Kate Pollard is the Co-Founder of Circle In, an Australian company committed to supporting working parents as they move through the parental leave journey and ultimately return to work.
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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I studied commerce at Monash University in Melbourne before starting my career as a graduate business consultant at Accenture, where I stayed for five years. I spent the next 10 years working in banking in senior marketing roles—firstly for CBA in Sydney before returning to Melbourne where I worked with NAB. It was at NAB I met my now business partner, Jodi Geddes.
From NAB I moved to realestate.com.au, during which time I started my family and went on parental leave twice. Coincidentally, Jodi also had her two babies around the same time as me, and over many coffees and playdates on parental leave, the idea for Circle In was born.
About two years ago we took the leap to start Circle In full-time. We set out initially to help other women take control of their parental leave journey and return to work with confidence. After our own experiences of parental leave, we were left reflecting on how we could have better managed our careers and stayed in touch with our workplaces.
After establishing our free consumer platform in October 2017, six months later we launched a fully personalised stay in touch program for organisations to manage parental leave more effectively and build supportive workplaces for all working parents across all stages of parenthood.
We’ve had so much demand for our innovative and market-leading program that we are now expanding globally!
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
With two little kids (six and four), it looks like chaos most of the time. My husband and I share the chaos of kids, work and life together.
Generally, he takes the morning shift, getting the kids ready and dropping them off at school and kinder, and I’m in charge of the evening runs. We have a nanny one day a week, and also use after-school care, and I do all of the pick-ups and school activities after that.
My workday starts early so I can get the most out of my day. I’ll head into the new Circle In office in Southbank where no two days are the same. I might meet with our amazing customers or catch up with the team. Basically, it’s my job to make sure everything is running smoothly.
From time to time I have to travel for work, flying up to Sydney for the day or just recently Jodi and I went on a fact-finding trip to the US, meeting with some of the nation’s most progressive companies and speaking to experts about the realities of being a working parent.
So day-to-day there’s a lot of variability. The only consistent bit is the kid-chaos in the morning and the kid-chaos at the end of the day.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
We partner with some of Australia’s most progressive companies who support their employees with generous paid parental leave and flexible working arrangements.
It’s also very important that our culture at Circle In truly supports working parents, and in doing that we embrace flexible and remote working. So, everyone in the team, including myself and Jodi, works flexibly and sometimes remotely—some more than others.
In the early days, it was just Jodi and I and we worked so incredibly hard to establish our business. We both have fire in our bellies and were so passionate about driving a better outcome for all working parents. Today we have grown significantly and have a team of 16. Having such a talented and dedicated team around us makes all the world of difference to how we work and enables us to focus more on driving the future growth of our business.
Jodi and I work flexibly and structure our work so that we have at least half a day every week at home with our kids which is really important to us, especially while they’re little.
What’s also incredibly important is having the flexibility to be able to go to those special events for our children, like school concerts and sports days, but also the everyday experiences like storytime at school which we just wouldn’t be able to do without flexibility. It doesn’t happen every day, but being able to do it sometimes makes a huge difference for us and our kids.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?
Everyone knows that life with kids is a daily juggle and often a struggle! The mental load that comes with kids is huge. A big one for me is dividing the domestic duties at home with my husband.
It’s so important that chores and childcare are shared equally, otherwise if one person is carrying the burden alone, that person doesn’t have much time to think about or do a good job in their work.
We literally went through all of the home duties and divided them up—for instance, my husband does all the washing and I do the folding and putting away of clothes, he manages the morning shift, while I do the pick-up and evening shift—so we’re really clear about what each of us needs to do.
As far as day-to-day workload goes, scheduling and being organised is important. We have a family calendar on the fridge so we are clear on what the kids are doing each day. School holidays can be a logistical nightmare and every day is different, so we make sure we have a whole back-up of people who can look after the kids, and we just get through it the best way we can.
Like a lot of working parents, I struggle to find the time for exercise and it always drops off the list, so my tip here is to focus on work-life integration—something that seems to be working, especially as the kids are getting a bit older.
So, rather than trying to carve out time just for me to exercise, I’ll walk to work with the dog, or on the weekend I’ll go for a bike ride with the kids. That way, I manage to keep the kids entertained, wear them out, walk the dog and still do something for myself. A great way to keep everyone happy!
5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I don’t believe in work-life balance. I actually think it doesn’t exist. Trying to have work-life balance sets people up for failure because it creates this false expectation that you can have it all and do it all at once, and I just don’t think that’s possible, particularly if you have a young family.
Instead, I would recommend deciding what is important in your life, prioritising those things, and working towards them, adapting and adjusting as you go to stay on track with what’s right for you and your family. It means that you can’t necessarily do everything all the time, but you make choices and you stay focused on the things that are most important.
6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
In terms of balance, I think the key thing is to look after yourself as best you can, ongoing. Try to carve out some time for yourself—which can be tough with little people around—however even just five minutes to enjoy a cup of tea and some solitude can be life-changing. Strive for work-life integration.
Much of my success has come from being determined and focused on what I want to do, and then putting in the hard work to get there. So being really clear on my goals and working towards them. I don’t think there are any shortcuts.
Also, from a career perspective, an important habit for success is to enjoy what you’re doing. Part of the reason for starting up Circle In was to do work I believed in and to drive a better outcome for other people, but it actually doesn’t feel like work because I’m doing something meaningful that aligns with my values.
When I had children, this became really evident: I didn’t want to spend time away from them if I wasn’t working on something I wasn’t passionate about.
7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to read, although I did manage to read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. Maybe I should take his advice on speed reading!
While I think he focuses too much on outsourcing everything, what was interesting was the way he structures his day, particularly his advice on tackling the most important tasks when you’re freshest in the day.
For me, this is first thing in the morning, knocking a few of those tasks over so you feel like you’re on top of things, and also to batching up distracting tasks like emails to address a couple of times a day rather than on demand. Adopting these methods has helped me work more effectively.
8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
Using lists to stay organised. I quite like having a plan and a to-do list, and over the years this process has become more slick. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a long to-do list, so I break it down to weekly and daily lists.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Strive for work-life integration over work-life balance. Go easy on yourself. Stop comparing yourself to others. Decide what is most important for you and your family and focus on that. Just make it work as best you can and know that you’re not going to get it right all the time.
If you found the above conversation about work-life balance helpful, be sure to check out Balance the Grind’s 42 tips for achieving & maintaining a healthy work-life balance.