Good afternoon everyone, I would like to Acknowledge that the land we meet on today is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and pay my respects to their spiritual relationship with their Country. I also acknowledge the Kaurna people as the traditional custodians of the Adelaide region and today I would especially like to acknowledge the women of the Kaurna people, and pay my respects to them for their wisdom and spiritual connections to the land and each other.
It is an honour and my absolute pleasure to be speaking with you today for International Womens Day, as we focus on this year’s theme, #Balanceforbetter. As a PHD candidate and student, as a new business owner, as a partner, as a workshop facilitator and as a mother, I feel that balance, is certainly worthy of our attention.
Its easy to talk about balance and how important it is conceptually, but Id like to share a personal story about balance, or rather a lack of balance. 8 years ago, on the 11th of February – I gave birth to my beautiful first daughter, Faith. In that moment, in her utter perfection when I looked down at her, and as I breathed in her scent and kissed her head, I knew I was never going to be the same. A perfectionist by nature I had read everything. I had studied it all and I had plans for this to be perfect. I held her every moment of the day. I wore her like a little koala and as she clung to my sides in her carrier, she would look up at me with big blue eyes and I would sing to her as we walked our gorgeous treelined streets. I played her beautiful music, I ate the right foods, I responded to each cry and was more than hesitant to leave her with anyone, including her dad. I was trying to be the perfect mother. I thought it was my role alone to be her everything.
Fast forward 6 months. Im walking down my main street as I did every day. It was now winter, I could hear and feel the leaves under my boots and the cold air biting at my face. As I held her little feet in my hands I could see someone coming towards us. It was an older woman, she was wearing a knitted beanie and carrying a bag from the local organic market where I was headed. I noticed my heart start to race and I heard myself inside my mind desperately cry out, ‘please stop’. Please stop and hold my baby. Please stop and talk to me. Spend time with me. I need a break, I need some connection, I need to use my brain.
My heart sank as the stranger smiled, but didn’t stop, and I looked down at Faith staring at me and the tears welled up as I realised that I, and my life, were slipping away. I was filled with shame that I couldn’t escape and I realised I had given so much of me – every moment, every thought, every piece of energy to this beautiful baby trying to be perfect that I had lost everything. My relationship, my self-identity, my work, my body, my freedom, and my mind.
My lack of balance had effected not only my mental health but my husbands and my daughters. All she wanted was a happy healthy mum. I thought by giving her all of me, that I was giving her everything. What I lacked was balance. My lack of balance would have an effect on my workplace as I re-entered after leave. It would affect my focus, my performance, my productivity. How could it not? And I was quick to blame those around me for how I was feeling – for the way our culture was set up – for not having any support. I looked outside of myself for all the answers to how this could’ve happened.
This week will bring a lot of focus around the pay gap, around gender equality in the workplace, discrimination, parental leave. Women roles and rights and have come a long way from a very imbalanced place, and the pendulum has begun to swing. In my research and in my business Im seeing the strong push and acceptance of shared parental leave, of flexible working arrangements, of family focused policy. We have incredible CEOs like Brian Hartzer who see imbalance and say “fix it”. We have worldwide movements standing for the voice of women, and all these things are moving in the right direction. But maybe theres something each of us can do, to hasten this shift. Maybe there was something I coulve done. Last night I facilitated an event for women around empowerment and one of the topics was about personal responsibility, and how for real change to occur, we need to focus on ourselves. That change, starts from within. We have all heard the expression, be the change you wish to see in the world. Mother Teresa put it slightly differently saying if you want to change the world, go home and love your family…the essence of these quotes is the same. For anything real to change for us out here, in the workplace and in the world, we need to start from within. For a more balanced world, we need more balanced selves. We need to demonstrate a willingness and acceptance of all aspects of who we are. For me, 8 years ago, I needed to understand that I was enough for my baby, just the way I was. I also needed to acknowledge the things that I needed, in order to stay healthy.
As women many of us have learned to fight, to hang on, to grip tighter, – to strive to have and be it all. The literature in psychology certainly supports this. Rather than asking for help or stepping back women simply try harder. The research I conducted in Sweden for my PhD centred around parental support structures and policies and as I was immersed into their culture I learned many things and saw different ways of being and understanding how to balance parenthood and work. I learned about how critical social support is in all areas and how the culture focuses on the real integration of family into worklife. All of these policies were in place to support this. But the real difference was in the men and women and their individual expression and expectations. The biggest lesson, was that as mothers, we need to learn to let go. Let go of control, let go of the details, let go of the belief that parenting is primarily women’s work, that we know how to do it better. 95% of primary parental leave (outside of the public-sector) is taken by women and women spend almost three times as much time taking care of children each day, compared to men. While there are complex reasons and policies around this statistic, if we come back to the inner expression of this and how we might effect change from within, as women we need let go of the idea that maternal instincts magically kick in or even dare I say, exist. If like the Swedes, we embrace the idea that parenthood is a learned, shared, skill and that as such, our partners, our community and our workplaces can learn it and shape how we combine our lives, then we open up the possibilities. We can let go of control and perfectionism in the workplace by sharing the experience of being human and having to balance our hearts and minds with each other, we can negotiate the details we need for balance, we can be open and safe to express our needs, our experiences. We let go of the need to be perfect, to be hard and tough and able all the time to handle the entire load that is to a large degree not only expected by society but ourselves – we make up society. When we change our internal expectations we change what is expected out there. With a balanced approach to ourselves – with strength and softness, with a desire to combine success with the skills to stop and take time for self-care, for delegation, then we are balanced in how we present ourselves to the world. We are honest, authentic…………………………
We know we have strength – we have resolve, its how we have come so far and achieve so much. The challenge is in presenting the softness, the vulnerability, the sorrow at the lengths we are going to to have and be it all. To share the good but also be open in the cost it can have on us.
A more balanced individual equals a more balanced home. And this is better for individual mental health, for infant and child development and the mental wellbeing of our loved ones.
A more balanced home equals a more balanced workplace. And this is better for performance, for team cohesion, for productivity.
A more balanced workplace equals a more balanced society. And this is better for policy and structural design of the way we shape our future.
As women we are the role models for the little girls who look to us for their ways of being in this world. We are their inner voice which shapes their future voice. When we present a balanced self, a woman with boundaries around what is acceptable and normal in the home and in the workplace, around the time we allocate for self-care and the expectations we place on ourselves, we not only provide ourselves with choice and freedom, but we give them this gift also. We teach them, in the most powerful way, by demonstration, that they matter. That they are worthy of balance in all areas of their lives. and that they can create that. And what a gift to give the strong, capable perfectly imperfect women of the future, to teach them that indeed, for all these reasons and so many more, that balance is better.
My company Village is about creating connections so that within our workplaces we find a balance between our working selves and our family selves. When I blend what I have learned from my research, from starting a business, from having a 1 year old and an 8 year old, I can attest that balance for better, works.
I came home from Sweden and said to my partner, “I can’t un-see what I’ve seen, so strap yourself in”. I then set about letting go…. This is a very tough thing to do for a micromanaging control freak.
Today, in what is a vastly differently experience to my first time as a mum, I really share parenting, I trust that my partner is just as capable and able to do what I do, I trust that this balance and the positive effect this has on me, flows through to my daughter, Rumi so that these habits become ingrained in her. I watch the increased bond between him and her and see how each of them are gaining from me having stepped back and let them work it out. I allow myself the time to work, to workout, to explore my mind and do the things that empower me, so that the time I do spend with hr, I am giving from a full cup. The time is less, but it is richer and fuller. This is what I need. It’s not for everyone, but there-in lies the challenge – what do you need? The time of a one size fits all approach is gone. It’s time to co-create – with our family, our community and our workplaces - the life we need to be able to do the things we have to do, we choose to do.
With Village I hope to demonstrate through education, through connecting parents, through lived experience, and by putting into practise these ideas, that for me, my family, for my business and for all of our futures as women, that support and openness does not signify weakness but strength. That by standing for our needs as parents, and the needs of our families we are demonstrating strong boundaries and saying that rather than doing more, what is often needed, is in fact to do less, to let go. We need to be honest about how exhausting it can be combining two roles into the time allocation of one. Today our workplace is our village, and we need to be able to work collaboratively, to be supported in being healthy, productive and happy.
When we as women stand together and embody these principles we are declaring that balance for better, is not only crucial for individual and societal wellbeing, but the only mentally and emotionally sustainable way forward.