Last week I attended RIMPA Live in Melbourne, the annual conference that used to be called RIMPA inForum. This year is RIMPA’s 50th birthday, and my third inForum/Live. It has been over a year since I published something to my blog, as I have been busy growing a tiny human and then looking after them. I wanted to keep my brain active on work stuff while on maternity leave, and I have been using my RIMPA membership to do that. I stayed on the Victorian Branch Council and participated in the Victorian State Seminar, which was held earlier this year. I felt very welcome and encouraged by the branch leadership to attend the State Seminar with bub, which gave me confidence to attend RIMPA Live. This blog post is to capture a few highlights and to share my experiences trying to do professional development with a baby. Many presentations ran parallel to each other, and I was not able to attend everything, so there would be many presentations and ideas I cannot comment on. You can also see what others thought about the conference by looking up #RIMPALIVE2019 on social media such as Twitter.
Childcare is hard to come by, plus with exclusive breastfeeding it is not easy to be away from bub for too long, so I attended with baby for most days. I saw more of the conference when I had bub with me, as I could feed them while watching presentations (which also often kept bub quiet and/or put them to sleep). The day we were apart, I missed presentations when I had to go pump, and I had to leave early because there is a limit to how long I was prepared to be away from bub for (public pumping, like public breastfeeding, is protected under Australian law, but due to the logistics of it I prefer to pump in private). While common to do at conferences, unfortunately presentations were not being streamed into the private room made available for myself and another attendee who needed to pump.
I began the conference on the Tuesday by facilitating the Networking and Information Session for people who are new the conference, new to the profession, or just want a rundown of what to expect during the week. I presented with bub attached to me in a baby carrier (babywearing for the win!). Later that evening I attended the Welcome Reception. I had trouble networking as the music was too loud, it was hard to hear people and my throat was getting sore from trying to strain to speak loudly.
The Wednesday was Day 1 of presentations. There were many seasoned professionals presenting, reflecting on the last 50 years of the profession and how things have changed. There were also some professional speakers from non-records backgrounds, covering topics like leadership and adapting to change. After many trips down memory lane on Day 1, Day 2 covered some innovative projects and approaches to professional practice. Such as Sandra Ennor’s work to appraise and manage large sets of research data by applying existing records management tools and theory to new areas. And Siân Sewell’s talk on deciding to work in the records and information management industry, where she noted the importance of networking to promote your records management program and get buy-in. She identified four keywords to inform our professional practice: be relevant, collaborative, influential, and innovative.
Day 2 was my childfree day and included me chairing ‘The future of the profession – RIMPA Noobs panel discussion’, with panellists Megan Cappelleri, Rebecca French, Siân Sewell, Chris Simpson, and Susannah Tindall. The discussion focused on the need for more formal and informal mentoring, on the job and formal training, and job security. We also talked about how newbies who enter the profession with a qualification have been trained in innovative approaches to professional practice, which may clash with how their workplace is currently running their records management program. There were some good ideas mentioned on how to better support and get value out of new professionals, such as:
- When a more senior staff member has a speaking or writing opportunity, they could get a more junior staff member to co-write or co-present part of it as a learning/mentoring opportunity
- For managers to consider sometimes sending more junior staff to industry training and events, so they get the experience, and can report back on learnings to the team
- Newbies should not hide their previous qualifications or experience in other industries and roles, as that is where they learned or demonstrated valuable transferable skills such as customer service, project management, commitment to study and lifelong learning and more.
I really enjoyed the opening presentation of Day 3 by Matt O’Mara, on the need to innovate our approach to records and information management. The take-home message was that as information professionals, we need to insert ourselves into the right networks and conversations and be seen as trusted advisors and strategic enablers. Another highlight was Helen Palmer’s workshop on change management. She highlighted the human side, that we have to be mindful of the impact change can have on people. And that change is not always negative. The talk by Susan Bennett and Chris Colwell on leading information governance in the digital age was inspiring. They said that records and information managers are well placed to step up and lead information governance in organisations. They noted the importance of leadership and soft skills like influencing and strategy to complement technical skills. They saw information governance not as records and information management by another name, but as a multidisciplinary ‘super-profession’.
Throughout the conference I had many people come up to me to say hi to bub and say positive things about me attending with a baby. I think I met more people than I usually would, as babies are a great conversation starter. Many commented on how rare it was for new parents/carers to attend conferences, and that I was setting a good example that they are welcome if they want to attend. I only had one person say something negative to me, which included referring to bub as ‘really annoying’ and saying that I was being ‘confronting’ (the irony of confronting someone and accusing them of being confronting!). The encounter was a surprise for me, as they requested that I do exactly what I had already been doing, as if I had not been doing just that: if bub gets noisy (happy noisy or sad noisy), leave the room immediately and return when they are settled again. I did not know what to say other than, ‘that’s a reasonable request, and I am doing that, so I don’t know what else to say’. It was a blip on the radar as far as my overall experience goes, but I reported my encounter to management in the hope that it does not happen again to me or anyone else. **Edited to say, I have no intention of naming the person, so that they have the opportunity to save face. I strongly believe in ‘know better, do better’ and giving people the opportunity to bounce back. I’ve certainly make mistakes before and would not want to be identified for such. We all make mistakes and my point was never to identify the person, only to share my experience and how I navigated it.***
I do not need to explain how damaging an interaction like that, especially from someone holding a senior position, could be to a parent or carer’s confidence, mental health, and likelihood of leaving the house with bub again for some much needed social interaction.
While overall I felt supported to be there, I made a list of a few things I thought of that could make conferences even more parent/carer friendly:
- Have a diversity and inclusion policy that states that parents/carers are welcome at the event and will be accommodated (to empower parents/carers to stand up for themselves in case someone does feel the need to say something negative to them)
- Provide a space to pump (or breastfeed) that is private, has electricity and a fridge, and ideally a microwave in case one needs to sterilise equipment and bottles
- Ensure high chairs are available at meal times (I had trouble getting one for the one sit-down meal I had requested it for)
- Provide a play space where children can be noisy and stretch out
- Live stream the audio, and ideally video too, of at least the main presentation room, into the feeding/pumping/play room(s)
- Provide free or affordable childcare onsite, since it is difficult to organise private childcare to fit in around the conference span of hours, or if you have travelled for the conference you will not have access to your usual childcare options.
The 2020 conference will be held in Canberra. I encourage you all to start thinking about what you can present. What research have you done or could you do before then, or what projects could be written into a case study? And if you are a parent or a carer, and want to attend, I hope I have given you some ideas of how it can be a positive experience and empowered you to ask for whatever you need to accommodate you.