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In Conversation with Caroline: Managing a Career with 3 Kids & no Village!

Today, I had the pleasure of catching up with Caroline, National Facilitator of Travel & Tourism for Flight Centre Travel Academy. Caroline's journey from the UK to Australia with her Kiwi husband and three kids exemplifies the determination and resilience of women who do whatever it takes to succeed. They say it takes a village, but what happens when you don't have one? Caroline shared how she took a step back while her kids were very young—though "stepping back" still meant running her own business! Despite this pause in her career, Caroline has managed to get back on track and is now soaring to new heights!


Thank you so much, Caroline, for sharing your story.


Tell us a bit about you, what's the story?

I'm originally from the UK and have a big family with 4 siblings back there, but I met and fell in love with a Kiwi in London, and 10 years later, I found myself married, pregnant with our first child Zach, and moving to New Zealand! Safe to say I don’t do things by halves. Fast forward a few years, our second son Blake was born in Melbourne, and then our daughter Caitlin arrived in Sydney 8 years ago. Along with creating a beautiful, sometimes a little crazy family, I’ve worked in the Travel & Tourism Industry for the past 26 years.


Can you tell us about about your career so far?

I’ve held Sales and Business Development roles for Qantas, American Express, and a few cruise lines. The beauty of my industry allowed me to step away from the corporate ladder when my children were young and run my own travel agency business from home.

Once all three children were back at school, I landed my dream role as the Aussie Specialist Trainer for Tourism Australia, the national tourist office for Australia. Here, I worked with some of the most talented marketing and tourism professionals. My role involved training the Australian Travel Trade, including travel to visit our accommodation and experience providers. A typical day might include a Balloon ride at dawn or an Aboriginal-led tour through ancient rainforest. I also worked hard with the Distribution Team, achieving a strong following for campaigns like Holiday Here This Year, post-Bush fires and Covid-19. During this time, I began my sustainability journey and earned a certificate in Sustainable Tourism Management with the Global Sustainability Tourism Council (GSTC).


Currently, I share my passion for Sustainability and the Travel & Tourism Industry with future stars as the National Facilitator of Travel & Tourism for Flight Centre Travel Academy. As the subject lead of Sustainable Tourism, I’m thrilled to see our students’ passion for protecting travel destinations. I guide students studying Travel and Tourism at the tertiary level, educating them, developing course content, and grading their work.


I am also about to begin volunteering as an Education Coordinator for Sea Shepherd! I am teaching young people about the challenges our marine life faces daily.





How do you manage to balance your career with motherhood?

The key for me is to always remain flexible. We've managed so many situations without physical support from family, as mine are in the UK and my husband Cam's are in New Zealand and Perth. Often, either my husband or I have to travel for work, so sometimes it feels like we’re single parents. The solution for me was that I put my career on the back burner for about 8 years so that I could be present with a young family. I’ve stepped back in over the past 4 years, but I still make choices on job roles based on their impact on our family. At the end of the day, without family, it’s not worth it, so you have to weigh up your priorities.


I’m currently lucky to be remote-based for a flexible company. I work 40 hours a week, but there’s flexibility around school runs or basketball/gymnastics/rugby drop-offs. I can also work when the kids are home sick, pop a wash on, or start a bit earlier to do some cleaning at lunchtime so it makes a big difference. Though we are always on the go, me and the kids always prioritise reading time and sports (even though the later can feel like I have a second job as a taxi driver!)


Outsourcing is something I still struggle with; it feels silly to want to do everything, but it can be hard to let go. I still make all our meals due to allergies and wanting to know what’s in our food, but we own a one-bedroom cottage we have listed on Airbnb, and I’ve finally outsourced the cleaning for this! We have a Maths and English tutor for our Year 8 son because we didn’t have the brainpower or time to take this on ourselves. So my advice would be don’t be afraid to outsource!


Travel and experiences are a must for us as a family. We work hard but play hard, camping in remote locations with minimal supplies for fun. It’s amazing how much we connect as a family in those situations. I try not to overthink things. I’ve regularly traveled globally with the kids from as young as 3 months old. Yes, it’s tiring, but it’s always worth it.


What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an executive working mother, and how have you overcome them?

Saying no to a dream role and learning not to resent the decision was big for me. I’m still overcoming this and trying to remind myself that I’m not too old to revisit this role in a few years.


Have you ever faced discrimination or bias in the workplace because of being a mother?

I haven’t experienced discrimination as such, but many people in my industry have chosen not to be parents, maybe it’s the need to constantly travel that put them off.  Sometimes it can be tricky managing my own guilt (and maybe fomo) when I have to say no to out of hours events that they can all get to.


How do you think the professional environment for working mothers has changed over the years?

More roles having the option of flexi-hours, hybrid and remote working has made things much easier for working mothers, I just wish all companies would recognise the talent they miss out on when they do not adapt their environment to include these options.


What advice would you give other working mothers?

One on one time with each parent and each child has been crucial for us, whether it’s a night in a hotel and horse riding with my daughter, or catching a basketball game and dinner or a weekend away Mountain Biking in Thredbo with one of my sons.  Cam and I take turns and try and do this with each of the kids once a year.  Quality time with just the focus on them.  


Also, every family is different, and you must always do what is best for you and yours. Don’t be afraid to take a step back or move if needed, I believe we are all on a path and things always happen for a reason.  In saying that take control of your path where you can but always remain flexible.


And how do you take care of your personal well-being and mental health amidst the pressures of work and motherhood?

Always, always prioritise your own health.  I get up at 5am daily in the week to drag myself out for a walk or the gym and this does mean I am in bed by 9.30pm each night. But if I don’t exercise, I am grumpy and feel ill.  A happy healthy Mum is a much happier family.


Can you share an instance where you felt your work-life balance was significantly disrupted? What caused it, and how did you work through it?

Often – weekly sometimes monthly I’ll have a moment of panic.  I take a step back, make sure I get an hour or 2 aside for a long walk by the ocean and reset.  Just breathe.


What would be your 1 piece of advice to other working mums about to embark on their return-to-work journey?

Always remember who you are and your passions.  You will find a way to make it work. There will be tears but also laughs and wonderful moments.  Remember you spend such a big time at work too, if you are not happy find a way to change jobs and find an employer that is flexible and just gets that family is a priority. Know that you can’t fully control your life, but you can make lots of little steps to make it easier.

 

Don’t forget to get out in nature and breathe!




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