How To Advance Your Career Whilst Working Part Time (Part Two)

career development d&i strategies motherhood smart and flexible working working parents Mar 08, 2019

How can you achieve your career goals and ambitions, whilst working reduced hours? This question is not only relevant to working parents but to anyone who wishes to pursue their professional aspirations and personal goals.

In part one of this three part series, we touched upon some of the things that may be holding you back from pursuing your career once you go part time and attempted to address these by highlighting key factors that commonly appear in success stories of the many clients we have worked with in the past.

However one of the biggest reasons that many individuals shy away from requesting part time or reduced hours is the lack of role models and real life examples that prove that it is possible to advance in your career.

In this article, we will focus on two specific individuals and tell their stories so that you can view their journeys from going part time to achieving great things.

Laura, Hilti

Laura started her career at Hilti ‘on the ground’ in a customer service role and quickly progressed to a team leader position managing 20 people, following a restructure where team sizes were doubled.

Laura’s next challenge found her working in technical field sales, an important area for Hilti who operates a direct sales approach in the professional construction industry. For over 2 years she visited customers face to face on construction sites and was promoted again to take on a bigger geography in a more specialist area.

So far, so good.

Then Laura had her first child. During her maternity leave, she requested a flexible working option. Her wish was to work three days a week.

She says: “Coming back as a new mum with one child, I lost confidence a little bit. If Hilti hadn’t been so open and flexible with the idea of part time hours and so forthcoming with suggestions, I would have been happy to step down and go back into a customer service role where I could see very easily there were part time possibilities. I think that reflects where I was mentally at that time. I didn’t know what I was capable of with a young child. I surprised myself and the company surprised me in their approach to it. They looked at everything I had to offer and didn’t see why they shouldn’t offer me a promotion when I returned to work. At the time I had doubts that I was good enough, but they were so supportive as an organisation and the HR department were brilliant. “

The company could not come up with a way to cover her database of customers in part time hours, especially as it was a specialist role. So the Human Resources department worked with Laura to come up with a plan and offered her a few different solutions. She chose a job share in the area of Sustainability. Her role involved sharing what Hilti was doing internally to manage quality, environment and health & safety topics with clients who were facing similar challenges, and supporting them through that journey.

Laura’s wish for reduced hours, so that she could spend more time at home with her child, was important to her and so was her career. Her employer recognised this. Her request was taken seriously and both parties were creative and open minded about finding a solution.

Laura excelled in this role for the next few years...

Laura says: “I adjusted quite quickly in the first couple of weeks but then as soon as my son started to pick up illnesses from nursery, it rocked my confidence massively. I remember telling my team leader I didn’t think I could do it. I was only working three days but I felt so guilty. She said it was completely fine and I should do what I had to do, after all “we only sell drills, family comes first”. She said if I needed to take time off when he was ill, that was not a problem. She was also a mother and said she had been there herself a few years earlier when her firstborn started nursery. Psychologically I was so worried that taking time off when he was ill was going to affect how people at work thought of me. Sharing these concerns and having the ability to work flexibly made a huge difference. There was no judgement around managing those situations. My reaction to that really surprised me and I think it really affects other new mothers too. Since then I have spoken to other mothers at headquarters and I have had to have that same conversation with them, telling them it’s normal in the early days and not to feel guilty about it. “

In the meantime, Hilti’s marketing office in the UK became a European hub for Northern Europe and additional roles were created. One of these involved health and safety environment marketing. Laura was the perfect fit.

However, this role would involve travel into Scandinavia and would therefore ideally be a full time position. Laura approached the marketing and asked they would consider her. They agreed that she would be a perfect fit but had not anticipated she would be able to work full time. At this time, her son was starting school and she felt ready to expand her hours so she agreed and began a position in marketing in Northern Europe.

Not only was the company flexible for Laura, she was also flexible in considering her options within the business. Both parties remained open minded to opportunities and progression.

Then Laura became pregnant with her second child. She knew that she would want to reduce her hours again to three days a week. So this time, she approached HR and her team leader about it before she left for maternity leave and they decided to advertise the role as a job share. The content and travel required full time hours, which could be matched by having two people share the role.

She says: “The benefits of reduced hours are taking the time to have balance for yourself, take kids to and from school in a more relaxed timing and have head space a couple of days a week. For people working full time hours, perhaps Friday is a shorter day or there are a few longer lunches here and there. When you work part time, your employer gets really good value for money from you because your head is in a difference space. In my view, it’s a chance to shine.”

Unfortunately, nobody could be found with the right credentials for a job share. So it was back to the drawing board. Laura came up with a few ideas, which she presented to HR for consideration.

As Laura had worked in sales, marketing, sustainability and customer service, she was happy to step into various directions. So she came up with a few ideas. One of these was about learning and development. She knew they were under-resourced and that an additional head-count could help, even on a part time basis.

So Laura was assigned as a flexible training specialist and subsequently assigned to a project to bring Hilti GB from a national training centre to a European learning hub. She got her teeth into that and also gained some qualifications along the way.

She says: “On my second return moving into L&D, I was working for a man in his early 60s whose wife had stayed at home to raise their children - and it was the first time he had a ‘career mum’ reporting to him in a part time role. We talked before I took the position about working part time, and I explained how my husband shares parental responsibility to explain how it would work. I think he was expecting lower productivity from me as a part timer, but what you can achieve with part time hours often really surprises people. I was also very flexible in my skillset and in covering additional hours at peak times. He was really amazed at what I could achieve in that time and quickly had me flagged as high potential to do more.”

Rather than leaving it to HR to resolve, Laura was proactive and creative with ideas for solutions that would help the business achieve its objectives and also that she knew she would enjoy and progress with.

During this time, Laura did a coaching qualification and also a CIPD qualification in designing and delivering learning activities because she wanted to understand HR on a deeper level.

She says: “It’s a 50/50 thing at Hilti. If you are open to learning and taking on challenges and you put your full energy into cracking it, the company is really prepared to advance you and put you into those positions where you can stretch yourself. I’ve always felt that each assignment has been stretching me and bringing something new out.”

In her L&D role, Laura ran workshops for diverse groups in the learning centre and reworked the programs to reflect the learning needs of customers in different parts of the world. HR noticed she was doing a lot of inclusive work and asked her to take on the role of Diversity & Inclusion champion in Northern Europe.

Having a learner mindset helped Laura to advance into new positions.

She accepted this new challenge and did it alongside her training role. She really wanted to make a difference in this area and chose to go from three days to four days a week, as by then her daughter was at pre-school.

Globally, it was noted that she was doing some great things in Northern Europe for Diversity & Inclusion and she was asked to cover the global D&I project manager role because the current manager was going on maternity leave.

Covering this role, she commuted from Manchester for meetings in headquarters in Liechtenstein. During that year, her boss was talking to her about taking on a lead role for D&I at the end of that time.

She says: “It seemed like a great opportunity, but I didn’t want to do the commuting long term. I thought that if I was to be in the lead role, then I would need to have more of a presence at headquarters so we took the decision as a family to relocate to Switzerland. (You have to win the lottery to live in Liechtenstein! ;-)) It seemed like a great opportunity. My partner then took on the role of looking after the children and making sure they settled in at their new school. The rest is history! That’s what I am still doing today.”

So what’s next for Laura and what advice would she give to others?

Laura had an epiphany while presenting at a global Inclusion conference; she didn’t realise how powerful her example could be to others. Her experience has led to her speaking more about her personal experiences of inclusion at further global D&I events. Perhaps more importantly, it led to strong one-to-one relationships with other leaders and ‘career mums’ where she can empathise, share and encourage other women.

So the next step in her journey is to help others in similar positions to advance and achieve balance. At Thriving Talent we are delighted to share her story and support her in this goal. Here are some parting words of wisdom from Laura:

At home: “When you return to work, your partner needs to pull their weight. I think you need to talk to your partner and let them take on some of the mental load. Don’t try to do it all yourself. We went through phases of diary planning when we were both busy with work and he came into it 50/50 to make it work. That’s why I’m so passionate that companies should be offering shared parental leave or longer paternity leave. The more men you get doing it, the more permission women have to get back to work and share responsibilities at home too.”

At work: “You don’t have to restrict yourself to what you’ve done in the past. You can learn and take on new skills and move your career forwards in other directions. My best advice would be to be open minded about possibilities. With my first baby, there was a big part of me that doubted if I could balance career and family, but being open minded about what you can do is really important.”

Shivani, IDCN

Shivani is Indian/Australian and currently works as the Global Programme Director for the International Dual Career Network (IDCN). She has worked in four continents and advanced her career through a series of part time roles whilst being a working parent to a daughter who is now 16 years old, as well as a “trailing spouse” to her husband. Over the last 15 years she has developed her skills both professionally and academically, and she has a total of three masters degrees - two in toxicology and one in epidemiology!

Where it all began...

Shivani’s first job was a full time position at a non-profit in India working on water sanitisation issues and travelling around the country. A year later, she was approached by a university and decided to move there to teach as a lecturer on similar topics on a part time basis. She did six lectures a week and was able to help the university launch their first masters in environmental and ecological studies. She enjoyed the experience and many of the students were only a few years younger than her. She is very proud of the fact she was able to help them find jobs after they had completed their masters degrees.

Around this time she got married. In her 20s, she had a very traditional view about marriage and career. So when her husband wanted to move away from the city where they met, she resigned from the university to join him. She continued working 2-3 months with the next batch of students and then moved to Chennai.

Shinavi moved the Chennai to accompany her husband and start the next stage of her journey, leaving her work at the university behind.

It wasn’t difficult for her to find a new job in Chennai and within the month she found a role working in a similar line of work at another university.

Around this time she was expecting her daughter.

Shivani was 27 years old at this time and wasn’t keen to give up her career. She found it extremely satisfying to go to work. The university approached her after she had the child, keen to have her back at work. Shivani felt the same. She brought her parents over to Chennai to help with childcare and things were going well.

One year later, her husband got a job in France. For a period, Shivani remained in India and was teaching in Chennai twice a week. After 12 months, her husband asked her to come to France. She was hesitant due to her career, but she decided to sacrifice her job anyway. It was difficult for her because the university wanted to make her an associate professor.

In 2005, Shivani started a new life in France with no French, cultural knowledge, or friends.

It did not go well. The internet wasn’t very active in India at that point and it was hard for her to stay in touch with her parents and family.

In her own words, Shivani felt that she had been demoted to a maid.

She’d always wanted to maintain her professional career. After one year, she was extremely dissatisfied and it often showed up in her behaviour. So she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Her daughter had been attending a local French school to learn the local language, and Shivani moved her to an International school, where they gave her an opportunity to volunteer. She volunteered at the school library for 12 months and helped them to organise the library system.

It wasn’t enough. Shivani was desperate to expand her mind and get back into academia.

She then decided to study for a masters degree in Basel, Switzerland, and enrolled her daughter in a school there too. It was at this time that her husband got another job in Vevey, just under 200km away.

So for two years they lived apart and Shivani stayed in in Basel with her daughter, who was only four years old. Whilst working on her third masters in Basel, Shivani’s professor connected her with a job at The Chuv in Lausanne. It was a research project on kidneys and blood pressure.

Then her husband got a job in Sydney.

When her husband got a new job in Sydney, Shivani was excited to get back to her roots in Sydney so she packed up and joined him.

Shivani had grown up in Sydney and it felt like home, so she was happy that her husband’s new job would take them there and didn’t hesitate to join him. She resigned from The Chuv and around this time started volunteering for WIN. This experience gave her exposure to other parts of business including marketing.

When in Australia, she quickly activated her network and found a job working in a market research company twice a week. It was focused on market research for elite and local businesses.

In the meantime, Shivani knew she would eventually return to Switzerland. So she did a course on digital communications and marketing at Sydney University.

Returning to Switzerland...

When her daughter was 12 years old, Shivani returned to Switzerland. She thought it would be easy to find work there but was only able to find full time jobs. She she started volunteering with IDCN.

This kept her alive and engaged and she became the vice president of the Lake Geneva Chapter. She applied to be the global programme director, and got the job despite competing against 20 other people. She was offered a 50% position and now works with people all over the world.

So what can we learn from Shivani’s story?

Shivani’s story shows us that the key factors for her success in growing and developing her career, even though she was working part time and caring for her daughter, were that she was always continually learning and focussed hard on networking. She claims that the network she built in Switzerland was instrumental in helping her find a job in Australia. She also always remained actively engaged with employment or volunteering.

In her own words, Shivani says her success boils down to three things:

  1. Always invest in yourself
  2. Don’t give up on yourself, even when it feels hard
  3. Develop and maintain your network

We have partnered with Advance to launch a new research project on Flexible and Smart Working. In doing this research, we will attempt to speed up culture change by showing what has worked for other companies who have already committed to change. We want to share best practices that are proven to be effective, to demonstrate that getting this right will drive success in business, and inspire companies to be bold in trying new approaches. To find out more, click here.

Through our corporate solutions at Thriving Talent as well as through our brand, Thriving Parents, we support and enable working parents to realise their career aspirations whilst enjoying their family life. If you would like us to help your company build a more supportive environment for working parents and carers or you would like to be part of an exclusive support group, please get in touch.

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