The Leap Stories #11: Prue Gilbert

For many of you reading this series, the idea of taking a leap might be largely influenced by wanting to create a life that works for your family aspirations – particularly about having kids, and trying to create that elusive work/life balance. It’s an aspiration that ten years in to motherhood I’m still working on daily. So this leap story by human rights activist Prue Gilbert, is a particularly poignant one for me for a whole bunch of reasons.

Let’s start by taking a quick look at what it means to be a working woman in Australia today:

If ever you doubted the call to feminism, the call for gender equality, the call to rid our society of deeply ingrained gender biases, I hope these statistics will give you some reason to squash those doubts. We need women and men alike to make brave leaps and support feminism for the betterment of our society as a whole. (See heforshe.org for more.)

And that’s why this leap story is so important. A new digital platform, gracepapers.com.au which launched in May 2015 has been designed to help potential, expectant and new parents navigate their careers through the transition into parenthood. The founders of Grace Papers believe that pregnancy should be an event in a woman’s career, and not be the end of it. And it that it requires both men and women standing together to make that happen. This is not just a women’s issue. Feminism and gender equality is human rights issue for us all to tackle together. Bloody brilliant.

Grace Papers was created by an incredible lady I met over 25 years ago, Prue Gilbert. Prue’s dad owned a kids shoe shop which I worked in as a teenager. At that time we didn’t really have much in common, save we both wore t-bar sandals to our very different schools in very different parts of Melbourne. So when my mum (who now owns that shoe shop and Prue gets her kids shoes from) messaged me saying ‘I think you should really check out what Prue is doing’ I was a intrigued.

Turns out when Prue I reconnected over a very strong coffee (Prue had just given birth to her third, gorgeous but non-sleeping through the night child), she was on the cusp of winning a Human Rights Award for her consulting work to corporates to have better conversations and policies around parental leave and return to work scenarios. She had made the leap from corporate lawyer, to consultant (while starting a family), to digital entrepreneur with her husband Ben, joining the team. In launching gracepapers.com.au now any woman needing assistance to navigate pregnancy can access it with a few clicks.

Prue and Ben are passionately committed to changing the working landscape for Australian working parents. And I stand with them. I hope you enjoy this leap story, and would love to hear your thoughts and experiences about working families in the comments below.

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The Sydney Morning Herald Business 25/08/2011 picture Justin McManus. Business Portrait Prue Gilbert.

Prue Gilbert photographed by Justin McManus/Fairfax Syndication.

What did you want to be when you grew up and why?

I wanted to be a News Reporter. I actually did work experience at Channel 7 with Jennifer Keyte and loved it. When I was a bit younger, 13 maybe, I thought I wanted to be a pediatrician… looking back, what 13 year old wants that?

What did/do you study?

I studied Arts/Law at Melbourne University and majored in French. I also did my final subject at La Sorbonne in Paris!

What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?

Deciding as a couple that both Ben (my husband) and I would work in the business together. It was scary because we needed to back ourselves that we could make it all work. At this time we had three children who were 4, 3 and 6 months. Believing we could build a digital platform that would scale our capacity to empower working mothers on mass was a big leap.


Hear from Prue about why she started gracepapers.com.au

What were you doing before you made your leap?

Ben was working full time and I had just had my third, Freddy. I was also consulting businesses and coaching women on pregnancy transitions in the workforce.

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Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?

Growing up, one of the greatest lessons came from my father who let me work in a children’s shoe shop when I was growing up. What that taught me about parents and children, and appreciating how important it was for a new parent to fit their child’s first pair of shoes, has stuck with me.

Also, Malcolm Keffe who was the Chief Operations Officer at Corporate Express where I was General Counsel. Malcolm taught me how to read the play, which still serves me well. Also, he taught me that the customer is always right; even when you think they are wrong.

In terms of starting up Grace Papers, Dad and Ben. Both of them saw the passion I had and could see the size of the oppourtunity and the impact we could have. So, 4 years ago they were the ones saying you need to figure out how you can scale this; and we will help you.

Lastly, Rachael McLaughlin, who set me on my spiritual path. Through her introducing me to Moira, my current spiritual director, I have been equipped with the skills, attitude and faith to always find a way to fly myself into freedom.

What did you have in place before you made the leap?

We had an existing business but I was acting as a sole trader and was really the life and blood of the business. Ben and I were stuck in a bit of a tricky situation as Ben’s work required him to travel often and we also wanted to reflect our own values in being around for our children; who at the time were all under 4.5. Scaling was not really an option at that stage. But – I was doing work that I was absolutely passionate about and was helping others so I felt it was incredibly rewarding.

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What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?

I think this was more a sense of responsibility that dawned on us. We knew that the impact of my coaching and services was profound and as soon as we realised there was a way to scale the business we actually felt there was a sense of responsibility to do that for women and business.

How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?

I take a lot from my strong spiritual practice. When I am ever questioning my faith, and whether we should be doing what we are doing, I ask the universe to send me signs – which so far have been far greater than what I have been expecting.

Grace Papers empowers women  with proven support strategies through pregnancy and parental leave, to return to work with confidence.

Hit up gracepapers.com.au to access programs designed to help you return to work confidently, flexibly and productively.

What other leaps have you made in the past?

I left a toxic team in a law firm without another job to go to. I did find that as soon as I made space in my life for good things to enter I was offered a position that took me down a career path that I had never envisaged, and taught me so much about business in the real world. It also gave me access to working with a team of executives I continue to admire and who mentored me.

How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap? 1 being sad, 10 being rad.

10 definitely. Even though I would like someone to start a business that can give me more energy! Sometimes Ben and I look at each other and say ‘What were we thinking going into start up mode with three kids under 4 and a half’… especially as a couple who value sleep.

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Prue, Ben and their gorgeous children Fitzwilliam, Mary-Jane and Freddy, photographed by Fiona Storey.

What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?

Work doesn’t feel like work – it is a part of our lives that we love.

What’s the biggest downside to making the leap?

Work doesn’t feel like work so you never (want to) turn off. The upside is also the downside in that way.

What might be your next leap?

That’s a secret! Watch this space.

What are your favourite words to live by?

There is always a way to fly into freedom… You just have to find it.

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Who do you admire who also made the leap?

First and foremost my husband. Also, Nat and Steve Warner (co-founders of Greene Street Juice).

A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?

Make sure your dreams are backed up with a sound strategy and mostly, a great support network of people who know when to listen, know when to offer advice, know when to intervene and know when you just need a hug and a good night’s sleep.

Right now I’m:

Contemplating all that we have achieved so far in the context of all that we still can achieve.

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Prue’s leap has far reaching implications for us all. I’m so excited she was courageous enough to take it.

For more information check out Prue’s blog and resources over at gracepapers.com.au for more insights and helpful tips. And please forward the web address onto any women you know who might need to know their rights about parental leave in Australia, and someone in their corner to avoid pregnancy discrimination, assistance with achieving pay equity and flexible return to work options.

Kylie x

Also visit:
:: Workplace Gender Equality Agency: Fact sheets and statistics
:: Male Champions of Change
:: Gender Stereotyping Busting Ads
:: Speaking While Female: Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on Why Women Stay Quiet at Work
:: United Nations Women #HeForShe campaign

  1. Oh Kylie and Prue, I LOVED this interview. So much excellent advice. I loved the part about making sure dreams are backed up with a solid strategy. Dreams + planning = awesomeness! Emma xx

    Reply

  2. Well Done Prue!
    You’ve come a long way since I last saw you in Newman days.

    I have just had my first baby 3 months ago, and have been back at work 2 short mornings a week. A real dilemma wanting to be full time mum, and not losing work momentum.

    Cheers, Eliza Barry 🙂

    Reply

  3. […] activists – Lars Einar Engström, a self confessed recovering sexist from Sweden, and Prue Gilbert, a lawyer, tech entrepeneur and human rights award winner from Australia – to talk about how […]

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