What resigning from my comms job taught me about motherhood and being my own boss

After resigning from her full time executive comms position, a colleague told Amber Brodecky: 'this is a sad day for women'. Here, she reflects on the lessons learned after trying to 'have it all'.

Last year I was privileged to be appointed as executive director, communications at the Peter Mac Cancer Centre, an internationally recognised brand doing amazing things for the community.

As one of eight women out of 10 on the leadership team, the organisation had an impressive 80% women making up its executive.

After four years consulting while my children were young, I felt I was ready to return to a full time, in-house, senior role. I was notified I got the job on my birthday. I took it as a good omen. As I spent the proceeding months bringing myself across the business, building a strategy for the long term, and cementing a high performing team to work with me; I waved goodbye to my five year old daughter with tears in her eyes in the mornings, not wanting me to leave.

At first I thought my children would go through a transition phase as they became used to me at full time work again, but as the weeks rolled on the transition became harder – not for them, but for me.

I had suddenly found myself isolated from school life and detached from the lives of my kids, I wasn’t able to ferry them to after school activities, hang around in the playground with them on a sunny day, and I barely made it by close to after school care – they were often the last ones waiting for me. When the Christmas concerts rolled around and I had to miss one of them, my worlds started to collide.

Even with a modern, supportive work environment made up of many understanding mothers on the leadership team, the realities of a senior full-time management role meant that the demands of the job required more than I could give.

Mine was not an unusual position to be in as an executive level working mum, and I began to reflect on the literature making headlines.

Working for secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Anne-Marie Slaughter had a tremendously supportive boss, but had still decided to return to an academic career that gave her more time for her family. Her article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All raised poignant and important issues.

I concluded there was truth in her notion that we’ve been raised as modern young girls being told we could have it all – an active family life and a high flying career – but we’ve been told little about the true cost of trying to balance it all, and society needs to better support us, and families in general, if this is going to work.

The reality is the collective ‘we’: modern day society, is biting off more than we can chew. If both parents are to work (and my husband has a highly successful career in which he travels regularly), then something around the expectations of our workforce or our schooling system has to change. The hours are not compatible for a start.

Writer Samantha Johnson, in her article titled When I Became A Mother, Feminism Let Me Down says “in the fight to ensure equality, as we preach to girls that they can – and should – do anything a boy can do, we are failing to prepare women for one of the greatest challenges so many of them will face; motherhood.

“We do this through the promotion of professional progression as a marker of success, while completely devaluing the contribution of parents in the home.”

She has a point. We as a society need to address the question of ‘who’s at home for the kids?’ if both parents are working and we are going to raise happy, balanced children.

There are certainly a rising number of men becoming stay at home dads, and there are some amazing male professionals who are ‘leaning in’ and advocating women’s issues, but we need to consider raising family as a more holistic discussion in a modern day landscape.

Many of the mothers I speak to who are working part time over three or four days so they can be at home with the kids for part of the week, are really working the equivalent of five days. The reality is that where flexibility is being offered, it’s often a full time role condensed into less hours to do it in. The people in those part time roles are getting ripped off in a work–to-pay ratio.

With my executive role at Peter Mac I concluded that to make things work for me I needed to resign and take control back of my work-home schedule.

On breaking the news, a friend on the executive said to me “this is a sad day for women”, because despite all of the leaps and bounds we have made, good women decide to pull out of high level roles due to family reasons.

I’m pleased to say I’ve refocussed my career into one that is far better suited for me. It turns out that what I considered to be a short term stepping stone in consulting may just turn out to be a big part of my life story.

I’m excited to be back doing it, at being appropriately challenged and working with a vast array of clients, most importantly I’m grateful at the balance being my own boss affords me.

It turns out it truly was a good omen that I took the job at Peter Mac, not only did I have the opportunity to work with a strong women-led executive, but I also got to understand more about my own long term needs and happiness.

If we as society continue to work a little harder, to make it a little easier, for working mothers of the future to find their happiness, what a wonderful place it will be.

Amber Brodecky is managing director at Comme Consulting. This piece is an abridged version of this article.


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