Not everyone who works in education is a teacher. There are a lot of people, like Wendy, who work behind the scenes to make sure that everything runs smoothly. Wendy juggles her time between being a mum of her six-year-old son and working for the Queensland Government as a client service officer.
I worked for Education Queensland for 12 years in a variety of public service roles including working in libraries in client services, as well as in marketing and communications. I’ve also worked in publishing as a proofreader and editor.
I do a variety of tasks each day, including coordinating professional development events, providing support to the communication officer and updating the department’s website.
I found it difficult getting back into the workforce after being a stay-home mum. My family moved around a fair bit because of my husband’s work, and we spent two years on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. In Victoria I did not have any family nearby to help, so child care was a big issue. I found it hard to find jobs that fit with school hours – and there was fierce competition for any part-time work. So that was really tough. I missed out in some job selection processes because I couldn’t commit to a full-time workload. I found that I lost a lot of my self confidence when I was out of the paid workforce and that definitely made it harder for me to present confidently in interviews.
Because I had worked in the government for 12 years, I was able to go on long-service leave when I had my son. The government has very good entitlements for public servants so I took paid leave, then unpaid leave, and then I resigned. Because I had worked for the government it was easier to get my foot back in the door. So I re-applied through a merit process where I submitted a job application addressing selection criteria.
The main thing I was looking for in a job was flexible hours and the ability to work around child care. The government is very good in that respect, and that is what attracted me back into a public servant role.
I went into full-time work in 2007 and that was really difficult: I felt exhausted all the time and I had no work–life balance. Luckily the department has a commitment to good working conditions, so I was able to drop back to a part-time position working four days a week and I’ve negotiated to start a bit later and work back at the end of the day. It is challenging to juggle work and motherhood. Working part-time is good because it means I can spend time with my son, but it also means that at times I have cognitive overload trying to keep up with everything at work. My partner is a great father and takes time off when he can and helps run the household.
It’s a bit of a juggling act at the moment. I’ve got grandparents helping out a couple of afternoons a week, and my son goes to after-school care one day a week. On Thursdays, when I’m not working, I volunteer to work at his school so I am able to drop him off and pick him up.
It’s hard getting all my work done within time frames, so it’s important to prioritise tasks. There are also things that I can’t prepare for. For example, when my son gets sick and I need to take time off, it’s very easy to get behind at work. I try not to fill up my weekends with too many activities so I have time to just enjoy my family. I also try to see a movie or make time for myself.
Working for the government is good because if you are a permanent employee you have the option to ease back into part-time work. There are also options available for job-sharing. I think other companies should implement incentives like these for mothers. I recently went to a conference where one of the speakers (Wendy McCarthy) spoke about the importance of mothers having a mentor in the workplace when they are on leave so they are kept in the loop with work issues. I think that’s a great idea.
While I was on leave I tried to maintain my skills by doing short courses, and professional reading and freelance jobs. I also kept in touch with my professional contacts. Most importantly, I completed a Diploma in Editing and Publishing as an external student through the University of Southern Queensland. I loved studying because it kept my mind active and gave me some outside-home stimulation. I also did some personal development courses through community education centres which I really enjoyed.
I know many women who have managed to balance a full-time career with a family. I am truly inspired by these women. I personally found I couldn’t maintain that lifestyle. When I was working in publishing I found it hard to work shorter hours and produce quality work within printing timelines. Also, childcare costs mounted up. You don’t really end up much ahead financially if you’re putting your child into care every day. However, I don’t regret staying home with my son for his early years. You can’t buy back that time and I’m glad I was able to do kindergarten duty and playgroups with other mums. Being a mother has taught me many valuable life skills which help me inthe workforce.
I find it hard to make too many plans for the future – everything is too unpredictable. I’m happy in the position that I’m in for the moment, but as it is only a short-term contract I will be on the lookout for other work opportunities.