Interview

Maternity leave is an opportunity to reflect on your life, and career paths, says Karen-Maree Griffiths, Head of field sales and trade marketing, Allen & Unwin.

by Liz Marchant

Name: Karen-Maree Griffiths
Your age: 50
Position: Head of field sales and trade marketing, Allen & Unwin
Number of kids: 2
Age of kids: 12 and 8

What’s important to you in a role? 

Creativity, team work and an inspiring environment. I need a role that provides a sense of purpose, and professional growth. I need to feel that I can make a difference within the business and also positively impact other people’s businesses. By helping others I mean providing independent booksellers’ with opportunities to move their business forward and be sustainable. We can really make a difference to a business, and that’s very gratifying.

Can you describe what’s involved in doing your job on a day-to-day basis?

I look after the national field sales team, which is based all across the country. The team is responsible for looking after booksellers, and I also sell to independent groups. I’m selling books into store three months in advance, and working on the trade marketing activities to support the titles. Each day I work on a particular bespoke trade marketing campaign, rolling this out to our customers to help them create theatre in store. We don’t just make a poster or a bookmark, it’s a much more creative approach. I try to think of new ideas for how we can utilise the footprint space in book stores. I attend post-acquisition meetings, looking at books for the future from sales and trade marketing perspective across the broader Allen & Unwin business network.

Did you have any personal concerns or worries in relation to family or out-of-work commitments when you started combining working and parenting?

My biggest concern was the fear of missing out on my children’s time. I was also worried about trying to do it all, while also having the patience to be the best mum I can be. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. I feel it’s important to be authentic with the time you have available, and I give 100 per cent focus to my kids when I’m with them. Even if I know there’s something else I need to do immediately, I do try and switch off to everything else.

What kind of support do you have at work and outside of work?

My husband works from home, which has enabled us to manage the hours I have, especially when touring with authors. My mum and sister also live close by, and are able to do afterschool pick up.

I have an incredibly supportive CEO, and I feel I have a level of respect and support at work due to my years of experience in the industry. I can work from home one day a fortnight when not travelling.

What are your work commitments?

My role involves travelling for author tours and book signings, roadshows and literary events. Many of these are in the evenings. To be instore for morning events I generally fly very early. The nature of the publishing industry means there are a lot of after-hours activities; it’s not a traditional nine-to-five job. In this age of connectivity, and with a national team, I’m also part of numerous WhatsApp groups, sharing news, photos from events and messages, which means I’m available to the WA team until the end of their working day.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced finding a balance between work and parenting commitments?

The biggest challenge for me is missing out on things you can never get back. Like the athletics carnival, which I loved at school. I wanted to be there for my child, but I couldn’t. One of my sons made it to the regional event, and I couldn’t be there because I was on a plane. I try and be there when I can.

Catching up with friends is another challenge. If I’ve been away, the last thing I want to do is be away from my kids and husband again. It’s a continual conflict for me.

How long did you take maternity leave/time out of your career with each of your children?

For the first child I took 10 months and with my second I took the full 12 months. I took a year off the second time as my eldest son was going to start school the following year and I wanted to spend time with him while he was still at pre-school. I hurt my career taking that extra time as things changed within the business, however I don’t regret the decision at all.

What advice would you give someone before commencing maternity leave?

I would say that they should definitely not make any decisions up front about maternity leave. Keep the options wide open. You’re entitled to take 12 months, and I would encourage anyone to take it. It is a life-changing experience and it can also be career-path changing. Not only are you raising a child but you as a person may change, and have different ideas and want to go in a different direction with your career; you have time for reflection. Without the space of working all the time you do get some time to think about what you really want.

At the same time, don’t be judgemental of anyone else if they decide to go back sooner than you, such as after a month or two. I feel mums judge themselves very harshly, we don’t need others judging our decisions.

What advice would you give someone returning to their career after having kids?

Be kind to yourself, try and eat well, do not drink too much or have too much coffee. You have this knee-jerk reaction to getting back to everything; it’s very overwhelming. Try and do something for yourself. If you have a mentor at work, or a close friend for a sounding board, that’s always good.

And just remember, you are still the same talented person you were before, you just have a child now, and you should not be defined by being a mother alone.

Did you have any concerns about your role before going on maternity leave?

The first time no, I was very comfortable with my role and the arrangement, however the job changed after I returned to work. The second time it was very different. While I returned to the same business, the management was different and my options changed. I didn’t feel I had the same support and my professional world was turned upside down.

Do you find time for yourself? And if so, how and what do you use it for?

You need to do this. I try and get to the gym two or three times a week just to have a mental break, and I find that working out relaxes me. I do struggle trying to fit it in between running to football and sport with the kids.

Do you have a daily routine, and if so, what does it look like?

I usually wake up at 5am with my eight-year-old. Sometimes we’ll play a game but usually I’m cleaning up, packing bags, making lunches, and answering some emails. After making breakfast for the kids, I get ready and my husband will take them to school. When I’m in the office I’ll try and get to the gym at lunchtime, and head home by 5.45pm. Grocery shop on the way home, make dinner, get kids ready, help with homework, and I usually eat at 10pm to be in bed by 11pm.

If you could do anything differently in relation to developing your career over the years, what would it be (if anything)?  

Upon reflection I may not have stayed in my first role for so long. The role evolved over the 21 years and I loved what I was doing. I would have taken more credit for what I was doing, instead of referring to it as ‘the team’. I feel now I’m much more confident in what I do, and I don’t stand for rudeness or being put in uncomfortable positions anymore, I’ll call people out if they’re being disrespectful to myself or a colleague, without fear of the consequences to my career.