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