For the female leader, chaos is the new normal

I find myself part of a panel at the Australian British Chamber of Commerce International Women’s day event. I look around me: Ticky Fullerton of ABC Lateline is interviewing Cathy Harris, chairman of Harris Farm Markets,  Helen Conway, director of the Equal Opportunities for Women in the Workplace Agency… and myself. We have been asked to share our views on how we see the world of women in business. I feel privileged and humbled to be part of the group.

Just before I was heading to the stage David Slessar (chairman of the ABCC) said to me: “There are not that many people who create something from nothing – and there are even less who are women. This group just wants to know how you made it happen.”
 
The discussion is rigorous – Ticky wanting to stay away from the women on boards issue until we had discussed some more fundamental things.

I noted the similarity between Cathy Harris and myself. Her mother, Mary Rossi, having 10 children and building an amazing business now run by daughter, Claudia Rossi Hudson. My mother had a 30-year career in IT, starting on the first computer in Australia (in the Monash University maths department) in the 1960s. My grandmother, too, had been a bookkeeper for Coles.
 
It occurred to me as we were talking that Cathy and I never knew any other way. I always thought that I would have a fulfilling career: I watched my mother every day go off and create interesting things (for almost two decades she worked for Lyndsey Cattermole at Aspect computing.)
 
I had great role models around me – so did Cathy Harris. It never ever occurred to me that I could not do, be or have anything that any bloke had.
 
We discussed the notion of ‘life balance’… asked how do we juggle being a parent and running a business. The reality is that life is chaotic – I don’t necessarily have it sorted out. Family and business are still a juggle (life seems like one long negotiation on logistics). However, there is a big difference between my life and those women in corporate life.
 
By nature an entrepreneur’s family is likely to be involved with the business. My daughter in the early days would fold envelopes and blow up balloons before school – we worked from home in those days. There were vivid and robust discussions around the dinner table about business. As a tiny tot my son would invent new experiences and offer to test them all out. The kids were often in the corner of the office playing games on a computer or helping out. Life was hectic but it was ‘all in together’.
 
I think now to those early days – I never had to compartmentalise my life. I was both mum and CEO – I was the same person – and my children have always seen me working and contributing.
 
They are now teenagers and making their own life choices about what they will do. I’m sure they are in no doubt that they can do anything that they wish to put their energy to. As my daughter discusses which university course she would like to do – it looks like she will be the fourth generation of working women in our family – this is our normal.
 
Whoopi Goldberg famously said: “Normal is nothing more than a cycle on a washing machine”.
 
There is no normal. We all just muddle through doing the best we can and being truly present to where we are. The one thing I can say is that the moments we have with our children are the most precious of all… and I have been very fortunate to have them included in my journey.

Naomi Simson is considered one of Australia’s ‘Best Bosses’. She is an employee engagement advocate and practices what she preaches in her own business. RedBalloon has been named as one of only six Hewitt Best Employers in Australia and New Zealand for 2009 and awarded an engagement scorecard of over 90% two years in a row – the average in Australian businesses is 55%. RedBalloon has also been nominated by BRW as being in the top 10 Best Places to Work in Australia behind the likes of Google. One of Australia’s outstanding female entrepreneurs, Naomi regularly entertains as a passionate speaker inspiring people on employer branding, engagement and reward and recognition. Naomi writes a blog and is a published author – and has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded – RedBalloon.com.au.

 Visit Women’s Agenda for more news and advice for professional women.

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