here I was as a first time mum and loving every second.

As a relatively young organisation, Faye was the first Orange Sky employee baby. Ironically, in a stand-alone HR role, I was responsible for developing the Parental Leave Policy. I love my job and I was excited, albeit nervous, to return to work after five months of parental leave. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by the most incredible team of people – a team who inspires each other to bring their best every day. I’d kept in touch throughout my leave, and had agreed with my manager to come back part time at four days a week. I arranged daycare, labelled all my daughter’s clothes and was ready to return to work. Easy, right?

Not easy.

Like so many women before me, I found those first few months back at work to be the hardest of my life. The ‘mum guilt’ for leaving my five-month old baby in daycare was crippling. I found a new burst of ambition and found myself laser focused on being a strong female role model for my daughter, but I was exhausted and convinced I had to prove to everyone around me that I could still be a high-performing professional. I felt like I’d lost my identity.

I’m still not sure I have all the answers, but here’re a few lessons I’ve learnt along the way….

Jess is pictured on the right with colleague and work wife, Chelsea. 

1. Set your boundaries.

I’ve always resented the concept of work-life balance. My mind conjured up an image of a seesaw where the only way to balance work and life was to only give a portion of yourself to each, and I saw that as a bad thing. Turns out, it’s not so bad.

Setting clear boundaries has been so important for me. Things like switching off notifications after work or being offered the flexibility to work from home have helped me bring the best version of myself – whether that be as a mum or an employee.

2. Find your girl gang. Or any gang, really. Find your people.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and well… it does. Building your network of family, friends and supportive work colleagues takes time, but it’s okay to ask for help and advice. I’ve found an incredible connection with colleagues at Orange Sky who have tiny humans of their own, and sometimes a five minute chat about the woes of a teething baby is just what I need.

3. Be kind to yourself.

You don’t have to do it all. You can say no to that social event in favour of staying home, and you can ask for flexibility. There is always time to achieve your goals – but ask yourself if the time is right for you.

Learning to say ‘no’ and ‘not now’ has given me balance, and made me a far better mum and colleague.

I’m still new at juggling the responsibilities of parenthood and professional life, but I know society still has a way to go. Having a child and growing a family is one of the most natural things in the world, yet today, women are retiring with 47% less superannuation than men. The gender pay gap and women taking time out of the workforce due to caring responsibilities are cited as barriers to gender wealth equality.

So, I ask anyone who finds themselves working alongside parents – whether they be new parents returning to work or otherwise – to show a little kindness and empathy. There will be times we arrive to work frazzled from lack of sleep or with a spot of nappy cream on our shirts, but teams are stronger when we make space for everyone at the table. Building a culture of flexibility and inclusivity where all voices can be heard has never been so important.

Interested in hearing more from inspiring women at Orange Sky? 

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