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Exec 'saddened' by backlash for bringing child to conference

Karen Walters says conference organisers could better communicate policies on babies, following online trolling

Pictured: Karen Walters' post on her LinkedIn page following a conference last week, which attracted a barrage of criticism

A woman who was criticised on LinkedIn for bringing her toddler to a conference in Australia says she is shocked and saddened by the backlash she received.

Karen Walters was told she was a bad parent, that her daughter was a fire and tripping hazard and that bringing a child was "completely inappropriate", after she posted a photo of her daughter lying on the floor at the back of the conference.

Walters, an executive director for the Queensland government, was attending a breakfast seminar organised by her former law firm Minter Ellison last week. Speaking to M&IT, she said she was surprised by the negativity her post received.

"Of course, as a mum, you're terrified of being that mother whose kid screams and I'm highly sensitive to the fact that people might have disapproved about a baby being there. But not in a 'break the internet' kind of way!" she said.

"I'm shocked because, in my naivety, I didn't think you'd see that sort of behaviour on LinkedIn. I'm saddened because the overwhelmingly positive responses and huge number of likes indicate this is something out of the ordinary. I've caught up with a couple of the partners since this happened and they thought what I had done was perfectly normal and can't understand the reaction. On the plus side, some of the more extreme comments have provided great entertainment for my husband and I.

"If the response has shown anything, it's that we still have some way to go before it's really considered normal for women to have both kids and a career."

Walters said she had contacted the organisers at Minter Ellison beforehand, who welcomed the idea of bringing her daughter to the meeting. She said event organisers who welcomed babies to conferences could communicate that message more to working mothers.

"Minter Ellison regularly hosts 'breakfast briefings' - a 1.5 hour seminar with light breakfast early in the morning. I had taken my daughter to other seminars there previously, having checked with them that it would be ok," she said.

"The only reason I brought her was because I knew the people and felt comfortable doing so. I've seen a few professional women's breakfasts and events around but haven't gone because she's exclusively breastfed and I can't leave her. I'm sure they'd be perfectly happy about it though. I supposes if they said on the invitation 'babes in arms welcome' it would be helpful."

Walters said she fully supported child minding facilities at conferences.

"Childcare at conferences is a great idea. Being a mum there are so many balls in the air that it's a major achievement when everything lined up so an extra avenue of help is always welcome. But all of this stuff about 'mums' isn't going to work until there's greater cultural acceptance of flexible work arrangements for fathers."

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