Interviews / PR & Communications

Balancing the Grind with Dominique Mitchell, Campaign Communications Manager at UNSW Philanthropy

Dominique Mitchell is the Campaign Communications Manager at UNSW Philanthropy, where is she is overseeing the communications to cultivate a global audience of alumni and donors.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

While my career hasn’t exactly been linear, the unifying themes have been my desire to make a social difference and appetite for the next challenge.

I started out in policy-making in health and the human services, which led to an exciting internship at just 24 with the EU Commission’s Health Directorate in Brussels.

I loved the dynamism of Brussels – a multilingual hub generating such big decisions – so returned after finishing my masters and headed up communications for a federation of trade unions across 38 countries.

The experiences were the kind you breeze through in your late 20s only to wake up one day like, ‘say wha’?’ – from talking at EU Parliament hearings or a conference in Baku, to being locked in a room with EU Commission security to read trade deal texts.

In Sydney life since, I’ve mostly worked in communications management for NSW Government, and have led a number of historic announcements.

While I truly believe in public sector values that see us flourishing through diversity and providing services that enable everyone to realise their potential, I recently moved on to keep current in digital marketing and adaptable to different work cultures.

I’m now with UNSW Philanthropy, overseeing communications to cultivate a global audience of alumni and donors. It’s an exciting space, as there’s potential to shape the relatively fresh culture of philanthropy within Australian universities, which will be vital as they bounce back from the financial hit of COVID-19.

I’ve just led my team in rapidly launching a public philanthropic campaign for UNSW’s critical research and student aid initiatives in response to the pandemic. The workload has been unrelenting, but I’m lucky to be able to play a part in society’s recovery.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I wish I were one of those people with a typical day! For me, it’s back-to-back meetings and moving goalposts most days, which I’ve no doubt would be familiar to so many communicators contending with reactive, crisis-driven environments right now.

A lot of heart and soul – especially from our writers – goes into developing communications outputs that quickly become redundant or change beyond recognition, so managing people – and spirits – takes up a fair bit of my days.

Communications is a great function for those who enjoy variability, exposure to the full breadth of an organisation and its priorities, a fast pace and creative challenges. But these same characteristics have also caused many communications professionals across different sectors to feel wearied of late.

In 12 months, I’ve been given a day’s notice to take up a new workplace and team to communicate the Premier’s election announcement to create a new government department, I’ve dedicated half my team to bushfire recovery communications, and I’ve become a subject matter expert in COVID-19 content. Hit me with the next curveball!

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I am fairly new to UNSW so understandably, have to earn my stripes to see the kind of flexibility I enjoyed in government. The NSW Public Service Commission’s job share initiatives and commitment to make all public sector jobs flexible on the basis of ‘if not, why not?’ represent fantastic progress towards facilitating female leadership, and multi-talented, well-rounded staff.

Owing to COVID-19 restrictions, we’ve just hit the two-month remote working milestone, and like all things, I think it should be enjoyed in moderation. I would love to see a legacy of this period carry over to our return to the workplace, but I’m also looking forward to proper, old-fashioned teamwork.

For me, communications is an exercise in empathy and without peers to sound out and talk through ideas, I’m never quite as satisfied with the end product. I also find the persistent beeping on Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp, SMS and email more of a hindrance than a help.

They all sort of coexist without a logic and so many people simultaneously try to reach you through all of the above. I sometimes envy people who only ever knew the fax.

I don’t know if I’d say I’ve achieved success in life, but I can confidently say I’ve come to terms with my core values, and they dictate for whom, how and on what I work.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Work-life balance is a bit like the Holy Grail, isn’t it? Ideally, it represents a harmony between paid work and other pursuits, but that’s certainly easier said than done. And I think that’s universal – whether you carry the hefty responsibilities that come with a C-suite gig, you’re someone in precarious work whose ‘time off’ might be dominated by financial stress, or a middle manager being asked to do more with less.

But no matter the job, it’s just commonsense that we all need the freedom to completely ‘switch off’ and enjoy family, friends, health, creativity, learning and leisure undisturbed.

One way to achieve that is to think about the pillars of your identity – without a doubt there are things that define you beyond your job. Your job might not even be one of them!

Reminding yourself of that makes it more compelling to carve out dedicated time for the activities that converge to make unique, wonderful you.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

I don’t know if I’d say I’ve achieved success in life, but I can confidently say I’ve come to terms with my core values, and they dictate for whom, how and on what I work.

By that, I don’t mean to say we should march around professing our beliefs, or only work alongside people like ourselves. That would be so dull! But I do think work always feels a bit easier and more enjoyable and meaningful when it aligns to the things we hold important and care about. For me, they relate to learning and fairness and so far, I like to think my work history reflects those.

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6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

My favourite news sources – great for anyone pressed for time – are Schwartz Media’s 7AM and The New York Times’ The Daily. In as little as 15 minutes, both podcasts cover the daily news through gripping storytelling. They are such a welcome relief from the crappy click-bait coming at us from all sides!

And while we’re all re-evaluating the status quo under lockdown, I’d highly recommend Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and Talking to My Daughter by Yanis Varoufakis – two thought-provoking reads that interrogate the human habits and systems we take for granted that many are rethinking right now.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

I’ve always felt that ‘if you can do it, why not do it?’ so I’m that person who over-commits, constantly arrives late and runs out of petrol mid-street.

These COVID-19 social restrictions have really forced me to stay put but until recently I’ve never really spent much time at home, instead opting to fill my time with language and dance courses, arts and cultural events and friends.

It’s too easy to opt out if left to your own decision-making at the end of a hard day, so I say just set and forget, then relish in that ‘I’m so glad I did it’ feeling.

I’m also an old-school paper diarist. I like nice pens, and I like committing daily goals to paper. I find that when you do that, they stick. And then you can enjoy that cathartic process of ticking off goals achieved.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I’d like to hear more from Sally McManus, the first female secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). She’s so shamelessly honest about ambition, her strengths, and the convictions with which she leads a whole movement – traits we don’t necessarily encourage in female leaders but which we can all benefit from seeing more of.

I’d find Sally McManus an interesting study in work-life balance because she’s essentially the chief advocate for fair and decent work that can enable health and wellbeing in personal life.

At the same time, it must be incredibly challenging for an activist to achieve a balance when the cause is synonymous with their belief system. Also, I imagine that the awareness of your relative privilege compared to the many people depending on your work must make those boundaries even harder to impose.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Just last week, at a fascinating event hosted by our UNSW Alumni & Engagement team, I heard – for the first time – the Daoist tale of the drunken man who falls uninjured from the moving cart.

Timothy O’Leary, a philosopher and Head of School at UNSW relayed this story to illustrate how the Daoist tradition might help us through this pandemic – namely by resisting attachment to externalities, and just ‘rolling with the punches’. I loved it. It’s like an instant pressure valve!

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.