Moovember – turning the spotlight on cows’ milk allergy

After The Rain

Photo of me I look grumpy here…probably because I’m wearing a knitted swimming costume.

The way my mum tells it, I cried non-stop for the first 12 months of my life.

I say cry but she describes it as more of a series of never ending ear-splitting screams – to the point where I gave myself a hernia and spent my first birthday in hospital having it repaired.

It seems everyone tried to comfort me but to no avail and so they went into survival mode. My dad still talks of turning up the radio to drown me out while there is also a story of me being wheeled in my pram to the end of the, admittedly not very long, garden and being left to wail on my own – though neither of them will admit to being the one who did this.

When they used to tell me those stories, long before I had…

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Fighting with shadows: navigating unconscious bias in the workplace.

Unconsciously, we gravitate towards people who remind us of ourselves. If you stop and take a look at your friends you might be surprised to find how many of them look, act and think like you. Most of us believe we’re open‑minded and objective, but our beliefs and values strongly influence the way we see and evaluate both others and ourselves. These beliefs and values are gained from our family, cultural background and life experiences.

In the workplace this can be seen in those who unconsciously mix with and promote like-minded people. The Australian Institute of Management defines unconscious bias as ‘ingrained stereotypes that we hold and that inform our decision-making but of which we are unaware’. In other words, the widely held mind-sets that are rarely acknowledged but that create salient barriers, especially for women.

A 2012 study found that when compared with their male peers, women are rated down irrespective of whether they behave in a stereotypically masculine or stereotypically feminine way. The research from Yale in the US involved a randomised double-blind study, where scientists from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Results found that the ‘female’ applicants were rated significantly lower than the ‘males’ in competence, employability, and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student. The application itself was the same; only the name had changed.

Another example of unconscious bias in the workplace can be found in policies around maternity leave, which embed the view that women are the primary carers. While everyone agrees diversity, resilience and flexibility are the hallmarks of a successful and productive organisation, it requires a shift in conditions and cultural norms for men as well as women. Strong business practices allow both men and women to care for and nurture their families at the same time as maintaining their sense of self and having fulfilling careers. Men must join this conversation too—publicly, candidly, and loudly. It would be transformative if more men opened up about their desires regarding work and family. It would start to normalise flexibility, minimise guilt and anxiety, and consequently maximise productivity.

But these cultural norms that we’re trying to shift are underpinned by our own individual beliefs. Unfortunately, we are too often our own worst enemies. If we examine our own unconscious bias we can see how that might be informing a number of negative beliefs we hold about ourselves and others. These beliefs become self-fulfilling—when you focus on something, you attract it. In my case, when I returned from maternity leave and found my career completely stymied, I started to embody the belief that I wasn’t good enough at my job and that I was half the worker I used to be now that I had children to care for. I looked for evidence to confirm this belief and ignored or distorted information to the contrary. Through my actions I was supporting the spurious notion that part-timers aren’t as dedicated and that working mothers can’t have it all, further reinforcing others’ unconscious bias.

The best way to overcome this kind of career shadow is to start with you. You have more power to change yourself than you might think. Identify and let go of any negative beliefs you’re holding and replace them with new, positive ones. Ask yourself if the beliefs you hold are serving you—what price are you paying for holding onto this belief? How is it hurting you? Where did this belief come from? Can you find evidence to disprove it? Once you’ve examined and discarded the beliefs that aren’t serving you, create new empowering ones. Find a good role model. If there are no suitable role models around you, create your own definition of what makes a great leader and become that leader.

Once we become aware of, and start raising awareness of, unconscious bias in the workplace, then we can start to shift the organisational culture to be more inclusive, more flexible and more diverse.

Are you a mother or father who has struggled with unconscious bias in the workplace? Tell us your story in the comments below.

Yes, I’m a mother, but I can still add value at work

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In 2010 I joined the Australian Public Service after trying out several careers as a primary school teacher, a JET Programme participant in Japan and a travel agent. I’ve always been a very enthusiastic person with high standards and strong ambitions. I absolutely thrived in my first year. I was given very exciting, challenging projects and a wide range of experiences. I was stretched, extended and supported. I really felt like I’d found my place and I was motivated and engaged in my work.

Fast forward to 2012 and I’m back at work after having my first baby. I was keen to prove that I was still a committed and valuable team member but something had subtly shifted. My output and enthusiasm were still super high but I was no longer being given the same range of opportunities to stretch my skills. This was my first experience of unconscious bias, though I didn’t know what it was at the time. My supervisor was very kind and supportive, explaining that he didn’t want to overburden me as I now had additional responsibilities at home. He wasn’t being intentionally discriminatory – in fact I think he genuinely believed he was being accommodating.

My job was advertised for backfilling just before I went on maternity leave again. The vacancy notice called for applicants at higher level than I was. I burst into (heavily pregnant) tears and told my supervisor that I felt completely devalued by this. He was sympathetic but explained that the work going forward was at a high level and he wanted to get quality job applicants. I took on and internalised the message that I wasn’t good enough.

Fast forward to 2014 and I’m back in the department after my second round of maternity leave. I wanted to work part-time so that I could balance my career ambitions with the important job of raising my little people. My supervisor was very accommodating and happy to have me back. But I had to work above and beyond to prove that I was capable of doing the tasks that, pre-babies, I had been given without hesitation. My motivation and engagement were at an all-time low and I started to make careless mistakes. I really began to embody the belief that I wasn’t valuable or good enough at my job.

At this point I sought out a mentor. I approached my networks and asked for advice. Every one of them told me to put my feelers out and look for another position. Change is good, they said.

I managed to score myself a free life coach and this was the point where I really began to get out of my rut. Over the course of six coaching sessions she proceeded to completely change my perspective on life. She helped me to form new positive beliefs about myself and take a series of actions toward getting where I wanted to be.

One of those actions was initiating a women’s network in my department to support women facing barriers in their career journeys. These include commitment to family responsibilities, career breaks, lack of confidence and self-belief, and unconscious bias.

I also actively pursued and obtained a new job (at a higher level!) in a completely different area of my department. My new position is in a very different environment and the change has been both challenging and invigorating.

My advice to anyone who feels like they’re stuck in a rut is to approach a mentor or a career coach or both. The key reason I wanted to start the women’s network is to help other people going through similar difficulties – if you’re a regular follower you may have noticed helping people is a recurrent theme. I now know first-hand the value of supportive mentors and a coach who can help you see all the opportunities that are out there. I genuinely hope the network can provide this kind of supportive space for others.

3rd birthday cos-play date

Last weekend we had a dress-up (or cos-play) themed party for N’s 3rd birthday. It was a beautiful, sunny spring day and we had a great mix of friends with kids and kid-less friends – most of whom dressed up nicely.

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We chose the theme because, being 3, N couldn’t make up her mind whether she wanted a ‘Woody’ party (eg Toy Story) or a princess party, or a pirate party, or a fairy party… We figured ‘dress-ups’ covered them all.

I spent several weeks making a Jessie costume, using Tadah Patterns’ Library Blouse and Reversible RaRa skirt pattern. I’m a total novice but I can highly recommend these patterns for their simple instructions and gorgeous designs!

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The food we prepared included ‘princess cupcakes’ (healthy, sugar-free, full of vegies and fruits), fruit cups, gluten-free chocolate cupcakes (a packet mix from Aldi; not bad), gluten-free tomato and cheese muffins (a packet mix from Aldi; not very tasty) and dips and crudités.

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We were also fortunate to have lots of very kind and generous friends and family contributing sausage rolls, fairy bread, chocolate crackles, spelt cupcakes, bruschetta, zucchini loaf, banana and raspberry loaf and more!

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The birthday cake was a number three from the original Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book published in 1980 (for me, nothing beats this cake book). We decorated it with pale green frosting and pink smarties, and carefully arranged some dressed-up figurines to suit the theme. I also made flowers out of marshmallows.

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Mikalah, one of my favourite educators from N and A’s day care, also runs Little Lady Birds. They do face painting, cupcake making and children’s outfits! She came with her business partner and did face painting for the party and it was awesome.

Overall it was a really lovely celebration and N seemed to have an excellent time. Every year I kind of go a little overboard with the girls’ parties, but it’s always so worth it in the end. I’m very lucky I have such a keen and helpful husband and family 🙂

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Is it cow’s milk…..? (Part 2)

An excellent step by step guide to eliminating dairy and soy from your diet if you’re a breastfeeding mother who’s trying to determine a milk soy protein intolerance.

Tummy Wars

This is the second part of a post covering what to do if you suspect that cow’s milk may be the reason your baby is so unsettled.  As Part 1 states, you should have a good read of Is It Cow’s Milk Allergy to get informed.  But what next?  In this second part I’d like to share the advice I wish we’d had.  It may not all be relevant to your situation but hopefully some of it will make your journey a lot easier and a lot quicker than ours!  The only piece of advice you MUST follow is that you should see your doctor before you try eliminating cow’s milk from your baby’s (and your) diet.  Don’t mess with your baby’s nutritional intake on your own!

Breast-fed babies

Firstly, make a really detailed food and symptoms diary for 3 days before you change anything about your diet.  This needs…

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I’m not crunchy – I’m a cherry picker

There’s plenty of labels on the parenting spectrum these days: attachment parents, crunchy mamas, baby whisperers, Ferberizers, helicopter parents, snow plough parents, baby-wearers, Failsafers, GAPS parents… The list goes on.

One of the labels I kept coming across in my desperate Googling for answers about A was ‘crunchy’. Indeed, to the casual observer I must seem pretty crunchy (which is a US term to describe environmentally conscious, left-leaning types – named after the sound a person makes as they traipse through the granola littered aisles of a health food store in their Birkenstocks). I prefer gentle parenting methods, use cloth nappies, leave onions in my kids’ rooms overnight when they have colds, passionately promulgate Maria Montessori’s philosophy and pedagogy and regularly consult a naturopath about most ailments.

But I’m not really a crunchy mama, or any other catch-all label for that matter. I’m a cherry picker. I take the best bits out of each ideology and combine these pieces to create a parenting philosophy that suits me and my family. I’ve never been an overly black and white person. As a Libran I prefer balance. I believe and trust in the rigour of scientific evidence as much as I enjoy the inexplicable success of unproven, ‘alternative’ methods.

My issue with a lot of the positive parenting approaches that I loosely follow is twofold: fanaticism and total sublimation of self. Take, for example, attachment parenting. The basic tenets of attachment parenting include baby wearing, co-sleeping and unschooling/homeschooling – choices that basically ensure you spend 24 hours a day with your child or children. The aim of attachment parenting is to develop a strong and trusting relationship with your child, with a deeper emotional understanding between you. This is both admirable and desirable, but when you spend all of your time completely devoted to your children you run the risk of completely sacrificing your own needs in the process. One of attachment parenting’s strongest adherents, Dr Justin Coulson (who I usually really like!) has recently said: ‘when you have a baby, you give up the right to be selfish for the next 20 years’. If this is the case, what message are you sending to your children? That your needs don’t matter? You are a role model for your children, and if you don’t honour your own needs and spend time on your happiness you’re showing them that it is acceptable to sublimate yourself for others.

And then there’s the zealous fanaticism demonstrated by some of these people. In these cases I wonder if their devotion stems from an inner insecurity and fear. They may have had less than amazing childhoods themselves and are living with anxiety or depression as a result. The zealots take to the interwebs and castigate parents who make ‘damaging’ choices. They decry the horror of abandoning a child in daycare with a stranger and the selfishness of a mother who chooses work over caring for her babies. They obsess over their choices and behaviour, trying to ensure that every word they utter is gentle and vilifying anyone who lets their baby cry, even for a second. I’m not saying these people represent all attachment parents, but they make enough noise that it’s often difficult to ignore them.

The discovery that the brain is only roughly 20 per cent complete at birth, while the rest is physically formed by the child’s experience of love or of its absence, is touted as compelling evidence for attachment parenting methods. Love literally creates the neural pathways responsible for happiness, calmness, closeness, co-operation and self-regulation. Whilst I absolutely agree with this, I also believe self-love is a critical part of this picture. I think it’s possible to select the parts of each parenting philosophy that suits you and your family and mix and match them to ensure there is a balance and everyone is getting the right amount of love. A happy, balanced mama makes for a happy, balanced family.

Do you find yourself living an overly restricted life because you believe it’s in your children’s best interests? Are you happy with your choices or do you feel deep-down that you would like a change or some more time out for you? Please leave a comment below and tell me about your experiences.