“I see myself as a change-maker.” Meet the mentee opening her own doors

“I see myself as a change-maker.” Meet the mentee opening her own doors

When you’ve got your family responsibilities sitting on one side of the scale and your work obligations on the other, the two are rarely evenly balanced. A late night deadline often cuts into family dinner time, or an unrelenting toddler can mean you’re late for a morning meeting – again. These two worlds are equally important for many women and finding a way to do both well often means making sacrifices.

For Wollongong mentee Carly Burns, these sacrifices ended up working in her favour. By preferencing the needs of her family, she got a taste for a variety of different industries and, as a result, she has become a jack of all trades.

Trying new things

“I am a marketing generalist with skills spanning, web and graphic design, user experience and interface design, digital and traditional communications, social media management, event management, marketing strategy, creative direction and operations. Refining one of these skills may be beneficial for me, but I can’t decide which field I love the most,” she says.

While having expertise in one particular area is often a great way to get into a specialised role, having a variety of experience also makes you an attractive candidate to a potential employer because you can’t teach the wisdom that comes with varied experiences.

On her 18th birthday, Carly started working in the fast-paced world of events and hospitality, but four years later she fell pregnant with her first child, so she needed to opt for a career that was a little more family friendly.

“I needed a position that would allow me to build a career while still being adequately present for my child. I found a position working for Westfield as the Customer Service Team Leader. I was fortunate enough to have a supportive team who introduced me to the retail sector, corporate events and structures, operations and marketing,” she says.

She spent five years in this sector and completed a Diploma of Marketing to upskill herself, but it soon became clear that the only way to progress was to move from regional Wollongong into one of the major cities. Carly made the choice that moving her young family didn’t make sense at this stage, so instead she decided to look for another job in the area.

With a new industry came a new reason to upskill. She studied a Bachelor of Design (Communications) online while also working full-time and caring for her family (she had more than one baby at this point). 

“Studying while working allowed me to apply my learning to a real world environment, and the creative skills I was gaining during my studies were more and more appreciated by my employers.”

“I was also curious to understand how to break the glass ceiling without alienating those around you.”

She tried her hand in other fields: health insurance, a health informatics IT company and a particularly “thrilling and exciting” role in the fast-paced world of entertainment. But she came up against the same problems – either the hours weren’t suitable for a working mother or career progression opportunities would have required her to uproot her family. Eventually she landed the perfect, local role where she works today. Now, she’s a research promotions officer at the University of Wollongong.

“I’ve been here for almost three years and can say I still learn new things every day. I work on ways to communicate complex research information in a manner the general population can consume.”

Climbing the ladder

While her varied career path has eventually got her to a place where she’s happy, a consequence of starting in new industries often is that it can be hard to climb the ladder.

“I have always found moving up in organisations challenging. Despite upskilling myself, continually absorbing new knowledge and building internal networks, I’ve always struggled getting myself to the next level within the same company,” she says.

Carly is a creative thinker and someone who enjoys finding solutions to her own problems, but she still very much sees the value in getting an outside perspective. This is where Mentor Walks was able to add value for Carly. 

Her mentor Amy Harper, who is one of the Managing Partners at Kells Lawyers, President of the Illawarra Business Chamber and Director of Destination Wollongong, was, as Carly says, a “fantastic match” for her.

“I was also curious to understand how to break the glass ceiling without alienating those around you, and curious about how to get people to take you seriously when you look younger or ‘different’ from general office standards.”

Amy and Carly were able to find a lot of common ground. As they’re both working mothers and have experienced similar hurdles. Like many of us, Carly sometimes finds networking difficult, but Amy said its often the key to many of our work-related issues.

“The best advice Amy gave me was to make opportunities for myself. If a workplace isn’t providing you with a leg up to the next stage, then you need to make the change for yourself. You could try to stick it out, but chances are you’ll be in the same place you were years before. If you want change, make it. Open your own doors.

“She also said you need to align with people who are going to support your growth. Find people with similar goals, passions and attributes, and work to support each other. She suggested multiple local business connections groups which she said were very beneficial to her own personal and business growth.”

Another thing Carly was seeking advice on was how to share her ideas effectively. With a background in user experience, Carly is always looking for tweaks she can implement to make things run smoother.

“But some people just want to keep things as they are; they’re scared of change, and I see myself as a change-maker. It doesn’t always make for the smoothest of work environments. I was keen to understand how to convey ideas without stepping on any toes, while still providing myself opportunities to progress my career, and remain engaged.”

Amy’s advice on this was to find allies within the organisation who share Carly’s vision.

“These people can help get your ideas through the various chains of approval that are often required. Once again, it’s about finding the right team, manager or company that aligns with your own work ethos.”

Moving forward

Since her walk, Carly has made an effort to put herself out there more by networking and trying to make time for her existing connections.

“I’ve also started some side work for myself with my design and communications skills, and professionally have been taking a look at opportunities to advance my career in my own organisation – including alternative positions and secondment opportunities – as a means to make new connections and gain more skills.

“I definitely walked away from our session feeling a little more inspired and invigorated, and ready to take on some new challenges. It gave me a bit of a wake-up call.”

Mentoring, Carly says, allows you to understand your own journey a little better by looking at, and learning from, the path someone else has taken.

“They also act as a bit of a cheerleader. They give you the confidence boost you need to get yourself moving, but they also keep you accountable for those actions.”

Have you got a burning questions for one of our mentors? Then book into the next Wollongong walk on Wednesday the 11th of March for International Women’s Day.

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