Anna works in finance and re-entered after a five-year career break via a returnship programme. She kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us and let us in on her version of the working-family-life juggle…
Photography by the phenomenally talented Demelza Lightfoot | © Demelza Lightfoot Photography
Thanks so much for speaking to us Anna! Tell us, who lives in your house?
I live in Hampstead with my husband and our two sons, aged three and seven years.
Have you always lived in London? Where did you grow up?
I am Italian but have been very lucky to grow up in Luxembourg, where I learnt to speak various languages and learnt about the meaning of the big European project. I consider myself a true European as I have had exposure to all European cultures while attending the European School. I consider myself very fortunate to have had a truly International upbringing.
“My husband and I run a very tight ship.”
What has motherhood taught you?
Motherhood has taught me patience and compassion.
Did you take time off work when you had your family? How did you re-enter?
I took a five year career break to be with my kids during the early years of their lives. I was lucky enough to be accepted on a returnship programme which helped me get a foot in the door in finance, a sector which is not easy to re-enter once out for a few years.
How do you manage work around the children?
I am very organised when it comes to childcare: my husband and I run a very tight ship. We have very good help at home and our kids get everything they need between us and the nanny. We are very much involved in their lives and attend all school events. Our work-life balance is non-negotiable.
“Speak to people at the school gates about wanting to go back to work as they may have friends or family in your sector.”
What are your best tips for other working mums about to re-enter the work force?
Forget about traditional headhunters and start networking. I am aware that our Rolodex of contacts may be out of date, so the best thing is to approach people on LinkedIn by doing searches, attending events through Women Returners or other recruiters specifically targeting our demographic, applying to returnship programmes as that puts you in touch with lots of candidates and HR departments directly.
I would also get involved in your community: speak to people at the school gates about wanting to go back to work as they may have friends or family in your sector. Get involved with people around you, as everyone could be a potential lead.
I have also found the App Rungway very helpful. It is a mentoring and advice App where you have access to a huge pool of professionals from all sectors. You can ask advice about career or anything else.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
I have finally achieved work-life balance because I have found an employer that believes in flexibility and is committed to bringing diversity to its workforce. In my previous role, I was working very long hours, but that was simply the nature of the job, on a trading floor. I decided that I would not compromise on home time with my kids, so I looked for a fit within the industry, but in a different role. My job now is a perfect fit because it utilises my best skills, but also gives me job satisfaction and flexibility with my specified hours.
Women often are scared to ask for flex. When I was interviewing I decided that I would set my conditions straight: I wanted to work a four-day week, I would be willing to start before 8am but leave at the latest 5.30pm every night. That was non-negotiable and I would not settle until I found that balance. I made it clear that I would dedicate my ‘work time’ to work and be very productive during those hours.
“I was finally proving to myself, and to all the women out there struggling to get back on the career ladder, that it is possible if you really want it!”
What do you love about your role? What are the challenges?
I love my role because it is very different from what I have done before. It is less about the markets, being glued to a Bloomberg terminal, and more about strategic planning and product strategy. It allows me to look at the bigger picture and at the direction the company is going. It is more about the longer term objectives, less about the day to day profit making. I liaise with different departments within the firm which allows me work on a variety of projects.
I suppose the challenge with it is its nature: there are no typical days and often you have to be very entrepreneurial. There are no set tasks so the role is as good as I make it.
What has been your best career moment to date?
My best career moment was when, after securing a full time job at the end of my Returnship, I landed another job when I least expected it. I went from no jobs, to two very desirable ones at the same time! I felt extremely fortunate and empowered. After a five year career break I was finally proving to myself, and to all the women out there struggling to get back on the career ladder, that it is possible if you really want it!
What is your approach to health and well-being?
I try to go to the gym three to four times a week. Two evenings after bedtime, on my day off (Fridays) and on Saturdays. I look forward to completely letting go in my spinning, bootcamp and Pilates classes. It gives me a clear head and is an amazing stress relief! My husband is a fitness fanatic so he understands my need to exercise. We give each other turns while the other looks after the kids.
“My mentor keeps me grounded but also has a way to push me beyond thresholds I did not know I could go.”
Describe three things you can’t live without in the day.
I can’t live without: my phone (it is my life!), coffee and dark chocolate.
Do you have a favourite family recipe?
The most reliable recipe in our family is pasta pesto with hidden broccoli. The broccoli turns into the pesto, the pesto turns into the broccoli. They don’t even see it!
Describe a recent discovery that you love.
Recent discovery: HELLO FRESH! Has made my dinners so easy to plan.
Do you have a role model or work mentor?
I have a mentor and I feel so lucky to have met her. She empowers me and she is an amazing role model. She keeps me grounded but also has a way to push me beyond thresholds I did not know I could go.
Do you read for leisure?
I rarely read for leisure because of lack of time! If my husband and I have some spare time together we plan holidays, talk about the kids and watch TV series comatose on the sofa…..
What are you favourite work and non-work outfits?
My typical work outfits are simple comfortable dresses or black/navy trousers with a light coloured shirt. I like to accessorise with colourful bangles and scarves. I tend to like unusual shapes or styles. I have a selection of heels at work which I wear based on my mood. Some are very colourful! My favourite non-work outfit is jeans and t-shirt.
Name your favourite holiday destination.
Our favourite holiday destination is Sardinia. The kids get to practice their Italian and we are in love with the beaches and the food!
What does your ideal weekend involve?
My ideal weekend involves a drive outside of London with my family, away from the homework and the sports commitments my kids have. Needless to say that the weekends away do not happen very often so not to miss the pre-paid excruciatingly expensive swimming lessons (why, oh why, do we do this?!)
“Do not feel grateful to have found an employer, they are lucky to have found you!”
Name a few of your favourite things at home.
My favourite things at home: my sofa and its pillows and throw, my kids’ beds because they smell of them (I love my babies’ smell!), my small but calming garden corner, the kids’ artwork displayed in the kitchen and my food cupboard.
“You now are a working mum, and that is not to be taken for granted. That is a skill, an aspiration and ultimately an inspiration.”
What are you top tips for other working mums?
Make sure you do not compromise on the work-life balance that you need. Do not feel grateful to have found an employer, they are lucky to have found you! Set your conditions clearly and at the beginning, because there is nothing more daunting and stressful than going back to work knowing you won’t see your kids until Saturday.
Find a nanny that gives you a good vibe, do not go with your head, go with your heart. Once you have the employer and the nanny on board and once you feel you have the childcare covered, think about yourself and how you want to be perceived.
First impressions are made within seconds so look the part. After a long break from work, you want to feel beautiful and confident. Go buy new clothes and ditch the old suits:
1. They are likely to be out of fashion.
2. No doubt your style has changed too.
3. This is the new you as a working mum!
Dress the part and wear what makes you comfortable, as that will make you look and feel confident.
Watch the Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy on ‘Your body language shapes who you are.’ Not only you will cry, but you will feel inspired by her tips.
Now you are a kick a$$ woman, who not only had a previous career, but also had kids, managed a household and had enough strength and character to go and find herself a new job. You now are a working mum, and that is not to be taken for granted. That is a skill, an aspiration and ultimately an inspiration.