Karina Keisler is the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at nbn, Australia’s National Broadband Network. She previously worked for the likes of Telstra and Vodafone and doesn’t shy away from a tough gig – be it addressing reputational damage or taking on a political football.
After four years in her role at nbn, meeting with politicians, fighting fires with the press, and travelling the length and breadth of the country supporting her team, Karina is on the verge of an exciting new opportunity. In fact, it’s so new she can’t tell us what it is – but she assures us it will be a new kind of challenge. Of that, we have no doubt!
We recently caught up with Karina about her experience as a working mum, finding balance, and achieving equality in the workplace.
You recently shared a lovely video on LinkedIn of you and your daughters talking about finding balance as a working parent – what prompted you to make it?
I do a lot of mentoring through Mentor Walks, mentoring professional women in senior roles, and eBeacon’s MyRoad program, mentoring young girls across the country, in addition to my work as a female leader in a high profile role. One of the most common questions I get is ‘how do you fit it all in? How do you get balance?’ The truth is that, while I feel busy, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on the things that are important to me, and my family is the most important of my priorities. I was writing a LinkedIn article about how I find balance and my girls were nearby so I started asking them what they thought. I wanted to share their perspectives because I thought people might be surprised to hear them.
What impact has parenthood had on your career?
Being a parent has given me an entirely new perspective. It’s a great reminder not to sweat the small stuff – who has time?! Guilt can bring you down, particularly as a working mum. You notice the raised eyebrows when other mums find out you work full time, and the older generations can terrible at hiding their horror at the thought of leaving the children at home. At school functions, people often make remarks such as ‘oh wow, you made it’, or ‘I thought you were a fantasy wife’. It can be a bit irritating, but I know it’s more a reflection on them than me and so I usually ignore it. As my girls say in the video, they don’t feel like they are missing out because I’m not the one to take them to school and make their lunches. We enjoy the time we have together and they are aware that we get to do wonderful things as a family, like travelling, because mummy has a good job.
How did you come to the decision that your husband, Dan, would be a stay-at-home dad?
Dan wasn’t particularly enjoying his job, and my career gave us the luxury of being able to manage on a single income. Plus, it takes a special personality and skill set to be the parent who stays at home with the children, and it’s not something I’d be particularly good at! I have no end of respect for those who do it, but it’s not something I think I could do. On the other hand, my husband is incredible with children. He has such patience, a great energy in supporting our daughters’ hobbies, and ability to connect with them – all traits that make him a wonderful stay-at-home dad. He is my enabler – him being a stay-at-home dad has enabled me to progress in my career and take on the responsibilities of a very full-on job.
What was your experience of navigating your return to work after having children?
My experience was different with both of my children. With my second child, I took a full year off, as well as some more time to spend time with my eldest. But when my first child was born, I only took four months off. Part of the reason for it was a fear of being left behind, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. It’s natural to have a crisis of confidence when you return to work after having kids. You’ve been away from the office environment and are likely experiencing some sleep deprivation, so it’s normal to think the world has moved on, but in reality it hasn’t. It won’t take you long to find your feet. You don’t lose skills in becoming a parent – you just gain new ones.
Why do you think it’s important to have flexibility in the workplace?
No two employees have the same needs in the workplace or in their private lives, so it doesn’t make sense to try to shoehorn everyone in to the same process for achieving results. If you can support your team to manage their workload in a way that enables them, without adding stress or impacting health, then you’re surely set to benefit. Flexibility – be it in relation to location or hours – is a great way to enable and support people, and in most instances, they will want to give back in return.
What do you think employers can do to improve gender equality in the workplace?
The more we can break the barriers of traditional gender stereotypes through flexible working and supportive policies, the sooner we’ll see greater gender balance in management roles. I read that Medibank recently introduced 14 weeks leave for all parents, and I think it’s a fantastic way of introducing more male carers to the idea that they can step away from the role of sole or primary earner without fear of financial sacrifice. At nbn, we pay a full-time salary for four days worked as a way of helping returning parents to ease back into the workplace and remove some of the burden of childcare costs.
These are just two of many examples of policies that support parents on their return to work, but there is still so much room to do more. It starts well before we enter the workforce too – our educators need to play a greater role at smashing the stereotypes and encouraging all genders to consider diverse options when planning for their futures.
What advice would you give to other working parents?
If plan A doesn’t come off, don’t settle for plan B. Come up with another plan A. There will be something else that will just as appealing, challenging or purposeful – you just need to ask yourself ‘what is it I really want?’
What are you reading right now?
I’m an avid reader and my most recent adult read was Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner. I say adult because my daughters have since decided they are in charge of my reading choices – last week I knocked off War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, and now I’m onto the Printer’s Devil by Paul Bajoria. So far so good. I’m also reading the Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki to keep my work brain thinking!