CEOs / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Pam Barker, CEO of Yfoundations

Pam Barker is the CEO of Yfoundations, the NSW peak body representing children and young people at risk of and experiencing homelessness.

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

I started my career as a hairdresser. Over time, I transitioned into finance, where I managed several bank branches. Eventually, I was offered a role in the not for profit sector and I never looked back.

Throughout my career, I have worked on the frontline providing support to vulnerable children and young people.

My role at Open Doors Youth Service saw more than 2,000 LGBTIQA + young people supported annually in the areas of homelessness, drug and alcohol intervention, mental health and sexual health as well as family preservation and inclusivity training. Over the years, I have learnt a lot about young people and their ability to be resilient and advocate for themselves.

In my current role as CEO of Yfoundations, I work to achieve better long-term outcomes for children and young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness – especially those in out-of-home care, LGBTIQA+ and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and young people.

Yfoundations represents children and young people experiencing homelessness, and the services that support them. Yfoundations aims to create a future without youth homelessness by providing a voice for children and young people at risk. Youth homelessness is an all-of-community issue, one we all have a role to play in ending.

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

My flexible work routine starts with childcare drop off. I have an 18-month-old child. Then it’s coffee, checking emails and then diving into meetings. I can’t start a day without a really good coffee, and I value supporting local businesses.

Next up, I might be meeting with government officials to discuss issues affecting young people and the services that support them. After a big morning of meetings, I often catch up with my team to talk about projects we are working on and any reactive issues we might need to address and gain a fast outcome.

After that, it might be a meeting with the minister to discuss sector-wide initiatives or holding a consultation with young people or Specialist Homelessness Services to gain a better understanding of how to address an issue related to youth homelessness. 

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

At Yfoundations, we are lucky to be able to work remotely, and have adjusted to WFH life well since the pandemic, allowing us to advocate for our members and young people from wherever we are in Australia.

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

Work-life balance is extremely difficult to achieve in the current covid climate. I try my best to achieve balance by having my office in a separate area/room of the house.

When I’m finished for the day, I take pride in the ritual of transition: leaving my phone in the office, shutting the door and trying not to go back in. I will take a shower and put on some comfy home clothing, signalling to my mind and body that work is done.

Some days, I’ll break things up by going for a run at lunch, forcing me to take a break. If I don’t do this, I can easily fall into the habit of working while eating my lunch, which means I don’t take a break at all – not good for your mental health.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

A clear head means more work getting done. This is important for me since there is essentially an endless list of work, which becomes hard to stay on top of.

To support my mind, I have adopted the practice of gratitude journaling. We deal with such tough topics at Yfoundations that it’s important to keep a growth mindset and be solutions focused.

I also have started to use a sit-stand desk which I use throughout the day. It also helps to make sure surfaces are always clear and clean and everything has its place. This has helped me remain focused and kept my mind clear.

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

Yfoundations has developed its own podcast, Young and Homeless, where we interview experts, people with lived experiences of homelessness, and influencers in the homelessness space.

The podcast is designed to help people better understand the support that young people can access, the issues young people face, and the research that can help us improve the lives of homeless young people and end youth homelessness.

Another two amazing podcasts I love are Dr. Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead series. I also listen a lot to the teachings of Alan Watts and books by Dan Siegel.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I can’t live without my OneNote, note-taking application. I use this for all my professional note-taking. I am also trying to decrease my environmental impact.

Insight Timer is an amazing mindfulness app that supports me to keep a clear mind and Down Dog app allows you to do yoga at home, supporting my mental health and physical wellbeing. Finally, Spotify, because I love music – it gets me through all life’s moments. Without music, I’d feel like a fish without water.

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

Alan Watts, if he was alive. He had a deep perspective on life and work, including how we perceive the world and the meaning we place on the things that don’t matter.

I would be interested in his perspective on the current way we work and the common mistake of forgetting that there is more to us than our jobs.

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

Do a job you love. A job where you wake up each day and never need to question why you’re doing it.

Most of us need to work to live a life we desire, so why not do work that makes a meaningful difference to another’s life and gives you a sense of purpose and belonging? This, in itself, will help you to live a full, balanced and happy life.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.