Keeping relevant, and balancing caring with working.

Renee Bilston SheThrives.jpeg

Here's Renee's story - A savvy mother of two who transitioned her career in digital into business co-ownership and consultancy after her career break.
 

1. Tell us a little about your career background before taking a career break?

I loved work (I loved holidays and balance too!), I got satisfaction and fulfilment from work and I always made deliberate choices about the work and roles I took on to progress my career. I started life as a magazine and newspaper journalist and transitioned to digital content and communications after getting a new media/arts degree from UNSW. I have worked for government tourism authorities, online media companies and agencies… always within the digital marketing teams.
 

2. What was the hardest thing you found about returning to work after a career break? 

The hardest thing for me was accepting the change in my identity from worker (and all the freedom, independence and choice of that) to working parent. I wanted to be primary carer to my children and I wanted a balance between caring and working (I worked 3 days a week) but I resented my husband’s perceived freedom to work whatever hours he chose and my employers for not recognising I still had the same skills and experience, I just needed a flexible work environment.
 

3. What job-search strategy or approach was most effective in landing yourself a role? 

I networked with former work colleagues, used LinkedIn to stay connected and up to date on where they moved to. I also looked for volunteering opportunities that would use and broaden my skills and that I could include on my CV.
 

4. What were your biggest motivators to return to work and what continues to motivate you to balance work and family?

My parents separated when I was 17 and my mother had to go back to full time work after 19 years of caring and part time admin work. She was financially disadvantaged because of the divorce and how she was pigeon-holed into a certain type of role. I was not going to allow myself to lose relevance or currency within the workforce just because I have a womb! There are frightening statistics of women who are financially disadvantaged and homelessness in women 55+ is increasing. This is because of low superannuation balances, not being across the family finances or inequality in a divorce settlement. I don’t want to be that statistic and now that my children are getting more aware I want them to know that women are capable of any job (or as my daughter says… there’s no such thing as men jobs and women jobs.)
 

5. What are your top 3 challenges of balancing work and family and how do you manage them?

1 - Housework! We outsource some and my husband and I over time have worked out who is good at what chores. The laundromat is my holiday when the washing gets too much.

2 - Managing timetables. It was easier when the kids were at long day care, they didn’t have to be anywhere else. My husband and I are now better at splitting pick up and drop off duties and I have 2-3 trusted babysitters that I can call on for help if we’re not using before and after school care (we have no available family to help but I’d ask them if we did).

3 - Facing old workplace practices while we wait for all workplaces to catch up to flexible working arrangements and the value that can bring to all people (not just working mums).
 

6. If you could offer just one bit of advice to a mother considering a return to work after a career break, what would it be?

Don’t be grateful that they are giving you a job – they are lucky to have you.

I liken looking for work to dating. Not everyone is going to be right for you and that’s ok and you might even have to date a few companies before you find the right one. Have an idea in your mind of what you need to make your family life work (money, hours and flexibility), take a deep breath, be brave and ask for it. If you don’t it will likely cause more stress for you and the family and it won’t last. And if a company can’t find a way to make it work, they’re not the one.
 

7. Anything else you’d like to add?

You might need to try a few different approaches (more hours, less hours, remote, office-based) or even jobs before you find the right mix that works for you and your family. Each time you learn something about where the boundaries are for each person in your family. 

 

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