Everyday female heroes: return-to-work mothers who have made successful transition returning to the workforce.
A recent survey by industry super fund, Kinetic Super found that 70% of Australian women simply sign up with their employer's nominated super fund when they start a new job, without actually making a choice. Majority of women in Australia are also acutely unaware of how much they pay in fees as a super member.
This might mean that some mothers who have taken breaks in between jobs might end up with -lost super' when they have multiple super accounts and continue paying super membership fees even as they stop working and stop generating contributions to their super.
After two years of work hiatus, Suzanne – a mother of three boys (her eldest is 5yo and the other two are 3yo twins) – recently returned to the workforce as a senior director in a consulting agency to support her husband in paying off their house mortgage in Langwarrin South, Victoria.
Question: Why did you decide to go back to work after having three children?
Suzanne La Fontaine: I returned to work after two years as a stay-at-home mum and housewife mainly for financial reasons. It has been hard going from two full-time incomes with no dependents other than a four legged one, to one full-time income for a household of five. Particularly when four of the five are boys with boys' appetites!
The second motivating factor was in order to sustain the last scraps of my sanity after staying at home with three pre-school boys all day, every day for two years!
Question: Do you work full time?
Suzanne La Fontaine: I work full time five days per week but with one day (Fridays) from home. My manager kindly offered me flexible working hours, so I also arrive at 6.30am/7am and leave by 4pm in order to be home in time to cook the boys' dinner by 6pm.
Question: What surprised you most about returning to work, after two years?
Suzanne La Fontaine: Initially I was surprised when my colleagues didn't throw themselves on the floor in floods of tears with their legs kicking whenever I provided constructive criticism on their work.
What surprised me more was how quickly and easily all my knowledge, confidence, skills and experience came flooding back. All my fears and concerns regarding whether I could take the big leap back into full-time employment and whether employers would accept and value me after such a long hiatus, all seem so needless now.
Question: How were the first few weeks of returning to work, for you and the family?
Suzanne La Fontaine: Chaos! 6pm dinners were definitely more like 7pm, teeth went unbrushed, breakfasts went unnoticed, the twins started picking their own clothes to wear to Kinder (need I say more).
The priorities were switched away from formerly imperative tasks like finding Batman's cape before bed time or else, or equally crucial musings such as 'do dolphins make gold?", to getting myself intellectually and emotionally embedded in a new job, and getting my five-year-old successfully off to Prep School without a hitch (or forgotten art smock / reader bag / sun hat).
Question: What helped you make a successful transition to the workforce?
Suzanne La Fontaine: I literally could not have juggled the household with job interviews and the first initial weeks at work without my husband, mother and mother-in-law providing on tap child care day and night. The boys' laundry starting magically appearing laundered and pressed on little blue hangers in three small wardrobes at a time when I could barely find my own shoes and socks.
My manager is also a mother to two grown-up children herself, and it was only down to her understanding and accommodating attitude that my job has an essential balance of work and home life.
Question: How do you use nights and weekends to prepare yourself for the working week?
Suzanne La Fontaine: Not as much as I should! The boys' Kinder and School terms only started last week so I am still often found frantically slicing, wrapping and packing lunch boxes at midnight or scrambling for three pairs of matching socks.
At the moment, evenings and weekends are for sitting immobile and exhausted in a chair after the second dinner shift (on evenings when Mum and Dad fancy outrageous, disgusting cuisine such as fish, or meat, bleugh), before the alarm clock goes off at 5am.
I'm hoping to start having more of a routine mid week, particularly where lunch boxes and school uniforms are concerned, and most certainly on Sunday nights when a lot of the forward planning can be done.
Question: What advice do you have for other mothers who wish to return to work?
Suzanne La Fontaine: I would admit that I put off looking for a job like I put off doing exercise. And the same premise applies, that once you make the initial effort, everything starts to fall easily into place and you wonder why you put it off for so long.
I am definitely exhausted all the time. But then again, I was exhausted all the time chasing around three boys at home. Barely anyone screams, thrashes, kicks and bawls in the workplace either. Surely that's worth a little bit of extra organisation and time management!
Question: Can you share your tips on better managing finances including super?
Suzanne La Fontaine: My super account has been inactive for the last two years and I started to get really concerned about whether I will have sufficient balance by the time I retire. I am 41 now, so it's not actually that far off – hopefully!
I have also accumulated at least six super funds over my career, at various companies in Australia and abroad. I honestly have no idea where any of this is, and what my current super balance is. I have been working on and off for nearly twenty years and simply choosing whichever default super fund my employers at the time would suggest.
Kinetic Super, the low fee super fund, advised me that they could not only find my lost super – going right back to nearly twenty years ago – but also combine my funds into one account so that I am not paying multiple fees and insurance premiums on multiple super accounts, that will ultimately be eroding my overall hard earned balance. We forget that super is nearly 10% of our salaries, so if us super mums are going to go through all the emotional upheaval of going back to work then we should make sure we are looking after every single cent we earn.
Interview by Brooke Hunter