• Kat Penno

Transitioning from career to parenthood and beyond! By Kat Penno

Is it just me, or did I miss an important memo?

Why don't we talk more openly about all the transition-hoods of life? How hard, how glorious and how emotionally challenging they can be. And why don't we support them better?

I am querying about more than the obvious physical transitions of childhood/adolescents, then 'mid-life' crisis, which is a term incorrectly stigmatized and popularized by Hollywood (much like hearing aids and hearing health care) and then senior-hood.

What about the transitions of reaching a significant age, e.g. 30, 40, 50, 60, 70; getting married; becoming a parent; leaving university; changing job/losing your job; becoming ill or disabled; being bereaved; becoming a carer for elderly/family members and retiring. Is it all too much to know these transitions at once?


I wasn't really aware of the toll and changes that parenthood would take on me. The balancing act is real. I had zero idea of how it would go and it's crazy to think, that even though I have incredible role models (and support!!) in my life, my mother, my younger sister, my cousin and aunties and my dear friends; and some colleagues (unbeknownst to them), paving strong paths for me, this wasn't quite enough. It's like suffering in solitude when this transition to parenthood occurs. Let alone the societal expectations and cultures of workplaces. Bare with me as I go down these rabbit holes.

From university to career

It saddens me to hear recounts from colleagues of the lack of support they receive from their place of work. Did you know that frontline (hearing) healthcare roles are female dominated? Did you know that it's usually the female that takes time out of their career to take care of elderly parents, children that require extra support or those that become disabled in their family or network?

One might argue that females are more nurturing. Have we stopped to consider the societal undercurrent of expectations and the cultural expectations that run longer and deeper than I can recount in history (and I won't, but we can certainly discuss this over beverages one day if you like). I believe we can liken this to the stigma of hearing aids and hearing loss. Again, a discussion I enjoy hearing many perspectives about. But this expectation runs deep and long, and oddly enough, it's quite persistent from managers, work places and society despite the revolutions that have occurred (industrial and digital).

I find it weird/hard/mind boggling to think that workplaces that have a female dominated workforce don't support us wholly. The mental juggle is real.

In a way, graduating from my Masters course and getting my first intern role was a bit like this. A real shock to the system, despite having a pretty great career prior to undertaking my Masters as a mid-twenty year old student.

I could describe it as an uncomfortable mismatch of my expectations, the lack of support from the work place and the industry as a whole. Don't get me wrong, one of my strongest qualities is adaptability and reasoning. I know when to challenge something and strive for change; and when to leave behind a system that says it will change, that will offer you opportunity, but doesn't.

Look at the cohort I studied with. 19/21 (90% ) female and 21/21 with very high hopes of how our careers as healthcare professionals would evolve. The reason I added this image was to ask you to reflect on your cohort. Did the ratio of females to males look similar?

Then I want you to reflect on the workforce as a whole and perhaps where you envisioned yourself from your hopeful student years to your professional years? Have you landed where you envisioned yourself? If you have or if you haven't, ask yourself what were the opportunities or the reasons that got you to where you are?

I am going to link in a whole bunch of reports and stats for those who want to know more, and if you haven't learned this about me already, I am a big supporter of women in leadership roles, diversity at the C-Suite level and in the boardroom, and equality in work places and the home.

My point with transitions is to highlight that women who want to progress their careers, get into senior roles and C-suite roles should and can do it. Much like Caitlin wrote about in her piece Returnity,

... Parenthood is not a limiting factor to what you can or want to achieve career wise. If someone else tells you this or tries to de-rail your plans, challenge their intent.

My clinical career prior to parenthood was really good. I had strong female mentors and role models that showed me how to become a better audiologist, business person and how to respectfully challenge the status quo. Not to mention some very supportive male supervisors too.

From parenthood back to work

*Hey presto my baby is born, 2020*

Then parenthood happened and 'boy, oh boy (we had a baby girl)!' did it happen. I think it took me the better half of 12 months to feel like I transitioned to parenthood. What helped me was getting back to work before 12 months and seeing a psychologist. The usual or standard (in Australia) 12 months off work wasn't going to work for my mental health and what I wanted to achieve. This term was officially placed in law back in 1979-1980s and it meant that in Australia if you had worked for your place of employment for a continuous 12 months they were obligated to hold your level and hours of employment for a year. Think about that for a minute.

Luckily, when I returned to work, my place of employment was truly inclusive and family friendly. In fact they offered work place flexibility and private rooms for expressing milk to name a few things that I needed (I had stepped into a GM role outside the hearing health world!!). It was an excellent transition back to work life. I should add that my partners place of work supported my husband to take parental leave, which gave our family the opportunity to do what worked for us. I was fortunate to return to the hearing space when another role came up that suited my skills and my career development.

My point is, do you take 12 months off work because you have chosen too or because this is a standard of law given to you? There is a lot of research looking at attachment theories and young children/teenagers and how in the last decade (probably longer) there is a strong development of Peer Orientation. I can't delve into this here, but I encourage you too look into it if you have children. This research also shows the demise of multi-generational living and passing on of cultures and wisdom through elders with younger children struggling to attach emotionally and socially to their parent figures.

I am a big supporter of creating the life you want and working hard towards it. With that comes responsibilities, flexibility, the ability to negotiate and transparency.

What would I recommend to support transitions of life?

I don't have all the answers, and I am keen to learning more and hearing how other people and businesses do things to support transitions during employee's lives (Spotify, Apple, Google, Medibank and Telstra I hear and have read some of them, have excellent workplace policies, especially for parents)!

What I do know is that some change needs to occur to ensure that quality in healthcare is delivered and that people are supported. I hope that these recommendations can start those conversations and bring about change, not only to support people mentally with the transitions during their life but to improve the way we position ourselves as hearing professionals.

Remove barriers

The digital revolution was meant to make the work-life balance better for parents (and others). But somehow, coupled with the pandemic and inabilities to change work place cultures and processes, women ended up with the raw end of the bargain. Somehow we ended up carrying the home-schooling load, a professional work load and the household load.

Remove the barriers and work with your employees to find arrangements that work for them and your business. There is a shortage of hearing healthcare professionals world wide, an ageing population, an increase in hearing loss - to name a few reasons - you could implement a hybrid model that offers work place flexibility to employees and a diverse population of customers (e.g., beyond those that cannot attend a 9am to 5pm, traditional appointment). Imagine having a customer part of your hearing clinic from a young age to an older age because you offered them a different way of accessing hearing care that could support them across their hearing life spectrum? I acknowledge that not all aspects of hearing healthcare can be delivered virtually or digitally (yet), but I think some level of care and intervention over nothing is a pretty good start.

Implement flexible working arrangements

Gone are the days of hiring based on 40 hour work weeks (in theory, but the law in Australia states certain things employer's need to abide by). The new age of hiring is to find the right people, have clear projects and dead-lines, and work towards these. The key is trust.

When you find the right people, asking them to work a 9-5 schedule that suits your business needs might not cut the mustard for them. I acknowledge there are workplace laws that need to improve to support these changes, but it isn't illegal to offer and support customers at 7am or 7pm if they choose an appointment at this time slot. I also get that not all roles in our industry may be able to work like this.

What if your employee is a night owl? Or an early bird? If the projects or the work allow it, allowing your employees to work the hours to achieve the agreed upon project KPI's and targets at a pace that works for them (and agreed upon by all parties involved), makes for productive, innovative teams and outcomes.

Can this work for traditional type back to back hearing healthcare appointments? I believe it can. And I believe brands like are going to be leaders in this area when they (hopeful claim here as I have no ties to them), go global. I realise this model isn't for everyone, but having the option to do this when you need it... well wouldn't that be work place equality and fairness to some degree? And wouldn't it support transitioning back to work nicely?

Have clear targets and outcomes for individuals, teams and the business

Most of us work best when we know the details of the plan or targets we are trying to achieve. I am talking about being on the same page with the goals and key performance indicators you set your business, the team and the individuals striving to achieve them. No matter how any business frames it, there are targets and your goal is to work together to achieve them. How you get there is another story.

To a certain extent, what I disagree with, is a one size fits all model to achieving targets. Much like a hearing aid fitting, real ear measurements and customer validation are key measures we utilise to fine tune and improve hearing aid and hearing health success rates. But we miss components like auditory training and long term satisfaction use and early adoption of hearing health rehabilitation that can result in poor results with client's and lacklustre uptake rates of hearing devices, despite best efforts. Imagine when we work towards personalised care plans and work goals, what we can achieve. I believe there can be some give and take to make employees and employers truly perform at their best.

Consider your workplace culture

I've found it stressful and anxiety-driven informing my bosses or managers when a personal situation has arisen that may affect my work. I've even found it hard to request leave, even though I have it accrued. Perhaps you can relate to this? I always feel like I may be letting the work team down, but I also feel like I am letting my family and friends down.

This sense of stress or being uncomfortable is reflective and telling of the level of support a workplace gives their employees. I've been fortunate to work with some amazing leaders and undertake some great courses that have expanded my understanding and built my confidence in approaching many work place situations in a confident manner, but unfortunately, I know this isn't true for all. I've had a handful of interns and colleagues ask for help in this area. I am always open to discussing my experiences and helping others build their confidence in this area, but I am no means an expert. I always have the mind set that the worst that can happen is a 'no' response, but better you have asked and negotiated than lived with the regret of wishing you'd asked.

Working and Workplace culture are a large part of our working careers and lives. So why can't we have an environment that supports a person wholly. I've worked in these businesses and their staff perform more cohesively, iterate quicker and implement solutions that support the business to succeed. Work place culture is crucial to the success of the business and the individuals working towards it.

Trust your team and then get out of the way

The most innovative, well known and creative brands in the World get to create a structure that works for them. They have a leader that supports their goals, does not micromanage, sets, negotiates and agrees upon KPI's and then lets the individual and the team work as they desire. With agreed upon meetings and updates, the leader then gets out of the way and let's the team steam roll towards the goals.

Be comfortable negotiating the uncomfortable

I always say that the first time you negotiated your salary, your work hours or asked for something you wanted (in your relationships) can be uncomfortable. Then you become more confident with this level of uncomfortableness and soon it becomes part of your discussion. Again, this comes with knowing that the worst outcome may be a 'no' but at least you have tried and can make a (satisfied) decision on your terms.

If you think back upon the days of team work at university or in work, the best outcomes have come from similar situations listed above. I don't see why this couldn't be the case for hearing health businesses. A bit like hearing loss or hearing issues don't always occur during the 9am to 5pm window slot of clinic hours, offering hearing services could go beyond these hours and support more than just our customers. I know I've had some of my best ideas and brain waves at 2am.

Now imagine transitioning on agreed upon terms and being supported to do so, now that's the future of work.

Thanks for your time, take care

Kat Penno


Reports worth reading:

Women in healthcare: Moving from the front lines to the top rung: Mckinsey report 2020

Women are well-represented in health and long-term care professions, but often in jobs with poor working conditions: OCED report 2019

Gender equity in the health workforce: Analysis of 104 countries: WHO Report 2019

Read these books:

The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabbe

Men at work by Annabel Crabbe

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