Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Chat with Karen Morris, Creative Director, Underground Communications

“Don’t beat yourself up…learn from the experience and work out a way to deal with it next time, even if it’s to be more realistic…”

Karen Morris is the force behind Underground Communications. She is a talented writer and communicator providing multi-channel communication services to clients through her business Underground Communications. Oh and she is also a Mum of three.

I always enjoy reading about amazing women who manage to juggle the demands of family and work life. Every single time without fail I learn something new that I too can apply to my complicated family and work life. I hope you too pick up a tip or two from Karen or at the very least understand there are other women out there who juggle the demands of family and work because they love what they do.

Q: Can you tell me about your business?

Karen: I run a boutique communications agency on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We specialise in developing and implementing holistic communication strategies for conscious businesses who are driven by passion and commitment.

Q: Can you tell me about your family?

Karen: I have three gorgeous, energetic and not-so-small-anymore boys! The eldest is now 14, taller than me and with an attitude to match. Two of the boys are in High School which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook, you just don’t have to visit too often any more. The youngest still has two more years of primary school, at which point my baby will officially no longer be a baby (except to me!).

Q: What are your strategies for juggling your family and business commitments?

Karen: I’ve found that my strategies have varied considerably over time and the age of the boys. When I first started out my baby was, quite literally, a baby and I used to work much less than I do now. I had two full days without the older boys and juggled delivery deadlines around sleeps, often working at night and on weekends to catch up.

Since the youngest started school I have worked virtually full-time, with the exception of two days a week where a finish at 3pm and then spend the next 2 – 3 hours driving around to various after school activities and balancing the laptop on my knee in the front seat of the car.

School holidays present a different challenge altogether, especially the long school holidays. My most recent strategy with that, since the youngest now refuses to attend vacation care without his brothers, is to hit the keyboard at 6am, work through until 11am and then devote the rest of the day to the boys, periodically checking in on emails just in case there’s anything important that can’t wait until the following morning. This seems to work reasonably well, much better than the ad hoc approach I had last summer holidays!

Q: What are the advantages to having your own business?

Karen: The flexibility to be able to be there for my kids so that I can cheer on the sideline, applaud their musical prowess and boogie on down with them at dance concerts (the boy’s dance group is always the best spectacle of the day!). And, it allows me great satisfaction in creating something that I can be proud of at the same time as showing my boys that dedication and hard work can count for something and that if you strive for something important you will achieve.

Q: What do you find challenging about running your own business?

Karen: Sticking to the program!  I have to force myself to stick to an agenda and I have lists coming out of my lists to make sure I deliver on time. When you work for someone else there is usually a set procedure that you have to follow. I’ve had to develop my own but I’m pretty happy with how we’ve done so far. I’m lucky that I’ve had great staff to help me get to where we are now. I find that I’m much better at being disciplined now that I have an office outside of home. Although the flexibility and convenience of just walking downstairs was wonderful in the early stages of working for myself, eventually I found the isolation crippling.

Q: Do you have any tips for other Mums thinking of starting a business or going back to work?

Karen: Try and set specific work times rather than just ‘working around the kids’. Although it seems like a great idea, even if you’ve set them up with something to keep them occupied, you will always find that there is an interruption of some kind no matter what age they are.

Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a deadline – learn from the experience and work out a way to deal with it next time, even if it’s to be more realistic about what time you have available.

Don’t jump on the bandwagon of guilt. Even if you work for yourself, you can’t be everything to everyone. If you are happy doing what you do and you give your kids quality time in addition to your work then everyone takes away a wonderful memory of the growing up experience. Comparing yourself to anyone else does not serve you or your kids. Just be happy with your choices and, if you’re not, change them (I have emphasised that word on purpose!).

mums@work 19 Dec 2013
By: Celeste Kirby-Brown,
Director of Sales, Marketing and Relationships, Ezypay, mums@work Contributor


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why my disability makes me a better leader

Can you name one leader -- a CEO, CFO, MP or anyone you view as a leader - who's blind, deaf, a paraplegic, an amputee or has Down's Syndrome? Most Australians would be hard-pressed to name a friend of a friend or a celebrity, let alone a 'leader', with this criterion.

I believe this is a good thing. As my mentor explained to me: "Get that chip off your shoulder and join the majority". He's correct. I would rather be known for my ability.

I've read a lot of management books, especially those aimed at women who often state I should 'quit being a girl' and be more masculine in my business persona. In meetings I am often over the top, talk with my hands and take up space. I speak loudly, I'm not invisible and I will often act as the chairperson to intervene when the committee starts talking over the top of each other. In meetings I physically sit right in the middle of the table or at the head and will lean in towards the speaker and watch their every move.

With my work colleagues I'm extremely forward when I don't hear or understand what's going on or will request that I have the correct 'tools' necessary so I can discharge my tasks. I 'fake it 'til I make it'. I have the office corner or the desirable quiet area in an open-plan office by necessity, rather than reward. I often close the door too so I can work more effectively.

Good leaders should have to walk the floor instead of picking up the phone. I will seek my colleagues out to speak with them directly as I prefer face to face communication. I enjoy networking and I'm seen as confident because I approach the wallflower and start a conversation with them rather than joining the large group discussion.

I am visible within the market place. In fact, I have been asked to provide a talk on 'thinking outside the box on customer service' for a business support group. I am often asked to write about my situation for the in-house staff bulletin.

I don't hear gossip because I don't actually hear the gossip! Be warned though, I can lip read and I read body language better than most and will pick up on cues when you are being untruthful. I am a master of silence. I wait patiently for you to say something and I appear confident when you have spoken because I pause and reflect on what you've just said. I request emails or completed forms from customers/clients rather than a phone call and this provides accountability and avoids the "You said, I said ..." enabling me to get the task/request right the first time.

If I haven't understood what was being said, YOU haven't been the effective communicator. If I ask you to repeat yourself, you will not waste my time and will simplify the message rather than repeat word for word the long-winded waffle you said beforehand.

Isn't it a sign of my 'lack of communication skills' that I don't use the telephone. I can use the National Relay Service if I need to make an outgoing call and I can save the conversation as text for a record of conversation. It's like dictating to my own personal assistant.

I know of an Australian leader -- a prime minister -- who was hearing impaired as we shared the same audiologist. Sadly he refused to wear his hearing aids and didn't have Medicare amended to include hearing tests, like eye tests are, when in office.

A disability isn't an excuse for being an ineffective leader. In fact it should be seen as an asset because you empathise with people better, you make an effort to communicate better and know how to bring out the best of your colleagues/clients by thinking outside the box when it comes to providing better customer service.

I am profoundly deaf and wear two hearing aids. When potential employers or clients ask about my 'needs', I tell them they need me in this modern world of equal opportunity and diversity!

Mums@Work 5 Dec 13
By:  By Lynda Leigh /  Dec 03, 2013 13:29PM


Why Employers Need to Make Room for Bumps

The Fair Work Ombudsman reported on the 8 November 2013 “The operators of a Victorian retail chain were recently fined a record total of $53,592 for discriminating against a pregnant employee.

The Felix Corporation Pty Ltd – which operates GV Bargains stores throughout regional Victoria, including two stores at Shepparton – has been fined $40,920. 
The company’s owner-managers Feiyue Hu and Jian Ping Hu have also been personally fined a further $7,656 and $5,016 respectively.

In addition the Felix Corporation has paid the employee, $7,197 for economic and non-economic loss suffered and apologised to her.” 
To date these penalties imposed against the company and the directors by the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne, were the highest secured by the Fair Work Ombudsman for legal action related to discrimination.

“The affected employee, a part-time shop assistant at a GV Bargains store at Shepparton, was discriminated against between December, 2010 and April, 2011.
After the employee, then aged 22, told her employer she was pregnant, she was directed to take two weeks of unpaid leave.

When she refused, her rostered hours were cut from an average of 26 hours to less than 10 a week - and she was told to look for another job when she asked for more hours of work.
Mrs Hu told the employee it was a tradition that women in China do not work when they are pregnant and that she did not want her working at the store.

The employee was asked to obtain medical certificates on two occasions stating that she was “suitable” to work at the store. After complying with these requests, the employee was offered some additional hours of work but ultimately resigned in what amounted to a constructive dismissal.
The conduct breached the discrimination provisions of workplace laws.”

As we have seen recently the Fair Work Ombudsman has reported the number of complaints received of pregnancy related incidents has increased to be the highest of any type of reported work place discrimination. It seems beyond surprising that in 2013 this would be the case however it is. 
What does that mean for work places? The Fair Work Ombudsman is sending a strong message to employers of all sizes that it will not hesitate to take these complaints to court.  The court is making it clear that the conduct such as that outlined above is a breach of the discrimination provisions of workplace law and are willing to fine the companies and also the directors. Therefore if you are a director of a business it is your duty to ensure that the company is making room for bumps. 

This is not as hard as it seems. Emma Walsh, Director of Parents at Work, gives you tips on what you need to do and have in place:
  1. “Do a health check of your pregnancy and working parent policies and procedures,
  2. Be aware of your legal obligations,
  3. Get help to implement a policy on maternity and paternity leave,
  4. Training for managers on how to implement that policy, and
  5. Find out how to implement a comprehensive working parent program (long-term loyalty program), which includes support for your working parents.”
Beware! If you don’t think you have time to do this then you are leaving it undone at your own risk. Your company may be the next to be fined and unwittingly you may also be in line to receive a fine.


mums@work 4 Dec 2013
By: Celeste Kirby-Brown,
Director of Sales. Marketing and Relationships. Ezypay, mums@work Contributor
Image: The Guardian


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Congratulations Australian workplaces! You are most discriminating against pregnant women.


Last week the Fair Work Ombudsman revealed that pregnancy discrimination is now the number one complaint against Australian employers. 

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s figures indicated that for the first time there are more complaints relating to pregnancy than mental or physical disability.

Lucy Carter of The World Today reported “…of the 235 complaints to the ombudsman, 28 per cent were from pregnant women and 21 per cent were from people with a physical or mental disability. 

Around 11 per cent felt their family or carer responsibilities resulted in them being treated differently.

The commission investigated 76 matters, took three to court and executed enforceable orders in another three.”

If anyone was in any doubt about pregnancy discrimination in the workplace these figures tell a different story. Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner says that “Pregnancy discrimination is alive and well in Australian workplaces.”

Both pregnancy and family or carer’s responsibilities fall under the Fair Work Act 2009 categories of discrimination. 

This may include;

  • Someone applying for a job 
  • To a new employee who hasn’t even started work, or
  • To someone at any time during their employment. 

So called ‘adverse action’ may include;

  • Firing an employee
  • Not giving an employee legal entitlements such as pay or leave
  • Changing an employee’s job to their disadvantage
  • Treating an employee differently than others
  • Not hiring someone
  • Offering a potential employee different (and unfair) terms and conditions for the job, compared to other employees.

Examples cited by the Fair Work Ombudsman include;

  • Being rejected from a job during the hiring process
  • Being offered a lower wage or less leave than other employees in the same role with the same experience
  • Being verbally or physically abused by an employer or co-worker
  • Being isolated or left out by co-workers or managers
  • Being paid less than others doing the same job and who have the same experience
  • Being given more unpleasant or difficult duties than others in the same role
  • Not being given proper equipment or facilities
  • Having limited or no opportunities for promotion, transfer or training.

The reality of the work place is these examples cited by the Fair Work Ombudsman do occur and are increasingly occurring or being reported. However there are other more subtle forms of behaviour changes women experience at work when they declare their pregnancy. These are just as real to the women involved but very difficult to prove or disprove. Often they are based on the values or beliefs of managers or cultures in companies.

Some examples include;

  • Not considering an employee for a promotion because she is pregnant or on maternity leave or has children
  • An expectation of a certain amount of hours to be worked that are not conducive to caring for families
  • Excluding an employee from company events because they are pregnant or on maternity leave or have children
  • Making assumptions about employees returning to work after maternity leave
  • Expectations that every employee will confirm to the same work schedule and practices whilst pregnant and returning to work after maternity leave

Yes these are subtle but still real for many women in Australian workplaces today. They may not fall under the definition of ‘adverse actions’ but they make up the experience of many employees who are pregnant, on maternity leave or who have family commitments. It is beyond time for Australian companies to address both obvious and subtle discriminatory behaviours and attitudes, which equate to “…a deep-seated bias against women with children in the workforce.” Ged Kearney, ACTU President. 

mums@work 3 Dec 2013
By: Celeste Kirby-Brown,
Director of Sales. Marketing and Relationships. Ezypay, mums@work Contributor
Image: The Guardian

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why the trappings of success are no match for equality

Why the trappings of success are no match for equality
Ten years ago I was flown first-class to Dubai for a job interview. In the list of extravagant experiences I have had during my career, that one ranks right up there.

I had been headhunted for an executive role with Forbes UAE. A global search had been conducted and the short-list was a male from Britain and me. At the time my children were in primary school so an international posting wasn't on my to-do list. However, my attitude is always nothing ventured, nothing gained so I spent three days in Dubai meeting the publishing team and getting to know the city.

During the first meeting with the group of people who would have been my team, I noticed that the women in the group lined the back of the room, while the men sat upfront. When the chairman of the company finished introducing them to me, he invited the team to ask me questions. It was only the men who spoke up. They asked me what I knew about the Dubai publishing industry. The truth was: not a lot, but I could learn quickly. They also wanted to know why I wanted to live in Dubai. This time I couldn't tell them the truth, which was that I wasn't sure that I did. So I answered that I was keen for an adventure. They looked at me blankly.

I then turned the questions on the team and requested that the women come forward. They said no and waved their hands to emphasise it. I asked them if they had any questions for me. Again they said no. At the completion of our meeting, the most senior woman in the group, who was the finance manager, informed me that she would be showing me around the city so that I could decide where I wanted to live.

At that point I was still open to the opportunity. It would have been a rocket for my career and bank account, and I had been hearing that expats were living a charmed life in Dubai.

The one-on-one time with the female executive, a local, was an eye-opener. As she drove me around the more glamorous parts, she warned that it would be difficult for me to do business in Dubai as a woman. I was quite shocked by that because it was the first time in my career that I had been confronted with the gender issue. There is no doubt that in my chosen industry there were glass ceilings everywhere, but I hadn't yet knocked my head on one. So I was keen to explore what she meant by that.

This highly educated woman explained that if she needed to speak to any of the male customers of the publishing business then she would need to have a man with her. Apparently businessmen in Dubai, at least back then, would only do business with men. I asked her if she thought that I would need a man with me when meeting with clients of the magazine. She said, "yes, definitely".

As a result it was an easy decision for me to say, "no, definitely not", to the opportunity. It was a defining moment in determining what was important to me in my career. Equality is a basic right and I knew that an impressive title, significant salary and first class business travel were no substitute for it.

Mums@Work 27 Nov 13
Source: Women's Agenda
By: Marina Go / Nov 22nd 2013 at 6.59am 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A 24/7 job and three kids under four. Would I do it again? Absolutely

Fiona Sugden and her three children Isla (9 months), Giselle, 2 and Finn, 4.
Fiona Sugden and her three children Isla (9 months), Giselle, 2 and Finn, 4. Source: News Limited         
DAWN is breaking outside my bedroom window and I know my alarm is about to go off prior to the first of many phone hook-ups for the day.
I quickly reach over to turn it off so it doesn't wake up any of my sleeping children or my exhausted, yet stoic partner.
My two-year-old has ­woken repeatedly through the night with a cough and has ended up sprawled between us in our bed.
It has only been a couple of hours since I was awake giving the baby her bottle. I force myself past the exhaustion to get up, shower, get dressed and read the news headlines.
I've prepacked my bags late the night before and they are waiting at the front door. I made the three lunches for my babies for childcare to give my husband a break. I take the first of many calls in the dark. I book a cab to the Brisbane VIP terminal. I sneak in to quickly check the baby and feel grateful she is still asleep.
I feel the pang of guilt through my chest about stopping breastfeeding her. Something had to give. I check the two-year-old and four-year-old and kiss them goodbye.

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It is high risk. If they wake up all hell will break loose ­because mummy is going again. I only just made it home in time the night before to read to them and sit with them until they fell asleep.
The four-year-old tells his kindergarten teacher mummy is in Canberra working for Kevin. The two-year-old is a different story.
With no understanding of what's going on she is showing signs of separation anxiety and when I come home she has started to say: 'Mummy I lost you.'
My baby is too young to understand, so frankly that helps. I missed the baby crawl last month. That was low point.
I sneak out the door to the waiting cab. Call No. 2 two in the cab. Today will be long: three different states and time zones. A major announcement.
As the VIP prepares for takeoff from Brisbane the sun is rising.
I need to go to the toilet but that will have to wait. After years as a political staffer I have learnt to always go to the toilet when there is a chance whether you need to or not. The same goes for eating.
Everywhere I go the first question most people ask me is 'how are you doing this?', or 'how are your children?' While they are well-meaning questions, the truthful ­answer is not one they want to hear: 'I don't do it, a team of other people do.' And 'I don't know how they are at present'.
The question I wish they would ask next is 'do you think this is really worth it?'
Yes. And I would do it again.
When the opportunity was put to me to be communications director to the prime minister I made the choice to do it for a number of reasons. One of them was because when I asked myself the question 'would I do this if I was a bloke?', the answer was yes. And no one really says to a bloke 'you can have it all, just not at the same time'.
Women with children need to be at the table helping to form and deliver the right government policies for families, so every effort needs to be made to encourage this.
My job looking after my children is the most important one I will ever do. But my career is important too.
I do not believe women who want a career need to have their own 'wife'. I think by saying this we are accepting that men do not need to do 50 per cent of the work looking after their own children. We are letting them off the hook. I think we need equal parenting in the home.
True equal opportunity based on equal parenting. Equality for women needs to be progressed further in the home.
Let's stop talking about how impossible and hard it is for women with children to work in politics and talk about how we make sure there are many more of them. That is the positive future that the Australian Government needs."


AMANDA Whittle, 35, is a property manager from Mt Annan and crams a week's work into three days to make time for triplets Addison, Brock and Callum, 4, and daughter Kiera, 8
Amanda Whittle and her four kids Kiera, 8 and triplets Addison (blue dress), Brock (white shirt) and Callum (orange shirt) all a
Amanda Whittle and her four kids Kiera, 8 and triplets Addison (blue dress), Brock (white shirt) and Callum (orange shirt) all aged 4. Source: News Limited

We planned for baby number two and were very surprised to find out it was triplets. Natural and homemade. Finding out was shocking but the reality of living with triplets is actually much nicer than I could have ever imagined. A lot of people ask how we do it. The answer is we just do - not doing it isn't an option.
Our household thrives on routine. The working week starts with my husband Luke up and out of the house before 5am. It's incredible to me that he showers, turns lights on/off, opens/shuts doors, kisses me goodbye and I can sleep through it all.
One noise from the kids and I'm instantly awake wondering what could be wrong. I'm usually awake before the kids. It's nice to be able to shower without an audience. I make up lunch and finish packing their bags. I love watching them sleep and I hate waking them, but they are night owls and if I didn't wake them we'd never be on time.
There are reminders to Kiera on repeat: get dressed, brush your teeth, put your shoes on. I do sound like a broken record.
Then there's the discussion with the triplets about who is wearing what. Allowing them fashion freedom is a small price to pay for them being happy when they leave the house (this battle, I've discovered, is not worth fighting even if they look hideous).
Getting four kids out the door at 8am by myself is no easy feat. If we get Kiera to school by 8.15am and I can avoid the line of shame (the late note line), it's been a good morning! Then the pre-school drop, then off to work.
I always imagined returning to work after having kids so my six years at university didn't go to waste.
I feel that I try to fit in a full working week in my three days, deadlines have to be met regardless of whether I'm in the office or not. The financial reporting calendar waits for no one.
Luke picks the kids up from preschool/after school care. He unwinds at home by having a beer and watering the lawn, while he watches the kids ride scooters and bikes.I cook dinner, Luke runs the bath. I only prepare one meal for the family - anything else would be too difficult. We sit down to eat, it's the first chance I've had all day to actually sit down and not rush. If I'm lucky this lasts 15 minutes.
Luke packs up after dinner and I sit with Kiera doing homework and daily reading. I try to squeeze in the gym three times a week so after the kids are in bed I sneak off. Even though I do have to drag myself there at times, I always feel better for going.
Thursdays are my first day of the week not in the office but probably the most overwhelming. The list of things to be done is greater than my ability to do it all.
I'm often taking calls from work, solving problems while tackling a mountain of washing, tidying up, cleaning and changing sheets.
The triplets have swimming lessons at midday.
This week Luke and I are looking forward to a rare date night without the kids. It's so important that we still make time for each other in our often hectic lives so we stay connected, rare as it may be. I work for a few reasons - it keeps my mind active, and we couldn't survive on one wage with four kids, but we are just treading water as
the child care fees are $600 a week.

I don't get to be the mum who can do school drop off and pick up every day, and I feel a certain amount of guilt about that.

Emma Walsh, 39, is managing director of mums@work who has seven-year-old twin boys and a three-year-old daughter

It's 6:30pm on Thursday evening, the taxi pulls up in the driveway. I've been away three days in Melbourne and Adelaide delivering training and visiting clients. I'm exhausted.
My poor husband, who has held the fort for three days while holding down his full-time job, will be exhausted and ready to hand over the parenting reins to me the minute I'm through the threshold.
Emma Walsh, 39 with her three kids 7 year old twins Luc and Ewan and 3 year old Alice.
Emma Walsh, 39 with her three kids 7 year old twins Luc and Ewan and 3 year old Alice. Source: News Limited

I walk through the door and, before I've put my bag down, the kids have raced to the door yelling with delight "mummy's home" and, of course, my heart melts. My three-day jam-packed work scheduled is forgotten in an instant.
Within minutes the tantrums have unfolded. My husband's now nowhere to be seen. I settle back into mummy mode and start cooking. The kids have been fed so that's three less people I need to worry about. My three-year-old daughter is following me around the house and now demanding my attention, and dinner is starting to burn.
Husband must still be in the man cave, hiding.
Finally we manage to get the kids to bed by 8.30pm and sit down for a meal. We manage a two-minute "how are you?" conversation before we start planning for tomorrow.
It's a home day for me and yet my diary is full. I've volunteered to set up for the school fete; I've cakes to bake and a craft stall to station most of the weekend.
When I was a twenty-something up-and coming, hardworking, impressionable HR executive with something to prove and with dreams of making it to director one day, I noticed that some of my colleagues were starting families. They left work and were not returning, or returning part-time but out of the frontline. Surprisingly, they were grateful for being allowed to work part-time.
One day I received a call from an irate manager, ringing to give HR a piece of his mind. He "would not and should not" have to take his staff member back who was applying to return part-time. And he was going to make sure it didn't happen. I was appalled and dejected by his attitude and discriminatory comments.
When I started a family I didn't want to be begging for part-time status too.
It's fair to say that those months of tossing and turning ideas as to how I was going to balance family and career led to a business idea of my own and mums@work was born the same year as my twin boys.
The business is an advocacy service for mums and dads returning to work and I consult with employers on how to make the workplace more family friendly.
I've managed to squeeze in having baby number three.
My life is frantic as ever balancing the business and juggling three kids.
The good news is, I did make it to director level - of my own company. I'm the boss.
My husband works full-time so there is never a dull moment and we spend ridiculous amounts of time discussing logistics.
Most importantly, I'm doing something I love and I'm helping other mums and dads find ways of balancing work and family.
Mums@Work 18 Nov 13
Source: Daily Telegraph
By: Fiona Sugden / News Limited / Nov 16 2013 10pm

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Catherine Knox – Winner of the CALI Award

Catherine Knox - Winner of the CALI Award

Our newest CALI (Community Action Leadership Inspiration) award winner is Catherine Knox, CEO of the Gidget Foundation. Following her personal experience of perinatal anxiety and depression, Catherine has pursued a passionate interest in the area of mental health and women’s life experiences.

Q: Tell us about the Gidget Foundation.

Catherine: The Gidget Foundation is a charitable organisation, which was established in 2001, after the tragic death of a young mother suffering from postnatal depression. She was a vibrant, engaging young mother and her nickname was Gidget. Her family and all those close to her, were unaware that she was suffering so desperately.
Every year in Australia, a number of mothers lose their lives to this illness, while many other parents experience significant emotional distress.
The Gidget Foundation is supported entirely through donations and receives no government funding. The focus of our work is education and awareness. Representatives of the Gidget Foundation speak regularly at community and corporate functions.
We also provide ongoing education to medical students, midwifery students, midwives and GPs, and have presented papers at a range of conferences.
Catherine addressing the audience at NSW Parliament House, during Postnatal Depression Awareness Week
Catherine addressing the audience at NSW Parliament House, during Postnatal Depression Awareness Week
We work collaboratively to provide synergy with individuals and institutions, in supporting women with perinatal anxiety and depression. All funds raised are directed to programs supporting women during the perinatal period.
The foundation is closely aligned with a number of professional organisations. Our next big project is to create ‘Gidget House’, providing integrated care and support services to families experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression.
We have produced a number of resources including a DVD, Behind the Mask; the Hidden Struggle of Parenthood and a book Beyond the Baby Blues both of which are now being used by professionals and the community around the country.
The Gidget Foundation has also been working with a number of companies, to provide information and resources for parental leave packages. We have a partnership with Career after Kids to provide seminars on transitions in the workplace. The impact on the workforce, from people suffering from mental health problems, cannot be overstated.
Barker Old Boys Rugby held a Ladies’ Day in support of the Gidget Foundation
Barker Old Boys Rugby held a Ladies’ Day in support of the Gidget Foundation

Q: What inspired you to get involved?

Catherine: Following my personal experience of perinatal anxiety and depression, I have pursued a passionate interest in the area of mental health and women’s life experiences. I had no medical history of anxiety and depression so I had no self awareness when I became unwell.
My husband and I experienced two horrible years of distress – rather dark and turbulent ‘groundhog days’ before I was eventually helped. My diagnosis came as an immense relief. I was not losing my mind – this was actually a known condition that had a name, which many people suffered from.
My husband and I are both tertiary educated professionals. My husband is in fact an obstetrician, yet we were unable to understand what was happening to us, nor to access the help that we needed. How then must this impact on others who do not have the resources we had?
In response to my experience, and in the hope of gaining some understanding, I completed a Masters in Gender and Cultural Studies from USYD. Around this time I was invited to join the Gidget Foundation – which I did with great enthusiasm.
I have a passion for increasing awareness about perinatal anxiety and depression. I have since supported the creation of an educational DVD and co-authored Beyond the Baby Blues; the Complete Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Handbook.  I am currently undertaking a Graduate Certificate in Social Impact through UNSW.
Beyond the Baby Blues co-authored by Catherine Knox with Seana Smith and Benison O’Reilly.
Beyond the Baby Blues co-authored by Catherine Knox with Seana Smith and Benison O’Reilly.
I believe that knowledge is power. Through educating health professionals and the broader community, we have the opportunity to support parents of young children. Raising the profile of perinatal anxiety and depression, provides an environment where health professionals feel confident in helping young families navigate through the complexities of the perinatal period.
Diagnosis and treatment are more straightforward, ensuring that mothers and fathers receive care and treatment that will eventually aid in their long term recovery.

Q: Why should people know about perinatal anxiety and depression?

Catherine: Previously known simply as postnatal depression, anxiety and depression during the perinatal period (from pregnancy to one year after the birth) affects nearly 20% of mothers and 10% of fathers. That’s around 50,000 families in Australia each year. Friends, communities and workplaces can also feel the impact.
If left untreated it can have a long term negative impact on the development of children, and on intimate relationships. Perinatal anxiety and depression is a diagnosable illness. It is the result of biological, psychological and social factors and needs to be considered when:
  • A mother is experiencing strong emotions which are impacting negatively on her ability to function in her usual way and have lasted for two weeks or more.
  • This is accompanied by a lack of enjoyment or pleasure in life, and an inability to plan for the future.
Catherine Knox  -  Davidson Electorate Woman of the Year 2013
Catherine Knox – Davidson Electorate Woman of the Year 2013
While pregnancy and the first year of parenthood can be a uniquely special time, it is also a time of great adjustment, and the impact is often underestimated in our society. While most parents manage the mixed emotions and physical demands of pregnancy and early parenthood, around 50% of parents do find adjusting to their new role challenging.
Parents are also confronted by mixed messages from the media, parenting books and websites and even other parents.  Often parents find there is a huge gap between their expectations of parenting and the realities they face.
It is extremely hard for new mothers and fathers to admit that life as a parent is not unfolding as they had anticipated.  There is still stigma and judgment within our society around the notion of a depressed or anxious mother.
Mothers who are not functioning as they imagined they would, will often hide behind a mask of secrecy, fearful that they will be labeled a ‘bad mother’. It can also be very difficult for mothers and fathers to articulate exactly how they feel, and even harder to seek help.
The good news is that perinatal anxiety and depression can be treated and parents do recover. Early intervention and emotional support enables parents to move on and enjoy this time with their children.
Ladies’ Lunch May 2011  -  ‘Mum Cha’ 500 women attended
Ladies’ Lunch May 2011 – ‘Mum Cha’ 500 women attended

Q: What advice do you have for families who think there may be a problem?

Catherine: I adhere to the ‘chaos theory’ of mothering. It is grounded in the principle of the ‘good enough mother’. The reality of life is not reflected in the ‘cult of the perfect mother’ that is served up to us on a daily basis by the media.
However …
If parents feel that they are not functioning in the way they had hoped, if they perceive that their lives are overwhelming, that they are consumed with feelings of grief and anger and a lack of happiness, do seek help.
A GP or a child and family health nurse is a good place to start. If you are not receiving the support you need, seek out another health professional who will help you. Treatment can be provided by a range of health professionals including a psychologist or psychiatrist, and will generally involve therapies and sometimes medication.
Perinatal anxiety and depression can be treated, and parents do recover!
'Behind the Mask - The Hidden Struggle of Parenthood' - a DVD co-produced by the Gidget Foundation and PANDA
Behind the Mask – The Hidden Struggle of Parenthood’ – a DVD co-produced by the Gidget Foundation and PANDA

Q: What is something that you are particularly proud of?

Catherine: The Emotional Wellbeing Program at North Shore Private Hospital, funded by a grant through the NIB foundation.
Based on the Clinical Practice Guidelines for the perinatal period (an evidenced based research document produced by Beyondblue). We have developed a model for screening and assessment of women during the antenatal period.
A similar model is in place in the public sector, in various forms around Australia. Our program is the first of its kind in Australia to be run in a private hospital. We have professional support from perinatal psychiatrists, researchers and midwives.
Women booked to have their baby at North Shore Private Hospital, have the opportunity to have an interview with a trained midwife. We are evaluating the program both qualitatively and quantitatively, and have presented our findings at national and international conferences.
We have received overwhelmingly positive feed back from the mothers and our data shows that we are also helping those that require further support.  We now have a program that can be scaled and replicated in many different settings.
This development and implementation of this program has shown me, that with passion and the right people, we can do anything.
Gidget Foundation Ladies’ Lunch July 2013
Gidget Foundation Ladies’ Lunch July 2013
Q: What drives you?

Catherine: Every day I hear stories from women and doctors around personal struggles with perinatal anxiety and depression.  As long as parents are struggling during this period, I will keep advocating for them.
I also hear words of support for the resources we have produced and the program that we have run.  Most important are the personal stories of recovery.  It is wonderful when parents are finally able to enjoy their children and embrace their role as parents.
Q: Do you feel there are rewards in your efforts?

Catherine: I work with passionate, talented and professional people – it is a privilege to be involved with these individuals as we work together to support parents of young children.
I know that raw, brittle feeling, the knot in the stomach, the grief, the anger. It has left an indelible mark on my soul. I hope my passion can help alleviate the distress of others who find themselves in this situation.
The ultimate driver and eventual reward will be to manage the establishment of ‘Gidget House’. Here we will provide support and treatment for parents and families, whose lives have been impacted by perinatal anxiety and depression. We’re nearly there!

Q: If you had your way, everyone in the world would spend 5 minutes a day…

Catherine: Giving a few moments of kindness to those around you including some words of support for new parents you might know.  I believe that if societies are to thrive and flourish we need to live as part of a supportive community. Ask that new mother or father ‘How it is really going’…and listen to the answer!
As well as her work with the Gidget Foundation, Catherine Knox’s mission also includes medical student and midwifery education, career seminars, and frequent representation to professional, industry and community groups. Catherine has a Masters in Cultural Studies (USYD) and a Graduate Certificate in Social Impact (UNSW). 
Mums@Work 18 Oct 13
Source: FivePointFive