Prue Gilbert is an exceptional woman. You can tell that just moments after meeting her...
She’s smart, savvy and stylish and not afraid to speak her mind about the issues women face when they fall pregnant. “We grow up being told that, as women, we can be whatever we want to be. And it’s often not until we get to pregnancy that we look up and think about our career future and wonder where are all the women at the top? Where are the role models? For even the most progressive couples, there is a strong tendency to revert to the traditional stereotypes of mother/carer and father/breadwinner.” She’s right and she’s on a mission to empower women. The former lawyer and mother of three launched her human rights award winning digital platform Grace Papers to help working parents navigate career and family with confidence. Grace Papers is an online career coaching platform for pregnant women, developed and supported by an expert team of lawyers, human resource professionals, psychologists, coaches and working parents. Through Gilbert’s comprehensive platform, women (and men) can arm themselves with the right tools to return to work. “Grace Papers certainly wasn’t born overnight – it’s the combination of my passion for social justice, a law degree, my personal experiences of sexual harassment and discrimination, and what I’ve learned about our humanity and our potential from having three children,” she says. Read on to find out more about this inspiring mother of three and the extraordinary work she’s doing for women. Photography: Fiona Storey | Words: Georgie Abay | Go to www.gracepapers.com.au
Prue Gilbert with her children Fitzwilliam, 7, Mary-Jane, 5, Frederic, 3
What is the best advice you’ve been given about motherhood?
As a woman with a career I love, the best pearls of wisdom came from my mum, who told me “there’s no such thing as a convenient time to have a baby. It will turn not just your career, but your whole life upside down, but the love you experience is one you will never regret.”
Can you tell us about your childhood? Did you have strong role models around you?
I had a wonderfully happy childhood, growing up in Kew, Victoria, as the oldest of five children. On the street in which we grew up, there were lots of kids – our neighbours on one side had four, and on the other there were three. We had so much freedom to play – my dad didn’t believe in doing too much homework until it mattered (year 12!), so we would head over to whichever pantry had the best afternoon tea, ride our bikes around the boulevard to Dights Falls, build cubby houses in the park across the road and, as we grew older, share makeup and our first alcoholic beverages! My friend Sarah who grew up next door had her first baby four weeks after I had Fitzy, and her third exactly four weeks after I had Freddie. She and her husband are godparents to Freddie, and I am so grateful that we get to hang on to the memories we grew up with, and raise our children together. We love bubbles and fish and chips on a Friday night with the Dare’s! I had a great mix of role models but, growing up, what was probably just as important was having people around me who believed in me. My grandfather, Bill Nolan, was general manager for a vacuum cleaner business and they started employing women. Ever practical, he asked who was looking after the children and convinced his employer they needed to start their own childcare centre. Which they did. When you have stories like that to draw on and you know your work is an expansion of those from previous generations, it’s pretty inspiring.
Can you tell us about your passion for challenging gendered expectations to which society reverts around pregnancy?
The average age of a first time father is 33, and the average age of a first time mother is 29, which translates to a four year experience gap in the workplace. Throw in a gender pay gap of about 18%, and couples make decisions about career and care based on their current financial position, rather than looking at the potential earnings capacity. And they ignore the compounding effect of super. Not only does it all too often result in women retiring with super balances equal to half that of men, but as a society, and as a nation, we miss out on the professional contributions of women and we deny men the opportunity to fully explore the wonder that comes with caring. While for some families, that is the right decision for many it’s not, nor does it have to be. And that’s where my passion gets ignited – changing the gendered norms at home and in the workplace so that women are empowered and rise to senior leadership positions. So that 1 in 3 Australian women are no longer experiencing physical violence. So that men get the opportunity to be the available parent they want to be. And so that 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men are no longer experiencing some form of pregnancy related discrimination.
There’s no denying pregnancy and motherhood significantly impacts career. Can you tell us about the ways in which you empower women to manage pregnancy and career breaks? What lead you to launch Grace Papers?
We know that managing career and family is complicated. From hiding your morning sickness while going for that promotion, to leaving your baby at childcare for the first time; it’s an exciting and challenging journey. But that’s where we come in. Grace Papers provides an online career coaching platform for pregnant women, developed and supported by an expert team of lawyers, human resource professionals, psychologists, coaches and, most importantly, working parents! We liken the concept to the Michelle Bridges 12 week body transformation or I Quit Sugar but for mums (and now dads!). Our programs support mums-to-be from before they even tell their boss they’re pregnant, all the way through to their return to work after parental leave. We give pregnant women, as well as new and seasoned mums, the advice, tools and support to navigate the hurdles that arise in the workplace, and at home, when trying to manage a successful career and family. We empower, educate, support, guide and nurture parents to fly into freedom. Grace Papers also works directly with businesses to address the many outdated attitudes and systems that Australian workplaces continue to adhere to that impact a woman’s dignity. We run workshops on matters such as flexible working and equality in the workplace. And we consult with employers to enable them to understand why gender equity should matter to them, and create a vision for them to work towards.
Do you think women support other women in the corporate world? Or we need to stand by one another more?
Leadership expert, Avril Henry recently explored this issue, and found that women all over the world want more support from other women in the workplace. I believe our society’s definition of what it means to be “a good mother” drives a great deal of judgment from women of other women. The reality is every mother I know is doing her best, and every career-woman I know could also do with more support and encouragement – without judgment – from other women in the workplace. We need to be kinder, less defensive about the need for approval for the decisions we make, and listen and trust ourselves.
Do you believe it’s possible to have both a demanding corporate career and also be hand’s on at home? What advice would you give to women in the corporate world on juggling both?
Absolutely! But you need to understand exactly what that means for you. Every person who uses our platform or that we coach becomes very self-aware of what they are trying to achieve and of what is most important to them; what they need to prioritise and what they need to let go of. We focus on values and strengths and help them to create a professional vision, kind of like their career navigation system, to help guide them to achieve their goals and be true to their values. Personally, I try to live by my mother’s advice and “not be a slave to your house!” So my home is often a mess but I’d rather that than missing out on time with the kids or not taking on career challenges. And for me, I do feel like I’ve got it all because I know I’m living in line with my values, kicking some business goals and able to see my son speak at school assembly. My other advice is to make sure you have your own girl gang. A group of women who love you, support you, won’t judge you and want to see you as succeed as the best version of yourself. And importantly are there to celebrate and commiserate with a bottle of bubbles. I am grateful every day for the girlfriends I have. Couldn’t live without them.
What about mother’s guilt – what’s your advice on this?
I try not to see mother’s guilt as a negative. My advice to anyone experiencing mother’s guilt is to simply use it to check in with their conscience, and ask: am I living my life according to my priority values? For me, that question makes me reflect on the ways in which I am taking care of my loved ones and working towards equal opportunity for all. If mother’s guilt has reared its ugly head, it’s usually because I’m not being true to my values, which for me is usually because I have said yes to some sort of work that is not aligned with our mission, so it takes me away from caring for my family. I therefore use mother’s guilt as an opportunity to realign my values and commit to re-balancing work and family, then flick that guilty conscience off my shoulder. If you’re not sure what your values are, we have a great tool in Step 2 of our program as well as lots of tips around how to deal with mother’s guilt.
Can you take us through the coaching and workshops you do?
We support women and men to successfully and confidently transition in and out of the workplace. The reality is the transition to and from parental leave isn’t easy, with 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men experiencing some form of pregnancy related discrimination throughout that journey. So through our digital and face-to-face coaching we prepare parents to anticipate the potential biases of all their stakeholders – from managers to mothers-in-law – and in doing so, we aim to empower women to take responsibility for their own careers, and empower men to embrace their role as carers. We consider coaching and paid leave not as entitlements but as benefits that can support women and men to stay connected to their workplace and engaged with their career over the longer term. We help working mums to know their values and make sure they are aligned to their career, to know their worth to an organisation and to have the confidence and tools to negotiate the flexibility they need.
How have you personally juggling your career with three young children – what was been the most challenging part and what are your tips?
To be honest, I take my own medicine. I have my own personal board of directors with whom I can check in when things get tough. I use my professional vision as my guide, I lean on my partner and I have a supportive tribe around me. Vision: I know my priority values, and my strengths. I follow my passion, regularly evaluate where I am in the context of my own professional vision and what sort of mother, wife, daughter and friend I want to be. Make Your Partner A Real Partner: Ok, this one I borrowed from Sheryl Sandberg. Ben and I are a team, and we can sub in and out for each other. When Fitzy was first born, I used to leave a whole routine with details about what needs to happen when to leave him for a day with his father. It was absurd. Once I made space – eliminated the “maternal gate-keeping” – he was able to work out for himself what the children needed. I’m pretty sure it meant Freddie ate mashed banana and avocado for lunch every day for 3 months while Ben was Chief Parenting Office – but, so what? Ben is just as hands on a parent as me, our children get the benefit of both of our styles rather than just one, and we both have fulfilling and rewarding careers. A big part of our coaching is empowering women with the tools to open up new conversations with their partners around managing, sharing and balancing the demands of career and family life together, rather than it just being the responsibility of the mother. Spirituality: I am also very spiritual, and have a spiritual director with whom I meet regularly. I find this enables me to really listen to my conscience and make difficult decisions. Great Support Network: Three of my best friends had babies when I did. I am so grateful for their constant support of me as a wife, as a mother and in my work. And they love champagne and are happy for our kids to eat “cheezel salad” on Friday nights! My family is also a constant support for me and my kids; I really believe it takes a village raise a child and have a career.
What traits do you want to nurture in your children?
First and foremost I want them to live a life in which they feel fulfilled. It’s up to them to define what happiness and success mean to them but I want them to live their life with purpose and kindness. Ben and I are focused on sharing our own purposes in life with them, ensuring they feel secure and loved and helping them to find their strengths and passions so that grow up to be resilient, to know who they are, and to live their life with meaning.
Where will we be in 10 years? Do you think there will be more mothers in the workplace?
My vision for equality is for a world in which women can realise their full potential and are able to live free from workplace oppression. But it also involves a world where men can be vulnerable and care and express themselves freely. The future of work will most definitely need to involve more women in the workplace, particularly in leadership. But there are lots of challenges we still need to address. From domestic abuse to pregnancy discrimination, to getting more women into technology, to addressing the gendered expectations that come with our traditional definition of a “good mother”. It’s going to take all of us to do our bit – to check our judgment of others, to be more inclusive of all people (not just those like us), to challenge the biases that currently make it difficult for women to reach leadership positions and to demand the right government policies to drive equality. So I hope there will be more mothers in the workplace who are in leadership roles, and generally able to realise their full potential.
What is your favourite social media platform and why?
Instagram. Who doesn’t love a visual into other people’s lives?
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
I am a massive wrap for yoga, which I try to get to three times a week (TRY being the operative word here!). I also meditate at least four times a week listening to the wonderful meditation guru, Jonni Pollard on the 1 Giant Mind app. I’m such a big fan that I actually incorporated his dolce tones into our digital platform. I try to eat healthily too – love the raw food movement, and throw in the occasional juice cleanse with Greene Street Juice Co. I love to cook and try new recipes. Although my kids are not so interested in eating attempts at sugar free snacks and desserts.
What are your daily beauty essentials and how long does it take you to get out the door in the morning?
Mornings are a little crazy in our house…some days, it’s 3 children to 3 different locations! So if I have to (which is everyday), I do my make-up in about 5 minutes in the car. I moisturise (I use the Endota organic range), then I use MAC minerals foundation, bronzer and lip liner, add some gloss, eyeliner and mascara and, if I have time some, eyeshadow! Nothing fancy just enough to make me look like I’ve actually had a proper night’s sleep!
How do you unwind?
We’ve just hit a stage where we can have dinner and drinks with friends at a normal time (aka, not 4pm). We still usually feed the kids first, then they play for a bit longer and then turn a movie on. It’s fun for all of us, but it also means that we are tucked up in bed by 10pm and wake up fresh the next day. And we get the added bonus of all the kids needing a big sleep the next day! #winparenting
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
One of my old bosses once told me that “the corporation will always disappoint.” It’s kind of true; you can’t rely on a corporation to fulfil you in life. You have to take responsibility for the one life you get to live, find your passion, find your strengths, have purpose and be kind in work and at home.
What is your definition of success?
Fulfilling the goals I have for all the roles I lead. One of the best activities I’ve done recently is to map all my roles and create a goal for each of them. To help me learn where I could grow I asked some of my stakeholders, including my children, for their thoughts. It was so gorgeous and the kids gave me some gold nuggets! Each of my children responded that they wanted me to jump on the trampoline more with them and tickle them. It was all about laughter, so in all my roles I set a goal to laugh more. It feels good. The kids are great at reminding me to laugh!
What did your own mother teach you about life and motherhood?
My mother is the most resilient, practical and wise woman I know. In her own life, she’s been a stay-at-home mum (to five children under seven) and then returned to full-time work as a teacher when we were older. She commits so much to what she is most passionate about, and she is incredibly compassionate. By role modeling her life and by communicating the good times, the struggles and all that comes with life as a working mother and wife, she’s taught me that the sun always rises the next day. She’s also an incredible wife, and a constant reminder of the need to prioritise my relationship with my husband above all others.
What will we find in your handbag?
A diary, business cards, lipsticks, chocolate wrappers, kids sunglasses, kids undies, a couple of balls, my sunglasses and, if it’s not attached to my ear (via headphones!), my phone!
What are your fashion essentials – the items on high rotation in your closet?
Prue’s little list of loves:
My seven-year-old son has become an avid reader, my five year old daughter just learnt to ride her bike without training wheels and my three year old just learnt to click with a noise and all – I LOVE watching them all revel in such simple freedoms! 1 Giant Mind app – try it – a 15 minute meditation energises me as much as 4 hours’ sleep! Almond chai from Mastie (and everything else!), the Hellenic Republic cafe (and across the road from our office). I’m loving following Bec Judd. Not only are those twin boys divine but I think she is one of the most savvy entrepreneurs. She oozes kindness AND independence. An inspiring working mum. SNS nail polish – It lasts. But more importantly, the migrant woman who started the nail shop has a degree in biochemistry (but can’t get a job in Australia), as well as a 2 year old and is currently working 7 days a week to get her business off the ground. She inspires me every time I go in. We took our kids to the opening match Carlton v Collingwood, which was a really important moment in history – to realise that our daughters and sons will never remember AFL was not a professional sporting path for women. Modi Bodi underwear – I’ve had three kids, my pelvic floor is not as strong as it used to be! Fabulous Tilkah canvas print clutch.