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.