Nicole Davis on how to return to work from parental leave with greater patience, resilience and motivation than ever before.


Nicole Davis navigates her role at Woolworths while looking after her one year old daughter. She shares how her career priorities completely shifted once on parental leave; no longer wanting to work full time, Nicole worked with a Grace Papers coach to refine the career/care structure that would work best for her.

HI Nicole! Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and the work you do.

My name is Nicole and I am 32 years old. Both my professional career and my love story started at Woolworths over 8 years ago. Along with my husband, our chocolate Labrador Lara, our chickens and our one year old daughter Lily we live in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We both work for Woolworths Supermarkets as Category Managers in the commercial team. On the weekends we enjoy exploring the beaches, doing DIY projects around our home and spending time with family and friends.

What’s one strategy that you’ve taken away or put into action after going through the Grace Papers program coaching sessions?

I found the Grace Papers coaching sessions to be incredibly valuable. The coaches are real people with real scenarios and experiences which was great to be able to talk through different scenarios with them throughout all stages of my parental leave leave – pre, during and post.

During my leave it became apparent that I didn’t want to return to work full time. This was never my intention, however I found my priorities changed and I wanted to find a greater balance between my personal and professional life. Working with my coach we were able to brainstorm different options – working part-time, 4 days a week or a job share. The Create your Flexible Work Plan guided me to build and formulate my “ask” providing me with the confidence to request a 3 day a week job share upon my return. I am now in my 3rd month and I love it!

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

Oh gosh, for me the main hurdles were more within myself and my own insecurities rather than physical roadblocks. I was anxious to go on parental leave as I didn’t know what impact it would have on my career – would I be forgotten? What was being said about me when I wasn’t there? What legacy have I left behind? 

I also found that after 9 months of leave that I wasn’t ready to return to work. My baby was a terrible sleeper that coupled with her initial 5 months in Covid lock down meant that I felt robbed of exploring the world with her (and I was terribly tired).

In both instances I found open communication with my line manager is what helped me feel supported. I was able to extend my leave until 13 months and we even got to experience our first overseas trip as a family. 

The mum guilt is still there and it still feels like juggling illnesses, workload and quality family time, however I know that if I can communicate and share my challenges that I am supported at work.

What have you learned about yourself through the process?

I am a lot stronger than I gave myself credit for. And although I always deemed organisation and process as one of my strengths, being a working parent your organisational skills need to be on steroids. I have learnt to plan for the unexpected and be agile in my work. 

Becoming a parent has also provided me with a greater level of empathy and understanding for other team members and has forced me to put more realistic workload expectations on myself and others.

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

From a professional perspective take full advantage of your Grace Papers Program and sessions. They are a great source of information, ideas and sounding board. Utilise your keeping in touch days, this is an opportunity for you to keep your lines of communication open with your manager, team and the company. I found a mixture of team days, training sessions, clearing through emails and one on one sessions with my manager helped me to still feel part of the team.

Utilise Google calendar to schedule and lock in tasks that you need to complete. With a little one waiting for you at home you can’t or don’t want to be working unnecessarily so make sure you prioritise what needs to be done, but also be kind to yourself that not everything can be done and be agile.

From a personal perspective, Trust your gut. That parental gut is usually right and only you know what is best for your family. If you’re not ready to return to work or you don’t want to return full time then ask the question. I have been inspired with the level of support that I have received from Woolworths to be able to juggle my career and my family.

What would be your advice to any manager/leader in terms of enabling their staff to balance both career and care?

I am grateful for all of those who have come before me, who advocated for parental leave, for financial support, for keeping in touch days, for job shares or part time options, for work life balance! However, I can guarantee that anyone returning from parental leave has questioned their own confidence and capability, therefore I challenge any manager/leader to ask themselves the question “How can we support the returning to work parent who now offers greater patience, resilience and motivation than ever before?”

You both work for Woolworths – how do you make it all work? 

We are incredibly fortunate to still be able to work from home for the majority of the working week. This allows us to still enjoy family time before and after work as a family unit and without having to sacrifice one parent’s presence. However, there are weeks that are unique so we ensure that at the beginning of the week we discuss each other’s whereabouts to ensure we are covered logistically.

Finally, the best part about having your partner work for Woolworths is you can support and bounce ideas off each other. The worst part is that you can bring work home, so we have a general rule – we have a daily debrief and then no more work chat for the evening or weekend.

What words do you live by?

My Grandma used to say:

Yesterday is history,

Tomorrow is a mystery,

Today is a gift, that’s why it is called the present”

Enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing, whether it is work or family but be present, be passionate and love what you do.

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