Susan Reilly has had her share of ups and downs in life but she counts her blessings every day and does her best to help make the world a better place for everyone - people and animals.
For many years, the Business Economics and Law Faculty Governance Coordinator has successfully juggled her career at UQ with taking care of a family of five, fostering dogs and cats, and volunteering. However, Susan believes we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality.
Bridging the gender gap
Having worked at UQ for 17 years, one of the many things I like about it is the flexibility. I feel very fortunate that I can work in a job that I enjoy during the day, collect my children from school three days a week and take them to their after-school activities, and continue to volunteer outside office hours.
I have the best of both worlds, and I understand how incredibly lucky I am. Unfortunately, many women in Australia are not so lucky. There is so much pressure on women to fulfil the primary carer role at home and return to work in a full-time capacity. I would like to see more opportunities for job sharing so that parents have the option to return to work part-time if they choose.
I am also an advocate for fathers taking time off work during school holidays and when children are sick, rather than the entire responsibility falling on mothers. My husband – despite his difficult job and commitments as a Detective Senior Sergeant in the Queensland Police Force – is first on the list of contacts when one of our children is sick. And when he can, he takes holidays over school breaks.
Ultimately, I would like more men in Australia to be primary carers of their children, but the situation in Australia is that most men have the higher income so it is more practical for women to take on the carer role. There is also still a pervasive belief that looking after children is the responsibility of women. This needs to change, and by giving women the same opportunities as men, it can.
I would love to see Australia develop a system like Sweden, where men can take six months paternity leave to be with their children. Sweden was recently ranked fifth in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report; Australia was ranked 35th. Swedish parents can receive a total of 480 days of leave per child, 390 days of which is paid at 80 per cent of their salary. Every Swedish employee with a child under eight has the right to cut their working hours by up to 25 per cent whenever they want to. Swedish companies also normally offer employees the right to rearrange their working hours to suit their needs. Research clearly shows that people will be loyal to companies that understand the importance of work/life balance. I think Australia is way behind in how we treat parents returning to work, and our childcare system needs to be overhauled.
As a parent, I also want to ensure my daughter is presented with the same opportunities as my sons. I have chosen a high school for her that focuses more on STEM than humanities so that she has every opportunity to succeed in her chosen field. Things are slowly heading in the right direction but there is a lot of room for improvement.
Helping survivors of sexual assault and domestic and family violence
As a former psychologist, I do my part to help other women by volunteering at night as a counsellor with the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service. This is an anonymous, free call service for anyone across Australia who needs advice and support. From 8pm, I can receive up to 20 phone calls from women who need help.
I grew up with domestic violence and I can tell you that it is terrifying. It has impacted my relationships and unfortunately, despite all my experience with my parents, my first boyfriend was violent. It took me two years to find the courage to leave him. But if I can help break the cycle with my volunteer work, then I have achieved something.
I would also like people to realise how prevalent domestic violence is.The person sitting next to you has most likely been exposed at some point.
I understand the fear of getting involved when you discover a friend is in that situation. Many people worry that they will be interfering, or that it's a private matter. But it is equally worrying if someone is being abused and you say nothing. Just offering emotional support can make such a difference, and if a survivor feels supported and encouraged, they may feel stronger and more able to make decisions.
Giving animals a second life
I also volunteer with various animal rescue groups across Australia. I have fostered over 100 dogs and puppies and I am still in touch with adopters around the country. I am currently fostering a beautiful four-year-old full-bred border collie, and I have adopted three of my own rescue dogs and two rescue cats over the last 10 years.
The cats are not grateful for being rescued and remind me daily that they preferred their gangster street life. Dogs, however, are very much aware when they have been saved and are forever grateful. They will thank you a thousandfold just for giving them food, shelter and attention.
At the moment, many rescue groups are inundated with working dogs from farms that can no longer afford to feed them. Working dogs do not need acreage, that is a fallacy. They need exercise, just like any other dog, but what they really want is someone to be with and someone to love them. I would encourage anyone considering fostering an animal to take in a working dog. You will not regret it.
Counting my blessings
I lost my mum at a young age – when she was also very young – which I believe has had a profound effect on how I view life. I count my blessings and appreciate everything I have now, at this moment. Being happy with what I have is far healthier than continually striving for what I think is the ideal. There is no such thing as being perfectly happy all the time. There is no point in waiting for things to get easier, simpler or better. Life will always be complicated. Learn to be happy right now; otherwise, you will run out of time.
I am very proud of the volunteer work that I do, and believe that I am teaching my children about compassion and respect. I like to think I take after my mum in the way she helped others and expected nothing in return. If I am a little bit like her, then I have succeeded.
Images are Susan Reilly's own, and from Jan Kroon, rawpixel.com and pexels.com.