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QSuper member and one of the Queensland public service’s senior women, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) Commissioner Katarina Carroll, balances an intense career, the demands of leadership, and family life.
In her role as QFES Commissioner, which sees her travelling throughout the state and often working outside business hours, Commissioner Carroll said she had found it difficult to achieve a work-life balance. But, she said, it was always a priority because she had learned balance was key to her wellbeing.
She said she felt it was important to share her experiences, so she was a sponsor and mentor to groups of women as well as keynote speaker at QSuper’s ‘She’s on Q’ events that connect and encourage Queensland women to prioritise their financial wellbeing.
“I am a senior woman in the public service and I strongly believe that I have both a responsibility and obligation to help other women,” Commissioner Carroll said.
It’s not easy. As a woman you have to make a lot of difficult choices when it comes to balancing family and work and it helps enormously to talk about it.
“I have a career spanning more than 35 years and I have learned a lot of lessons along the way.”
Those lessons, she said, include that it is never too early to plan. And, to never underestimate the value of having a support team.
“My advice is plan, but not to the extent that you’re not agile and flexible, because then you will miss the opportunities that come your way,” she said.
Commissioner Carroll nervously accepted the task of leading Brisbane’s G20 security operation in 2014, closely followed by a decision to leave behind 33 years in the police service to take on the role of relieving Commissioner in a new department. She said while both opportunities took her out of her comfort zone, she had no regrets.
“I could have said no to the G20, but because of that opportunity all of these opportunities have flowed on as a result. Even if the G20 hadn’t gone well, I would have still learned from it.
“If you do grasp an opportunity and it doesn’t go according to your plan, it will always provide you with learnings that will hold you in good stead in the future. If you are given an opportunity, just take it.”
Commissioner Carroll said she was a planner, but admitted that wasn’t the case early in her career.
“For the first 10 years or so I didn’t have a plan, but there came a point where I thought I can’t just keep going from squad to squad at the bottom of the organisation, so from then on I planned meticulously.”
She said she also learned it was important to include her husband and, later, her children in the planning.
“At the end of the day my career choices have been about what is good for my family and what is going to set my children up for the future, so we have always planned together.
“So, my advice is plan, but not to the extent that you’re not agile and flexible because then you will miss the opportunities that come your way.”
Commissioner Carroll said a lot of people thought their employer owed it to them to develop their career path, but she believed it was a shared responsibility.
She said whether it was through study and development or asking for opportunities, don’t wait for someone else to hand it to you.
“There were times during my career, early on, where I should have put my hand up and made it known that I wanted a certain role rather than expecting to be asked.
“As a leader it is impossible to know where everyone in your organisation wants to be and what they want to achieve. You can’t reach out to everyone, so my advice is don’t wait. Let your manager know what you want.”
Commissioner Carroll said women often found it hard to put their hand up for a role if they thought they didn’t tick all the boxes and that left them feeling uncomfortable.
Her advice was to simply accept that you would be extraordinarily uncomfortable in a new role, particularly at a senior level, and to embrace it.
“Do you think I was comfortable walking into the role at the QFES? It was a completely different department, people and a new culture, but I grew from the experience.
“If you challenge yourself and you don’t feel initially uncomfortable, then there’s something seriously wrong. If you accept that is the case, you will grow to make the job your own. It will be your job, your leadership style, and you will be comfortable eventually. Hang in there.”
Commissioner Carroll had her children later in her career when she was already in senior management and said she quickly realised she would need to have help.
“The biggest barrier for women in their career is the issue of having children and then trying to achieve work life balance,” she said.
“My strongest advice is that you need to recognise early on that this will be a big barrier if you want to stay in the workforce and that you cannot achieve it all on your own unless you surround yourself with support.
“So, whether you have day care like I did early on and an au pair like I have now to help me through, or whether you have to get your own parents or mother in law to help you with your kids, don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
As a leader, Commissioner Carroll acknowledges the important role employers play in looking after the health and wellbeing of their staff.
“To have a healthy organisation, you need to have discussions at a senior level that then cascade through the entire business, be that finances, health or culture – it is really an issue for leaders, no matter which way you look at it.”
She said the QFES had implemented programs targeted at encouraging staff to get health checks and think about their financial security.
“You’d be surprised how many people don’t think about their life beyond retirement. I have had a lot of women come to me who are in the last five years of their working life, worried about their retirement.
“Not everyone will be promoted, you’ll stop work to have a family and you’ll be putting less into your superannuation as a result, so you need to think of these things earlier rather than later,” she said.
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The views of the Commissioner Carroll are not necessarily the views of the QSuper Board. General information only and you should get professional advice before relying on it.
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