Fierce Leading (6) ‘It’s important to be really committed and do things really well but it’s more important to know when to go home.’

leadership image

What’s this series been for?  An alternative narrative and set of interviews during election week, a profiling of some amazing people, who also are women, who live, work and are making change around us, but I think most of all trying to start a conversation about leadership that goes beyond votes, policies, colours and traditional markers.  I hope this series will have made us think about what shapes us, what we love, what we value, what change we may be affecting around us and what support we are giving to those around us who we want to or are following.  We are the generation (so far) that is the hardest to lead – so let’s start some conversations about leadership and feed that back to the leaders and institutions that we don’t want and start thinking about how we support and create those that we do.

Introducing: Caroline Millar – Human Resources Officer & Researcher


Photo: MEP Licia Ronzulli brings daughter to work in parliament

It’s possible that I’ve described most of the leaders profiled this week to have an intensity, perhaps that’s a leadership quality across the board.  Caroline is someone whose ‘still waters’ run very deep – she can be outwardly calm, gentle, softly spoken and then reveals this razor wit, sense of humour and wonderful insight.  She contributes fascinating perspectives with real, authentic intelligence.  I really believe that what Caroline is developing in terms of her research has the potential to change the way that we think about family and work life and about that tricky balance, when she links up her work to the relevant networks and agendas down the line her insights promise a really authentic transformation for Northern Irish workplaces and then the economy as well as raise the esteem of a working generation – the question will be are we brave enough to listen to and apply her ideas?  Meet Caroline here:

What do you love about what you do and why?

It’s hard to believe that women used to have resign from work if they got married or became pregnant – and thats less than 50years ago! It’s really exciting that parents now have a statutory right to request flexible working to help them balance the challenges of being a parent and an employee, the legislation is about 10 years old now but I have come to realise that both parents and employers have a hard time thinking about work in new ways.  I think it’s an exciting, creative opportunity that could be used to the advantage of employers and employees. I am also keenly interested in the practical and emotional challenges that women face as they move through the transition from work into maternity leave and then through the transition from maternity leave back into work. I really enjoy listening to women as they imagine, define and ask for what they need to establish the work/ life balance that works for them and their family.

Can you talk about/describe a couple of personal key moments or experiences that you think shaped your interest and passion for the work and roles you currently hold?

I work in a really supportive team and my colleagues are largely female with young children so they were really sympathetic to my circumstances as I returned to work after having my children. In contrast, early in my career I managed a woman returning from maternity leave and I had no idea of the practical and emotional challenges of returning to work after maternity leave. I don’t want to make it more than it is, but I think that it is fair to say that it just takes a while to regain confidence and get your stride back after any period of extended leave and I think that organisations should make more effort to understand the issues women face during the transition so that the women can more quickly feel competent and confident in the work context, it’s called win-win!

I knew that I wanted to return to work part-time after maternity leave and I just assumed that my career would continue but when I returned 3 days per week suddenly I saw my circumstance in a new light and realised that everyone around me works full-time (30+ hours per week) and that almost all permanent job opportunities are advertised full-time.  The ‘part-time professional’ is very rare and considered ‘lucky’ and for most women ‘part-time professional career progression’ is probably not going to happen.

We all have hum drum/mundane aspects and tasks in our life and work but what are the things that you really live for? Give you a buzz? Make you get out of bed for? Spend your whole year planning for?

I love helping people to resolve work issues and problems: sexism, sectarianism, racism, bullying and harassment etc are just so wrong. I also hate shoddy HR, I think it’s very simple – if you can’t accurately read and apply a policy you are working in the wrong field.

What is the stuff in your life that you think has trained you/prepared you for the work you currently do and are developing?  

I spent a year at Agnes Scott college in Atlanta, the college strap line was ‘the world for women’, it’s amazing how a year in the midst of intense liberal feminism will change how you think.

Also I am keenly interested in current affairs, especially employment/ skills agendas and I am aware that the UK economy needs to have mothers contributing within the workplaces and the workforce (most policy discussions around childcare costs reference this). As more and more women choose to balance work and life by working fewer than 30 hours per week they are continuing to make a valuable contribution to the economy, part-time should not be tolerated like an after thought. It’s a really smart way to access skills, maintain competence and enable people to feel like they are achieving an appropriate balance.

Who are the people who inspire you and why?

My mum inspires me. She died a few years ago after a chronic illness and an extraordinary life full of quiet grace and faith. As I reflect on losing my mum early in my life I know that it’s relationships that really matters and work is just work. It’s important to be really committed and do things really well but it’s more important to know when to go home.

If all the work you do could go your way and deliver the results you dream of what do the communities you live/work in and/or care about look like?

Everyone should be able to ask for and achieve the work-life balance that works for them and then people wouldn’t have to choose between their career and the quality of their family life.

It’s important to say that I totally rate choice and I think that women can totally work full time and be great mums, or not work outside the home and be great mums.   In my context I know and have met a lot of working women and men want to achieve work-life balance (for various reasons) by working less hours but just can’t quantify what they actually want, feel intimidated by the process or personalities or just don’t get around to asking for it – which I think is a real shame.


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