Life took an unexpected twist when Chryssie Swarbrick found out she was pregnant while hunting for a job. These days, Chryssie is a freelance content creator, managing workloads and clients around her newborn baby. She chats to us about how she made the leap from a receptionist role to getting into content creation and what she thinks needs to change in the maternity leave conversation. She’s one of our very favourite freelancers.
How did you get your start?
I was working at SEEK, in an admin role. I had a mentor from the marketing department and I realised through that relationship that I wanted to be on the creative side.
I really wanted to get my foot in the door, and thought a reception role would be the best place to start, so I started searching for a position agency-side.
How did you go from receptionist to working in the PR team?
I was at a full service agency, and within six months, I was shoulder tapped by the Director to see whether I was keen on PR. I wasn’t really sure what that involved so I took a little sabbatical and tried a few areas across the agency and it was PR that felt right.
The manager I reported to was a fantastic mentor. It felt like this was the work I was supposed to be doing.
What do you need to know to succeed as an agency junior?
Even when I was a junior, I had a strong belief in sharing ideas. As a junior, you have to have a thick skin and know when to back yourself. Sinking into a corner won’t help you at all!
In one meeting, I said something, and I was literally laughed at by one of the senior people. I shrugged it off, and just focused on being proactive. Even for clients I wasn’t working on, I would always shoot an ideas email to the relevant Account Manager.
You eventually moved from five to four days a week to finish your studies. How did you have that conversation with your boss?
I had advice from my mentor about always demonstrating how it benefits the company, not just you, so they can see the value in it.
So, I said to the HR Manager, ‘I’m really loving this job, and it’s really important to me that I become fully qualified. But, I’m struggling to do that with my current workload and this qualification will bring value to my role. Is there a way we could move to four days a week?’
You eventually relocated to Perth. And again, the firm supported that decision by having you work remotely. Was it a similar conversation?
I was doing a lot of content creation which wasn’t client facing work, so it was work I could do remotely. I had a colleague already working in Perth, so it was actually quite easy to have that conversation.
In practice, I had constant communication with my manager throughout the day, with a chat window open all day and we kept in conversation which kept things on track.
Ultimately you resigned to travel. Coming back to the job market you had a surprise waiting…
[Laughs] Yes, I was back on the job hunt when I found out I was pregnant. It was definitely a surprise.
Unemployed, back from a big holiday and pregnant. That must have been a challenging few weeks, getting your head around all that.
The pregnancy was welcome news, but career wise, I felt hopeless. I was in a really good place after getting married overseas, I had been job hunting for a few weeks and there were some really amazing opportunities out there. All of a sudden I felt like they were all gone.
I felt like I had to start pulling back already. It was actually really upsetting.
So many mothers, or mums-to-be that come to us echo these thoughts.
I felt like potential employers would measure my value and think ‘Is it worth keeping her around if she’s going to leave to have a baby?’
I started looking at roles or jobs that were a step backwards, because I thought I could do this temporarily to make ends meet. But that was disappointing too; I didn’t want to take a step backwards.
There’s definitely a fear around telling your employer you’re pregnant that I’ve felt and my colleagues have, too. It’s something I’ve seen. The pregnant women who come back from leave are let go. There are so many alternatives to work with people who decide to have children; it doesn’t have to be that way.
So, now you’re a freelancer, and Agency Iceberg was one of your first clients. How did you make the switch from looking for a full time role to freelancing?
Actually, working with Iceberg was the first step. Telling Anna [O’Dea, Director] a week after we had first met to discuss roles, that I was pregnant, then getting such a great response from her was really so validating. I was really nervous about it.
She called me and said it was going to be OK, and Iceberg would do anything they could to make me comfortable and start working.
So, while my move to freelancing did come out of necessity, as it turns out, I’ve had a lot more independence and opportunity to develop my skills and learn more than if I was in a full time role.
What advice would you give to employers and staff heading into maternity leave?
Coming back after a year can feel daunting, but if you keep engaged it doesn’t feel like you’re starting over.
There needs to be more conversation around what the leave period is going to look like. Women on maternity leave can be kept engaged in the community. It could be as simple as a regular coffee date to check in, or even bringing them on across a small project. If it’s appropriate for both parties, you could share a WIP or a monthly update. Just keep each other in the loop.
How do you want to approach your working life now that you are a mum?
Having flexible work arrangements is really vital for me, I want to feel I’m doing a good job as a mother, while I keep my career going. As for what the future holds – I’ll let you know!
Connect with Chryssie on LinkedIn.