When you become a parent for the first time you expect life to change – a good night’s sleep will become a luxury, and your evenings out after 7pm are well and truly numbered! But most parents notice other, often surprising, changes to their life and values.
It’s not uncommon for parenthood to reshape your ideas about work and career, and that’s what it did for Kate Bushell. From climbing the corporate ladder, to the realisation that a successful vocation is, first and foremost, a fulfilling one, Kate has carved out a career in the diversity and inclusion space, specifically helping to prepare young women for the future of work. Here, Kate shares her story, and tips for navigating tricky career conversations with your kids.
Can you tell us about your career journey?
Whilst studying a Bachelor of Business at university, I needed to complete a year in industry as part of my degree. So, my career started when I fell into the world of recruitment. Working for a global recruitment consultancy gave me opportunities to travel. I was fortunate enough to be asked to head up an ‘oil and gas’ recruitment team in Australia, which brought me here.
After a decade in recruitment and taking some time out to have my family, I decided to explore other industries. I ended up in the financial services industry at a superannuation fund. It soon became clear that there was a huge disparity between men and women’s super balances (known as the super gap) and as a result of this, I crafted my own role within the organisation, founding ‘She’s on Q’, a financial education series to support women’s financial literacy and wellbeing. By this point, I’d had a daughter and I became increasingly passionate about equality. I decided to follow my passions and my heart and move full-time into the diversity and inclusion space so I could make a greater impact when it came to equality for women.
You’re a proud mum of two. How has parenthood changed your perspective on life, career, and your identity?
I don’t think parenthood initially changed my perspective on life or my career, but it did on my identity. On parental leave, I felt a little lost with who I was as I had always seen myself as a focused career woman who wanted to work her way up the corporate ladder to be successful.
When I became a mum, it seemed my own identity had dissipated overnight in favour of just being a mum, which I struggled with.
You’ve held executive leadership roles while parenting young children. How have you found juggling work and family life?
I always wanted to be a good role model for my daughter, and I thought this meant being a career woman so I could instil in her the value of loving what you do, having your own career and being independent. Over time, as you grow wiser and become comfortable with who you are and what you have to offer, you realise that if you are giving away your precious time from your family, it should be for something you enjoy – and somewhere that values your contribution and nurtures your talents and development.
For me, a career is now about doing fulfilling work, not about titles or money.
How do you navigate the challenges of the ‘juggle’ in a practical sense? And how do you share the load of parenthood with your partner and/or support network?
I have always found the working parent juggle to be a challenge; I throw myself into my work wholeheartedly as I have a fierce work ethic, high standards, and like to deliver value. This has meant that my partner has had to, on occasion, take the lion’s share of the caring responsibilities. We don’t have a family to lean on for support, so over the years we have had to become a strong team that supports and backs one another, and also provides the reality check when we need to focus on balance. My partner’s career took a back seat as mine soared, and the pressure society puts on women does take its mental toll with parental guilt. However, over time you realise that all your children really need when they are young is to know they are loved and cared for, which we strive to do daily.
You’re the CEO and founder of Girls of Impact, a social enterprise with a vision to inspire young women to find their dream career and prepare them for the future of work. What was your inspiration for starting it up?
My daughter was the inspiration for Girls of Impact; she lit the fire in my belly and made me determined and ambitious to do more for young women. When she was born, I became more aware of the inequalities faced by women, the obstacles I had had to navigate in the workplace as a woman, and what I was seeing for her future, quite frankly, wasn’t good enough.
As an advocate for gender diversity in workplaces, what do you think are the issues young girls face that stop them from eventually moving into careers they love?
I want young women to believe in themselves and realise their full potential. I want to inspire them to see a universe of possibilities where their dreams have no limits. Sadly, seven in 10 girls believe they are not good enough and don’t measure up in some way, which holds them back from reaching their full potential and backing themselves to chase their dream careers. If they aren’t confident in themselves with the knowledge and power to become what they want, they never will. Careers are presented to them in an uninspiring way, so we don’t see young women putting the planning and research into where they want to show up. They often pick a job on a whim. Girls need more advice and support, and balanced perspectives from an array of different role models; let’s face it, it takes an army to raise a strong woman, and I wanted to create this army at Girls of Impact. It is a safe, inclusive space where we can encourage girls to think boldly about their careers with confidence and clarity.
As parents we want to help our kids find purpose in life and choose a career they truly love, but it can be tricky navigating those important career conversations. What tips do you have for parents?
As parents, exposing our young women and daughters to many different career options will broaden their horizons and help them select a career path that they truly love. We need to help our children create career plans or seek help to do so.
My other tips would include providing support or asking what support they need to help them navigate this overwhelming time, and cheering them on without judgement.
Challenge them to think about and shape their own career identity, make them do the heavy lifting by getting them to research careers, and seek guidance and advice from role models and mentors.
Be encouraging and don’t push your own career choices on them, as everyone has a role in our society.
Make it fun and engaging. Careers should be energising and fulfilling; however, if we approach this in a boring way, they will never get that zest for exploring vocations.
Best parenting advice… do you! Don’t compare yourself to other parents.
I recharge by… taking myself clothes shopping – ON MY OWN! Or running.
My role model is… my mum and all the incredible women I get to walk alongside.
I’m grateful for… my partner. My children, who keep me humble. And coffee.
For further tips, insights and advice on how to support the next generation of leaders, sign up to their newsletter at Girls of Impact.