The annual She Leads Conference will see women come together in Canberra on 1 June for a day of discussion, networking and action on women’s leadership. Women’s Agenda is proud to support the event again this year as Media Partner, sharing insights, advice and stories from some of the wonderful women who are speaking at the Conference. To find out more, or to register to attend, visit the She Leads website.
Summer Edwards is the founder and CEO of Lead Mama Lead, a social enterprise that empowers working mothers to unlock their potential, challenge assumptions and ultimately balance a meaningful career with a fulfilling home life.
Her motivation to drive social equality and change began in her childhood, and particularly came about as a result of her experience growing up on welfare, in a family who were challenged by a series of chronic illness and mental health issues.
“I grew up seeing very talented individuals who weren’t able to contribute within the economy,” she says. “I saw the sadness that comes with that…the feelings of self-worth that are lost when you are – through no great fault of your own – unable to contribute.”
Years later, with a successful career in international development and indigenous affairs, Edwards worked as a community development practitioner, with an interest in gender empowerment and in writing for social change. She describes how passionate she was about her career; so much so that she negotiated to return to work two days a week when her first born son was only five months old. But it was at that point that things quickly went downhill for her.
“Being part-time, very quickly I found my opportunities for growth were hampered. I became very pigeon-holed. Despite being very flexible with my workplace, they weren’t flexible with me.”
Through conversations with her peers, Edwards quickly came to realise that she wasn’t alone in her feelings of frustration and inadequacy. It dawned on her that feeing undervalued and undermined in the workplace were common experiences for women in her position.
“Once you go part-time, so often you’re just not considered a valuable, effective employee.”
Through her quest for meaning and purpose outside of her dwindling career, she established a blog about sustainable fashion. She also decided it was the right time to have her second child.
“Once I sort of knew I was escaping, I was able to untangle myself from the emotions that were attached. One of the really positive things about this decision was the freedom from all of the emotional energy that I had attached to my job.”
At the end of her maternity leave with her second child, Edwards was fortunate to be in a position where she didn’t have to return to her job. Despite her sense of relief, she was increasingly concerned by the fact that so many of her peers who were mothers were largely unhappy in their struggle to strike a balance between their career aspirations and motherhood.
“They’re either getting the flexibility they want but not the career satisfaction, or they’re getting the career satisfaction and not the flexibility.
“If you choose flexibility, you end up on the mummy track. You don’t get considered for growth opportunities. If you’re unable to get flexibility, then you have some feelings of loss – not being able to spend as much time with your child as you would like.”
Through a book club she started with her friends, and then a private Facebook discussion group, Edwards explored some of these ideas. The group quickly and easily grew to more than 400 women, and reinforced Edward’s inclination that providing a space for women to come together and share their experiences was a worthwhile pursuit. From this, Lead Mama Lead was born.
“People started having conversations very early on. It’s just women who are connecting over this idea that we should be able to have meaningful work, and meaningful time at home with our family.
“The thing I really want women to understand is that, although we are disadvantaged by a system that works against us…and can feel frustrated by a system that holds us back, we can reframe these frustrations as challenges to overcome.”
Through Lead Mama Lead, women are supported to learn and share strategies for overcoming challenges, changing perspectives and turning challenges into opportunities. Edwards says the three most beneficial concepts that she hopes to introduce are gratitude, grit and connection. She explains these concepts in further detail in a blog article called “Every Week I Fall Apart”.
“The difficult times have taught me to be grateful for the things that are good in my life. I’m not going to deny that what we’re experiencing as working mothers sucks. It’s unfair. But we can get through it if we have the energy and support we need… having a community who can support and rally around you”.
Edwards intends to continue to evolve Lead Mama Lead, and bring women from all backgrounds together in an all-inclusive and connected space, to fight for workplace reforms and challenge the oppressive nature of current workplace practices.
“I feel very passionately that the economy is a social construction, and we can transform it, in order to enable everyone to contribute within their capacities and constraints.”
If you want to hear more from Summer Edwards, register to attend the She Leads Conference on 1 June at QT Canberra here.