Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 2 2009 Contents KEEPING IT
IN THE FAMILy
hen Helen Owens
applied for an executive
level position with
the Defence signals
Directorate in 2004, it can
be said her application
carried a glow that ultimately helped
win the position.
Unbeknown to those reviewing the application,
the phone call from DSD offering Helen an interview
for the position was received at the precise time that
she was delivering her first child, William.
The pending interview was put on hold for a further
three weeks to allow Helen to recover, but according
to the family unit of Helen, her husband John and an
assisting aunty (John’s sister) Andrea, the wait was
worthwhile. So began the journey of juggling busy work
lives in Defence and raising their two children, after
daughter Georgia was born in 2007.
John Owens is no stranger to Defence, with a
career spanning nearly 25 years, including almost
15 in uniform with the Army from 1985 to 1999.
In January 2008, John was promoted to the SES
Band 2 position as Head Infrastructure Division in
Defence Support Group, after holding numerous
positions within International Policy Division and
the Defence Intelligence Organisation. He also had
a short stint with the Department of Foreign Affairs
and Trade, but couldn’t resist the calling back to
Defence with his current position.
“I missed the culture and camaraderie at
Defence,” John said.
That culture is something that pervades the
family unit, with Helen holding an EL2 position as
a human resources director in the Defence Imagery
and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO), and Andrea
an EL1 assistant director in vetting branch with the
Defence Security Authority. John and Helen are
very conscious of how lucky they are to have the
support of Andrea, and know that many Defence
families do not have the benefit of such support.
Their lives are busy and their diaries are full, but
most importantly they are a tight-knit family unit that
is an example of the shifting demographic of senior
public servants bringing up a young family.
“That old paradigm of the husband being a
workaholic, staying all hours, coming home and
being fed while the kids are tucked up in bed is
completely gone for a whole bunch of reasons,”
“Nowadays, there’s less emphasis on seniority
so people are getting promoted to more senior
positions at a younger age. The second thing is that
we’re having children later, so we get a confluence
of younger people in senior positions. But the third
thing, of course, is wives just don’t have jobs, they
have careers, which in turn means that husbands
are expected to do more around the house and with
the kids – and rightly so.”
Helen, John and Andrea achieve their work-
life balance in their own ways: Helen does so by
working part-time 56 hours per fortnight, while John
manages to work relatively normal hours with the
assistance of the DREAMS system and can take
care of many issues while at home. Andrea, the
‘assisting aunty’, moved to Canberra two days after
William was born and now works full-time, but has
the flexibility in her job to come to the rescue at a
“Like every family, the real challenge is
when your kids are sick and you’ve got a full diary
scheduled,” Helen says.
“We then work out a schedule for who is home
when and this will often result in us doing half days
each and stacking meetings into those half days.
And then if we really can’t manage it, that’s when
we ring aunty and call for help.
“The terrific thing about this is that Andrea
has had great support from her chain of command
that recognises she’s an integral part of our family
unit and how we manage this. There’s a sense of
community spirit about it which we find really good.”
Likewise, John and Helen are full of
admiration for the support of the department and
their respective bosses, who make their delicate
“The most important part of juggling busy
careers and busy jobs with family demands is
sympathetic support from bosses, co-workers and
the people who work for you. It’s not grudging,
it’s whole-hearted sympathetic support for the
circumstances in which you find yourself – and
I have certainly found that to be true of my boss
(Martin Bowles) and my colleagues,” John said.
Helen adds: “My supervisor Clive Lines (Director of
DIGO) is a dedicated family man himself and clearly
remembers how hard it is when your children are
young. As a result he is a very supportive boss and
he is keen to inculcate a family-friendly culture in
“As part of that, he is conscious of making sure
that the job I have can be contained within my part-
time hours. That’s also a big challenge for Defence
realistically defining part-time jobs instead of just
taking a full-time job and expecting it to be done in
“I also get fantastic and open support from my
team and colleagues at DIGO – they commonly just
pick up and run with things if I am called away at
short notice and I never feel any sense that I am
letting them down. To be successful in managing
such a busy life you need a team like that.
“Essentially, I think I’m a better person for
having a realistic life balance on this. Yes, the
kids are a big priority for me, but my career is also
important and thankfully I don’t feel like the fact
that I’ve gone part-time is going to affect my
long-term career prospects at all.”
Furthermore, John, Helen and Andrea are
conscious of still meeting the needs of Defence
when it counts.
“I’ve never really had to knock anything back
work wise because of a clash with family life – I
tend to just move things around and just manage
them. And if a high priority commitment comes at
six-thirty, well it gets the attention it needs – it’s
as simple as that,” John said.
For Andrea, the balance is occasionally a three-
way street, but one that can always be managed.
away in the afternoon to the gym – which I see as my
own bit of work-life balance which is supported by my
boss – but sometimes I don’t leave until 6pm.
“We may have to duck out early, but if we’re
needed back for whatever reason, we will do that
as well. I think that while we expect a lot from the
department, I think the department also has a right
to expect it back,” Andrea said.
For John, his success comes in managing the
day-to-day balance and being committed to their
decision to making it work.
“I think all of us consciously place a big focus
on the importance of family and I guess we start
from a position that you can achieve both family
success and professional success if you do it right
and if you are supported in the right way.
“I know the department says this in its policy
documentation, but we feel it’s very important to try
and live it as well. You’ve got to trust your staff to
do their jobs and not want to do their jobs as well as
your own because that’s what can clog up your time.
Andrea meanwhile continues to be impressed
with the way Defence supports its people.
“Defence is a good organisation and there are
good people in it, and it’s great to see that good policy
about work and family is supported by good practice.
Work and family should not be an either-or choice, and
our experience at Defence has borne that out.”
DEFENCE SuPPoRT GRouP
Head Infrastructure Division John Owens
I think all of us consciously place a big focus on the importance
of family and I guess we start from a position that you can achieve
both family success and professional success if you do it right and
if you are supported in the right way
Links Archive Issue 1 2009 Issue 3 2009 Navigation Previous Page Next Page