In Conversation: Career Development as a Parent
Technology can only continue to thrive with the direct influence of those involved in its evolution. When the experiences of those people are broad, the tech industry benefits from the diversity of what they bring to the table. At Akamai, we are extraordinarily lucky to be able to benefit from the unique influence of all our employees.
The parents in our team are an incredible asset. They bring levels of commitment and innovation we can only dream of. So, we wanted to explore the reality of being a working parent in the tech world, focussing on what it's like becoming a parent while working for Akamai.
Ultimately, the best people to tell us about this is those who've been through it. So, we spoke to Shoshana Gourdin, Director of Platform Operations.
She had so much to tell us about her experiences we want to hand over to her.
How long have you been with Akamai?
I've been with Akamai for 12 years.
I have one child. He's 6. So, I've been through the entire journey of becoming a parent while with Akamai.
What was your experience like when you first became a parent?
When I was 7 months pregnant, I decided I needed a change. So, I looked around internally, and my then-boss pointed me in the direction of my now-boss. I was offered a job that looked great, so I accepted.
Why were you looking for something new?
I wanted to progress up the management track, and I had outgrown what my previous department had for me.
How did that transition fit in with having your son?
So, we set a start date for the beginning of Quarter 2, which was in April, and by this time I was 8 months pregnant. My son came 3 weeks later.
There's a lot of stories about how pregnancy threw a wrench in everything and was awful. I had the opposite experience. It was great.
I came off all my old mailing lists. I wrapped up every project. I handed everything off and arrived in my new job. My boss had convened his staff from all over the world, so I met everybody. Then, I had 3 weeks where my boss' main mandate was just "go talk to your team cause we all know we're in count down mode."
So, then, when my son came, I went on maternity leave and had nothing - no pending projects. It was great.
What happened when you came back?
I came back to a fresh start, sleep deprived, and hoping I was going to be able to function. However, everyone knew who I was and that I was coming back.
I had something interesting enough to counterbalance the impulse to stay at home. I can't imagine having come back to work to a job I didn't like, because my son was such a big pull.
How did Akamai help you with balancing motherhood and your career?
So, in some ways, Akamai didn't have to do anything special for me because a lot of other people had paved the way. There was a mothers' room I could go to, and nobody challenged me if I was sitting in there quietly for a bit.
I was walking around, drinking a lot of tea and occasionally staring into space. Everyone just kind of rolled with it. Many of the people around me are parents. If I came in and my kid had been up all night, they would laugh and say, "oh, yeah, mine had the chicken pox." So, I had good modeling there. Everybody involved had a better sense of what I was going to be like coming back than I did. My boss' kids were around 20 at the time, so he'd been all the way through that journey.
My husband is also in Akamai. So, we were part of a really good decision on Akamai's part to do with the American FMLA laws that I really appreciate. This is an American law which says you are entitled to twelve weeks off for certain qualifying events, of which birth is one.
However, the way that the law is structured per company means that there is only one block of 12 weeks per event. So, if I took all 12 weeks, my husband could not also take 12 weeks.
We were part of a turning point (I don't know that we were the only ones) where HR overruled the minimum of the law and said they were not denying John, my husband, paternity leave. So, he ended up with 6 weeks.
Do you feel that becoming a parent has stalled your career?
I don't feel like being a parent has stalled my career at all. I've been promoted twice since having my son and am now a director. However, it has forced me to heavily check my priorities and my time investments.
I do not presume that everyone wants to make the same choices as me. Having made those, it worked very well for me because I like my work a lot and because my job involves caring for groups of people.
I currently have over 40 staff. So, the fact that I have this incredibly common parenting experience, and can manage other people through it... I feel like that's a good message. I think that the people I work with appreciate having someone who understands, who says, "I didn't sleep for 6 months. So, you just go home half an hour early if you need it and we're not going to worry about it."
What advice would you give to other people who want to become parents?
I would say go for it. Being a parent is awesome.
There's this cultural perception that you must make a choice between being a mom and your job. I think this is, honestly, bordering on offensive. Don't let society get inside your head. If you want a baby, by all means, run the numbers and think ahead. We did. And then go for it. Life is short.
You know, one minute I've been working from home, on the phone. I hang up, and then suddenly I'm chasing my child around trying to get him wrestled into the bathroom.
The reason I'm saying this is because there's such a sharp contrast between those two personas, with no time in between. They are both equally true of me.
So, I want parents to be aware that everyone's been there. No matter what your work persona is, you will have moments where you're covered in banana.
I don't see a conflict between having a family and work. You're going to suffer the indignities of parenthood. But, we've all been there. It's a relief to be able to talk about that frankly. You know, you're not supposed to come to work and bring your family with you, but everybody does. It's in everybody's head.
I think it's really okay to acknowledge that family has a real pull that doesn't go away just because you walk in the door to your work or settle down to your laptop.
Thanks for talking to us Shoshana. It's been amazing to hear your experiences.