The most powerful thing a boss can be | Women's Agenda

The most powerful thing a boss can be

Yesterday Marina Go, the chief executive of Private Media, the company that publishes Women’s Agenda, announced her resignation. Travelling to Melbourne for two days every week for over a year has taken a toll; she’s decided it’s not viable for her, or her family, for her to continue. She will take up a Sydney-based role and I understand that.

Personally, and selfishly, it’s disappointing because she’s a terrific boss to work for. She also embodies everything that Women’s Agenda stands for; she openly and warmly celebrates the success of women which she recognises comes in many shapes and sizes. As I processed the news yesterday afternoon I reflected on how I had come to work with her and my sincere gratitude for that chance.

One Saturday evening in April last year I was home alone, with my two little girls – one whom was five- months, the other almost 3, tucked up in bed. To be perfectly honest I was going a bit mad. My husband had gone away for the night to a wedding we couldn’t both attend. It was three hours away, we didn’t have any babysitters there and, understandably, it wasn’t to be a child-friendly celebration. Because it was my husband’s school friend getting married it made sense for him to go.

Despite knowing this, even the night before we had been seriously contemplating driving there all together. The fact six hours in the car with a baby and a toddler and a night in a cheap motel seemed even remotely reasonable sheds some light on where my head was at. Fortunately common sense prevailed and I stayed home with the girls.

So there I was, sitting on the couch, watching something terrible on TV, flicking through my phone, feeling a little bit lost in a world of nappies, feeds and domestic chaos, when I got a private message through Twitter from Marina. We’d had a couple of social media conversations previously but we’d never met. She asked if I would meet her for a coffee and we set a date for the following week. I couldn’t believe it.

When my husband returned the next morning I was bursting to tell him about the unexpected fleck of excitement that had touched my Saturday night. Anyone who has spent an extended time out of work on maternity leave is likely to appreciate the irrational, but seemingly inevitable, erosion in confidence some women experience during it. I certainly did and because of that even being asked for coffee was a welcome boost.

If by chance, I explained to my husband, Marina wanted to talk to me about Women’s Agenda I’d be beside myself. She did and I was. The editor, Angela Priestley, was having a baby and taking maternity leave later in the year and they wanted someone to fill in for some time. From the outset, over that very first coffee, Marina said she knew with two small kids childcare would be tricky so we could work the role and my hours around that.

In an ideal world, having two small children wouldn’t preclude any candidate from being considered for a job, but in the real world, we know it often is. It’s why being told, upfront, it was not going to be a problem and would be happily accommodated was, in my mind, a cause for celebration in itself.

When I took the job it became clear it wasn’t simply lip-service. Because of that I can say with complete sincerity I haven’t wasted an ounce of energy at work, or at home, worrying if my commitment at work has ever been questioned because of my family life. Having a boss or a manager who has worked while having small children, makes working with small children less complicated. And, in my experience, well-supported.

Last year I wrote about the day when my home life made me cry at work. We’d had a terrible night up with our baby and once I had the day’s newsletter sorted I burst into tears at my desk. Apart from being exhausted I was also embarrassed. Marina immediately put me at ease; she hugged me, she listened to me explain why it felt like our daughter was miserable, she talked to me about days she’d felt like that when her sons were still little and sent me home to get some sleep. Over the weekend she sent me a text checking to see how I was and reminded me that hiccups are a part of life, they happen and they will continue to happen, and we just do what we can. She also emphasised that ultimately our families always come first. I wondered then, and now, how many managers and bosses treat their staff that way?

It reminded me that the most powerful thing a boss can ever be is human. To be caring, to accept and admit when things go wrong, and to treat their team members like humans with lives rather than cogs with jobs. It is why yesterday when Marina explained that she no longer wants to commit to nights away from her family every week, I understood. The cost of having a very human boss is that they will make very human choices.

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