I found myself part of a panel at the Australian British Chamber of Commerce International Women’s day event. I look around me: Ticky Fullerton of ABC Lateline is interviewing Cathy Harris AO PSM – Chairman Harris Farm Markets, Helen Conway, Director of the Equal Opportunities for Women in the Workplace Agency… and myself. We have been asked to share our views on how we see the world of women in business. I feel privileged and humbled to be part of the group.
Just before I was heading to the stage Mr David Slessar OBE (Chairman of the ABCC) said to me – “There are not that many people who create something from nothing – and there are even less who are women. This group just wants to know how you made it happen.”
The discussion is rigorous – Ticky wanting to stay away from the women on boards issue until we had discussed some more fundamental things – I noted the similarity between Cathy Harris and myself – her mother Mary Rossi, having 10 children and building an amazing business now run by daughter, Claudia Rossi Hudson. My mother had a 30 year career in IT, starting on the first computer in Australia (in the Maths department of Monash University) in the 1960s… my grandmother too had been a book keeper for Coles.
It occurred to me as we were talking that Cathy and I never knew any other way. I always thought that I would have a fulfilling career – I watched my mother every day go off and create interesting things (For almost two decades she worked for Lindsey Cattermole’s AM Aspect computing.)
I had great role models around me – so did Cathy Harris. It never ever occurred to me that I could not do, be or have anything that any bloke had.
We discussed the notion of ‘life balance’… asked how do we juggle being a parent and running a business. The reality is that life is chaotic – I don’t necessarily have it sorted out. Family and business are still a juggle (life seems like one long negotiation on logistics)… however there is a big difference between my life and those women in corporate life.
By nature an entrepreneur’s family is likely to be involved with the business. My daughter in the early days would fold envelopes and blowup balloons before school… we worked from home in those days. There were vivid and robust discussion around the dinner table about business. As a tiny tot my son would invent new experiences and offer to test them all out. The kids were often in the corner of the office playing games on a computer or helping out. Life was hectic but it was ‘all in together’.
I think now to those early days – I never had to compartmentalize my life. I was both mum and CEO – I was the same person – and my children always have seen me working and contributing.
They are now teenagers and making their own life choices about what they will do. I’m sure they are in no doubt that they can do anything that they wish to put their energy to. As my daughter discusses which university course she would like to do – it looks that she will be the fourth generation of working women in our family – this is our normal.
One of the guests Suzy Jacob shared that Whoopi Goldberg famously said – “Normal is nothing more than a cycle on a washing machine”
There is no normal – we all just muddle through doing the best we can – and being truly present to where we are… the one thing I can say is that the moments we have with our children are the most precious of all… and I have been very fortunate to have had them included in my journey.