Information Age is pleased to bring you this Diversity and Inclusion series, celebrating the glorious fabric of professionals that make up the IT sector.

This week, Elaine Vallance, Growth Markets Sales Transformation PMO Lead at Avanade, shares her story of combining parenting with a career in technology, the difference paid parental leave makes, and the gamechanging role of a flexible employer.

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have had the chance to experience working across two thriving markets. Originally from the UK, I moved to Australia in 2009 and quickly started working for Avanade, based in its Queensland office.

At the time, I had never worked in tech before, but an opportunity presented itself to me and I gave it a good, hard go.

I started as an executive assistant with a sales support role and very quickly grew to love the space and industry I was working in - it was fast-paced, kept me on my toes, and full of passionate people you can feed off and learn from.

The more I learned about the business, the more I wanted to go further and expand my role.

I wanted to start talking to clients about the emerging technologies that are changing the way we live, work and play, and how we can help them make a genuine human impact.

With hard work and determination, I soon made the internal switch and started a new role as a business analyst.

New roles personally and professionally

By this time, I was 30 weeks pregnant with my first child.

Parental leave came and went, and upon my return, like most mothers I had plenty on my mind: from anxiety about leaving the baby to concerns around breastfeeding on site and managing my new roles as a mum and business analyst.

I quickly learnt to let go of the 9am to 5pm mindset – it was no longer a realistic expectation to have for myself.

It’s key to learn the art of prioritisation and to constantly ask yourself what is really important. I structure my day so that it works for me, my child and my work.

Moving into my newfound status as a mum in the professional world, I wanted to lead by example and prove that you can be a working mum in tech, provide for your family and be present at home and at work.

Fast forward three years, I am still working and thriving at Avanade as I welcomed baby number two.

During this time, I had the added bonus of Avanade extending their parental leave benefit to 18 weeks paid parental leave for all parents, regardless of gender.

Parental leave benefits are not only financially helpful, but also allow working parents like me to spend time with the newborn, without having to worry about how we were going to cope with the extra daycare fees for our toddler.

In my case, when baby number two arrived, the extra time was a lifesaver.

My new bundle of joy had bottle refusal, solid refusal and refused to be cared for by anyone else other than me.

This meant that even daycare was not an option when I wanted to return to work.

To be with a company that presented the option of flexible working and to return when I was ready was exactly the support I needed during this time.

Making work, work for you

More recently, Avanade piloted the Alternative Work Week globally to allow for more flexible working arrangements.

Through this program, Avanade employees have the option of working their contracted hours in fewer days.

It isn’t about compressing the week, but more about increasing efficiency and being intentional with your time to allow for more flexibility.

You can choose between a 9-day fortnight or 4-day week – all at your own pace, with the acknowledgement that it's good for the business as well as for you and your family.

This initiative was a gamechanger for me as a working mum.

Not only was I able to be there for my children, but I was also effective and efficient as a parent, an employee and a team member. I made work, work for me; and my family and Avanade played critical roles in making that all possible.

With support and the right initiatives in place, all things are possible

I often reflect on how sometimes we forget the benefits Avanade offers because we are so used to having them; but some companies offer very little or do not provide any flexible options to return to work.

Families go through so much financially, emotionally and physically to bring a person into the world - and it's great to know that your employer understands you, they appreciate you and they will make you successful in and outside of work.

The support and flexibility provided to me by Avanade is testament that putting your people first paves the way for great success.

In my ongoing journey at Avanade, not only was I able to grow my family, but I was also able to challenge myself and seek growth opportunities internally.

Two kids and 12 months of parental leave later, I am now Avanade’s Growth Markets Sales Transformation PMO Lead, a role that expands beyond Australia to cover Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East.

When it comes to nailing both parenting and career options, in my personal experience and in chatting with my support network of friends and coworkers at Avanade, I have found that women will read job descriptions and not push themselves to grow further in a role if they don’t meet every criteria.

It is important to dull that negative voice in your head. You may not meet all the criteria but there is always an opportunity to grow and develop – a company can help with additional resourcing if they think you are a good fit for a role.

Family life must carry on, work life has to carry on, and you need to find a way that works for you.

And to all the working parents out there, don’t be afraid to speak with your employer. If you can negotiate with a toddler, you can negotiate with anyone!

This Diversity and Inclusion series is brought to you by the ACS National Diversity and Inclusion Council (NDIC). The role of NDIC is to provide strategic advice addressing challenges related to diversity and inclusion within both ACS and the wider technology community.

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