Helping women manage the pregnant pause

By Rachel Hewitt

After a decade working as a commercial lawyer, MLS alumna Prue Gilbert (BA, LLB, 2000) struck out on her own as a consultant specialising in corporate diversity. Little did she know then that her business would evolve into an award- winning online coaching platform, Grace Papers, nationally lauded for helping women address workplace pregnancy discrimination.

The journey began when Gilbert spearheaded a Women in Leadership initiative at office equipment supplier Corporate Express (now Staples Australia) while serving as its General Counsel from 2005- 2010. The strategy, designed to stem the loss of senior female talent, was so successful it led to then-CEO Paul Hitchcock being named “Leading CEO for the Advancement of Women” in 2010 by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

“On the back of that I started the consultancy, which was really at that stage focused around diversity strategy and compliance,” Gilbert says. “But what kept on happening was that every time we’d start with a new client ... women would share with us the challenges of navigating career and family.” Gilbert also found herself regularly dispensing guidance to pregnant friends unsure of their rights at work and concerned about being made redundant.

Recognising a need for working parents to access affordable advice on how to manage pregnancy and career, Gilbert, with her husband Ben, transformed her business into Grace Papers, which offers online programs and one-to-one coaching to empower women throughout their pregnancies and build their confidence in returning to work.

“Grace Papers came out of a need rather than any sort of targeted or planned intervention. But because of the legal background that I have and my understanding of the various employment laws and frameworks, we were able to understand what was going on for individuals,” Gilbert says.

According to Gilbert, one in two women and one in four men experience some form of pregnancy-related discrimination, which is why she found it important to provide coaching for new mothers and, more recently, new fathers.

The pinnacle of Grace Papers’ achievements to date came in 2014 when it was named joint winner of the Australian Human Rights Business Award, an experience Gilbert describes as “incredibly humbling”.

We won it for the work that we do supporting women to anticipate and address pregnancy-related discrimination. For many people it is the first time they experience any form of discrimination or even start to believe that there is a glass ceiling.

The movement of scientists into the law is evident from any cursory look at the resumes of patent attorneys.

“I fundamentally believe that everybody should have the right to work and to have a family if they choose, yet there is still so much workplace oppression that women have to navigate. With our support we know that we make it a whole lot easier.”

Banner image: Prue Gilbert

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 16, October 2016.