What I’ve Learned: Morgan Oldridge on articulating goals, networking and a positive mindset whilst on parental leave in a pandemic


Reflecting on her parental leave in a pandemic Morgan Oldridge shares her gratitude for conversations, mentors and connections. During her leave she shares with us her ability to gain clarity on her career goals and the type of leader she wants to be.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate over the past year to take time away from work to focus on a gorgeous new reason to be fulfilled each day, my son Leo. Spending that time with him and my husband, Brad whilst we became a family of three during a pandemic, believe it or not, had been the most incredible and perfect time to be on parental leave. 

There were so many moments we got to share because Brad was working from home and having the extra hands in those first few months while he juggled calls and an exhausted partner, helped me feel that even though extended family were miles away because of border restrictions, that I had the support I needed and if you ask us now, they are some of our most treasured bonding memories. It was also the support and shared approach that allowed me to balance time with Leo, with the time I took to focus on my return to work plan. 

In terms of work, I’ve been in the Retail, Buying industry for over 15 years across both South Africa and Australia, having spent 5 years with the Woolworths Private Label division in various leadership roles prior to going on parental leave. 

Through working with my Grace Papers coach and an Executive Mindset coach I recognised that I needed a change in role to support my career ambitions and along with the sponsorship of senior leaders within the group, managed to navigate a return in a more senior role as GM of Operations, Delivery & Transformation for our New Businesses division. 

Why did you do the Grace Papers Program?

Woolworths’ partnership with Grace Papers was a large component to the start of my journey with Grace Papers. Whilst I took the opportunity to work with a GP coach for my parental leave journey, I had also engaged with a GP coach as a line manager when a team member had taken parental leave to help my understanding of how I could best support them in their journey and be a voice for them whilst they were focussed on their new role as carer.

What’s one strategy that you’ve taken away or put in to action after going through the GP program?

I’d say there were 3 standouts to approach from the program that have made & continue to make the biggest impact on my return to work.

  1. Articulating my goals – Putting thoughts like “You won’t have a seat at the table: You’re out of sight, out of mind” aside and taking time to really think about what my big goal was, sharing my professional vision with my mentors, coaches, family and friends was a big step forward. 
  2. Networking – I was fortunate to have built a strong internal network before taking parental leave which definitely helped me having the right conversations at the right time about the growth I was looking for. Yet taking a step back I also realised my outside industry network was small. So I set out time to meet with new connections recommended by my sponsors. These industry contacts have now become invaluable career mentors. Definitely a positive to come out of the COVID environment, having digital options has made expanding my network a much more accessible goal.
  3. Positive Mindset -It’s often easy for us to feel that our self-worth is linked to our job, which is certainly something I grappled with when my old role was evolving whilst I was on leave and shifting this perceptions was vital to seeing it as an opportunity not a threat.

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

The concept of the maternal wall was something I had educated myself on prior to falling pregnant with Leo, as I was really interested in how I could support female talent within my team and division on their return to work with balancing care and career ambitions.

However the biases that perpetuate the maternal wall aren’t always easily identifiable and are often underpinned by an unconscious bias that makes it tougher to challenge. 

Whilst I was on PL there was an opportunity to perform an acting role within my area of speciality and unfortunately there wasn’t a conversation about whether I would consider returning earlier for that seconded opportunity. Whilst there was best intent, there was an unconscious bias that I wouldn’t want to return to work earlier or in full time capacity. 

How did you tackle this?

If I’m completely honest, that stung at the time, especially as the opportunity to perform the acting GM role would have supported my ambitions that I’d shared prior and during my PL.

However, taking steps to adjust my emotions and mindset on self worth, aligning them back to my professional vision and goals, allowed me to understand through vulnerability and clarity that I could share my desire for change more broadly through realising my skills were transferable.

I reached out to a female senior executive in the business that I had incredible respect for and in a sponsorship capacity asked for her assistance in finding something on my return that would challenge me whilst offering the type of environment that recognised output over hours. It was that pivotal discussion that led to the role I’m now in & also it is the reciprocating conversation that keeps me energised about my career growth.

What have you learned about yourself through the process?

I’ve become much clearer on what I am passionate about in terms of change and how I can use my voice in a greater setting to drive that change. I’ve also learnt how important it is to be honest about career ambitions with those around me. I’ve loved sharing this journey with Brad not only because we’re raising a human together but also because we inspire and challenge each other (also the giant need for a shared diary to help with the juggle!)

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

Don’t underestimate the benefit of a sponsor, having someone who has your best interests at heart and is able to advocate for you in important career growth conversations, can go a long way in making sure your keep in touch days are best placed and aligned to your ambitions. This also helps take a lot of pressure off having to navigate a return without support or in an environment that may have changed while you were away. Also be clear with your partner about the support you will need to stay in touch, keeping those lines of communication clear means it sets you both up really well for when you are both working again and it becomes true shared care.

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

Understanding how your team member wants to be involved in change conversations. Sometimes things can happen at pace and when a team member isn’t part of your daily interaction, it is easy to wait until the next catch up and details could be out of date or not relevant anymore. Even if they choose not to have regular face to face or digital catch ups, any written comms (even a text) that is more tailored can go a long way to making that team member feel like they are still part of the team and have a voice in the change. 

Be their voice when it comes to career or promotion opportunities that align with their ambition, even if you have just joined a new team and don’t know your team member who is on parental leave, it is your responsibility to ensure that they have a seat at the table, so make sure you take the time to understand their strengths and how you can support them whilst they are away. 

Continue to ask the question as to how you can support their balance between career and care, it is an ever evolving dynamic, which deserves an ever evolving joint solution to get the best out of your team member.

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

I’d say that parental leave would be the best thing to ever happen to my career. Also, to put aside fears of growth slowing. Yes it’s a lot of change you have to navigate with a new born; being a Mum; the juggling that happens with you and your partner and navigating your return to work but parental leave is a powerful opportunity and incredible time to invest in yourself as well as your ambitions while you spent time with your newborn.

Do you have a life motto or any words you live by? If so, what?

I really love Brené Brown and one of my favourite quotes is “We don’t have to do it all alone, we were never meant to”. This has become so much more meaningful personally and professionally since having Leo!

What I’ve Learned is a series featuring the parents (and wisdom) within the Grace Papers community.