What I’ve Learned: Woolworths’ Adam Mitchell on Raising Boys

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General Manager of Foodco at Woolworths, Adam Mitchell, shares what he’s learned about balancing career and care, raising boys to embody healthy masculinity, and trusting his team to do the right thing.


Credit: Unsplash

Credit: Unsplash

Adam Mitchell has learned that his best is often good enough. As the General Manager of Foodco at Woolworths and a father of three boys, Adam has had to learn how to balance the juggle between career and care. Throughout his time in the supermarket industry – which has taken him from Perth to Melbourne to Sydney – the Woolworths’ leader has witnessed the growing acceptance of the male caregiving role in the workplace, which has allowed him to change the way he works and lives. 

Adam is refreshingly honest about his parenting legacy and the mistakes he’s made along the way. Here, the Woolworths’ leader discusses how the pandemic has changed the way he works, raising boys to embody healthy masculinity, and trusting his team to do the right thing. 

Did your upbringing influence the way you want to parent? What rituals did you want to pass on?

I think everyone’s upbringing influences their views on parenting. My mother was a teacher and very focused on my brothers and I having a good education and strong work ethic. Reading was always an important thing in my childhood home and that is something I have continued with my boys – they simply devour books and it has such a positive impact on their lives. My father was always very supportive of the hobbies and sports his sons got into. He wouldn’t push us into things that he loved but rather got really involved in supporting our choices. I have adopted this with my sons and am more focused on how I support what they choose, rather than trying to influence their choices. 

You’re raising three boys. How do you encourage healthy masculinity in your household? 

I think one of the big things my wife and I do [to encourage healthy masculinity] is to ensure that all of the boys do chores around the house, including the ironing, to minimise the risk of them stereotyping household roles. Everyone has to chip in, including our six year old. We also place importance on talking about how we are feeling and helping the boys understand their emotions and how to deal with them appropriately, especially the more negative emotions like anger. Keeping the boys well exercised and eating healthy is also critical and something we try to role model at home.

What hurdles have you come up against on your journey to balance both career and care?

This has been a tough journey and one that I continue to keep a healthy curiosity with in terms of how I create the balance. I come from an industry that historically has not valued the male caregiver role the way it does now (this would be true of many industries). When I reflect, I certainly see that there were times I got too emotionally and physically absorbed in my career and this was a norm for men in the businesses I worked for. I am very conscious of this and have worked hard to correct the imbalance whilst my boys are still young – I feel lucky to have had this realisation. Having said that I think times are absolutely changing and it has never been a better time to be a working father in terms of the acceptance in the workplace and our ability to get a better career and care balance.

What would be your advice to any expectant or new working parent?

It’s such a cliché, but the years with your children go so quickly. The only time you have is the now, so keep challenging yourself to be present for your family. There is no magic balance – you will never have enough time to spend on everything you want to so it’s about the quality of the time you put into all of the ‘buckets’ of your life.

What advice would you give to any leader out there to help their staff balance career and care?

Have trust in your team to do the right thing for work and be overt about the importance of them supporting their families. Role model the importance you place on your own family, or self-care if you don’t have children. It’s not enough to just talk about it, staff need to see you doing it.

Has COVID-19 changed the way you balance career and care?

Working from home has been a tough adjustment for me to make. I found myself almost living in my study in front of the computer for the first few months of COVID. I get to see more of my children during the week now which is fantastic but I hadn’t prioritised self-care enough. I now have a self-care ‘to do’ list everyday, just like my work ‘to do’ list, and I ensure it gets done. This has actually given me more energy for both work and family.

Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at the time you decided to have a child?

Know that your best is good enough and don’t put yourself under so much pressure to try and get everything perfect. Don’t worry so much about the future, it will work out.

Do you have any words you live by?

Keep a healthy curiosity and use that as a driver to keep learning and improving in all aspects of your life.

What I’ve Learned is a series dedicated to sharing the collective wisdom of the Grace Papers’ community.

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