Quake sees businesswoman back in primary carer role

By Kim Triegaardt

Director of Communicate IT Shelley Grell.
Director of Communicate IT Shelley Grell.

Owner of public relations company Communicate IT Shelley Grell has found the February quake has uncovered a fault of another sort altogether.

After 11 years of gender-blurred lines in business where being a woman and a mother made little difference to the running of her successful technology and biotech focused communication company, she's now at home with a demanding four year old and anxious elderly parents.

"For women in business the default situation in an emergency is that they become the primary carers," she says.

Grell's Christchurch office was damaged in the quake and while she doesn't know how badly yet, without power or water there was no choice but to relocate back to her home an hour out of Christchurch.

With childcare care facilities now available only a couple of afternoons a week and half an hours drive away, and her husband, Steve involved in the construction industry and needed full time in Christchurch Grell has suddenly found herself confronting an age-old question.

"How the hell do women make it work?"

She's learning to juggle creating communication plans with demands to play in the sandpit, teleconferences with making playdough and writing vital Hi-Tech award entries with making a comforting pot of tea.

"It would have been nice if they had given us more than a 17 hour extension on the entry deadline given the circumstances, she says.

Being out in rural New Zealand with average broadband facilities has also highlighted the importance of the whole rural broadband issue.

"Speed really does affect my business. If you are communicating with high level US-based businesses you can't be seen to be working from a paddock otherwise you do lose your credibility."

Facing the challenges head on, Grell says she's taking one day at a time.

"I list the priorities and tackle them in order. Realising that other people have lost absolutely everything puts things in perspective.

"We were lucky to have a second home and the whole family including my parents escaped unscathed so you really just make it work."

With 50 clients on her books Grell is busy helping other businesses communicate with their clients, updating websites and generally re-establishing contact.

She's still not sure what she'll do about the piles of receipts and invoices that ended up in one big card shuffle on the floor as her and her accountant fled the office. "We'll be lucky to find everything and I'm not sure when we'll get paid for some contracts.

"But those are problems for another day."

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