Top female business leader Jenny Boddington insisted on sharing childcare with her husband and gave up competing with stay-at-home mothers, while chief executive Ann Sherry spent a big chunk of salary on childcare in order to build their career.
They shared their experiences climbing the corporate ladder in the lead up to an auction of their mentoring services in aid of a charity.
Jenny Boddington was at the helm of QBE Lenders’ Mortgage Insurance and is now QBE’s global head of bancassurance. She says as a major breadwinner in the family, she always worked full-time, taking only four months’ maternity leave to have two sons. This meant dividing the childcare responsibilities between her and her husband, who also worked full-time.
“I insisted with my husband that we share childcare – I did the morning and he did the afternoon,” she says.
“There’s the perception childcare is a woman’s problem, but there is no biological reason why men cannot pick the children up.”
As a working mother, she says, she had to learn to be kind to herself and do her best rather than always trying to be the perfect mother. Boddington recalls coming home late from a business trip to Melbourne only to find her two school-aged boys parked in front of the telly with no food. There was nothing in the fridge, so she had to feed them an old can of baked beans on toast.
“I said to them, ‘Gee boys, I’m sorry, that’s all I can find’, and they both said, ‘Mum you’ve done your best’, and I thought to myself, ‘Yes I have done my best; it’s probably better than getting them takeaways.”
Working full-time also meant Boddington came to accept she would not be taking up as much unpaid school work, such as canteen duties, as stay-at-home mothers.
“That is something that you learn to deal with. I think unpaid school assistance that mothers give to schools is excellent, but I think assistance from both genders should be encouraged because people feel very pressured,” she says.
BIG CHUNK OF SALARY ON CHILDCARE
Carnival Australia chief executive Ann Sherry also had to juggle childcare with her full-time job. She went back to work full-time when her son Nick was only two years old, which meant a big proportion of her modest salary then was spent on childcare.
“A big chunk of my salary went to childcare. I was a public servant and was not very well paid, but I made a choice that was right for me.”
She says she “cobbled lots of stuff together”, taking late lunches and getting someone else to look after her son until she came home or her husband did, so she could work full-time.
Pupil-free days were a nightmare.
“When we couldn’t take him to school, they were stress points. When I had very important meetings, I had to think: what do I do, who is going to be home, and can I afford it as well?”
Michael Rose, consultant and former chief executive partner of law firm Allens, advises young people to consider the learning opportunities rather than just working for an employer who pays the most money. Rose mentors young women such as mechanical engineer Yassmin Abdel-Magied and lawyer and poet Sara Mansour.
“My test when I was young was, ‘Do I like the people I’m working with, am I learning something from them, am I having fun and am I being rewarded fairly?’ Being rewarded fairly came last because if you are learning and having fun at the same time, you don’t step away from that just for more money,” Rose says.
Boddington, Sherry and Rose spoke to The Australian Financial Review ahead of the MentorMe auction, where their mentoring services will be auctioned off. The auction will begin on March 2, with the proceeds going to ChildFund Australia.
ACT LIKE A LEADER
Boddington says young people aiming for a management role should find out what the role involves and behave as though they are already in the position.
“People find it easier to promote someone if you can already see that person in the position. If you can chip in and help and offer to contribute, that’s showing good leadership behaviour. Standing around the water cooler carping and moaning is not something a good leader should do,” she says.
Sherry says women angling for a promotion or pay rise should do their research and be proactive in asking for more salary.
“I always say to young women, ‘Know what the people around are getting paid’. I constantly hear the story of young women who say, ‘I didn’t ask for a pay rise, but my colleague asked for one and he got a pay rise,” Sherry says.
She says young women should actively look for promotion opportunities rather than just waiting to be recognised.
“Don’t be passive. There’s a lot of women waiting to be recognised rather than selling themselves. The argument that women should be treated fairly is objectively true, but if it’s not the way it works, sitting back and doing nothing is madness.”