When the Professional Women Association of Milan (PWA) offered me the opportunity to participate to the panel discussion “How to reinvent yourself”, my first reaction was: “What do I have to tell, do I really “reinvented” myself?” In fact, when I looked back, there was a time when I gave a boost to my professional life, but as often happens in life, at that time it did not seem a particularly brave choice, but the ‘”only” choice I could make.
First things first.
I graduated in Business Administration at Bocconi University. I started my professional experience in a consulting multinational, where I had the opportunity to live and work in very different contexts. After some years I decided to stop, go back to Italy permanently and start a family. So I started working at a consulting and market research company based in Milano, specializing in the pharmaceutical industry.
My career so far did’nt face any interruption, I never felt different as a woman, in fact I always had the impression of living in a meritocratic environment.
I thought that those stories of discriminated women where somehow imaginative.
We reach 2006 and that’s the time when I give birth to my first daughter.
My career position at that point is project manager, I have the responsibility to manage projects and resources.
When I return from maternity leave, the company is in a moment of promotions: some project managers are likely to be assigned the commercial responsibility of certain clients.
I’m very interested in developing my skills in the sales/commercial area and I come forward. I reassure my boss that I will be able to handle the increased responsibility while having a little girl.
It’s a long and heated negotiation but I finally convince him to trust in me and to challenge me.
I start my new challenge and it often happens that at 6PM I leave the meeting because it is the time when the nanny has to go home.
Fortunately the boss, the same one who has agreed to trust in me, is enough open-minded – I am sorry to admit that he is a foreigner – and does not get too much flustered if, at a certain time, I have to go into “mommy mode“. And then go back into “work mode” when the child is asleep.
My type of work allowed to be easily measured on results: number of sold projects, budget reach, customer satisfaction. This balance continues well for several months until I leave again the company for my second pregnancy.
After returning from my second maternity, I find a much more daunting situation.
I often questioned, in the following months, on how much It depended on a different attitude that I had, on a lower confidence by the company in my ability to organize my family and work life, having now two small children, on both of these things together.
I lose the commercial responsibility of my former clients, with an objection that deeply hurt me: “You know, in your “conditions” we can’t assign you an important project or client.” But what conditions? Am I sick? Did I lose my brain? Let me do it, test me (the boss was changed, Italian this time). But this time I do not believe it too much either. I don’t have the strength to insist, to argue, to regain possession of my space. I am disappointed and demotivated.
And there I understand that I MUST do something. I try to analyze what was happening to me in a rational way. What has changed in me? What caused my lack of motivation? What messages did the company send me? What went right and what went wrong in the relationship between me and my company in the period of time around my maternities?
I become interested to the subject and start to hear and read many stories of women who, more or less voluntarily, left their job following a maternity. We are, at that time, in 2009 the middle of the economic crisis and this has probably exacerbated the problem.
I begin to confront on these issues with career women (with and without children), with entrepreneurs, with male managers.
I want to understand how such events are isolated or are the expression of a widespread mentality.
It happens that I have also a discussion with my husband: in his team they need to fill in an open position and should promote a person.
In such a crystalline way, his answer is: “no, we can’t promote her, even if she is the most suitable for tha position, because she just got married and might have a child soon”.
Fine, I put all the pieces together.
My weak commitment and the desire to leave the company;
the awareness that many women experience similar paths;
the disinvestment that companies often put in place towards women and especially towards mothers;
men, even relatively young ones, who carry on, without asking themselves too many questions, very damaging practices and stereotypes.
And I say to myself: there is an inefficiency, a waste of resources, a myopia in the working environment that needs to be solved!
The biggest difficulty at the beginning was to rationalize an utopian dream (a more equal working environment for women) and to converge it into a concrete and understandable offering.
I tried to address the issue as one of many organizational issues that I faced with my clients over the years, trying to define:
- what was the problem: dealing with a maternity
- why that was a problem: maternity it is basically perceived as a cost, but in the reality if well managed from the beginning is just a matter of organization (What I always tell to HR is: don’t you think it’s much more preferable to deal with the maternity of manager – event that you get to know approx 6 months in advance – than with a broken leg which causes a sudden and unexpected absence)
- how to minimize this “cost”: maternity has to be managed in a structured way as any other organizational event. I decomposed the problem in stages: before-during-after maternity leave. I then developed a rational model to accompany the organization smoothly in each phase, giving a concrete answer to an issue that is simple but not easy.
At the end, the idea is to build a model that helps the company to stop considering the maternity as a problem, which I believe is win-win for both the organization and the woman.
Over the months my offering has enriched, but the original idea started from there.
As I tried to explain so far, more than deciding how to reinvent myself, I did the only thing I could think at that time. I followed an objective that thrilled me, a passion that blossomed by chance, based on my life experience.
Now, a year and half has passed. The balance is positive, although, as you can imagine, I have gone through difficult times:
- understanding what is the best route to take, among so many options that you encounter on your path;
- genuinely trust the wrong people, who then make you only lose time and sometimes hurt you;
- finding a way to keep going and self encouraging, as there is no one else that can give you the determination that you need.
Looking back at my experience in the last months, I tried to think what went well and what could have been better in the process of “reinventing myself”.
I have identified 3 key aspects that perhaps may be useful to take into consideration when you are evaluating a change in your life:
- Be proactive not only reactive: probably the need for a change comes from an unsatisfactory working situation, but I think the biggest boost and focus needs to be on the positive side: more “I feel the urgency of doing this new thing”, than “I hate this job and need to find something else” .
- Define a time frame to measure your success and keep going until then: my mood and optimism varies every other week, but I constantly force myself to remember that changes happen slowly and take time. This is a way to regain enthusiasm and confidence in me, periodically.
- You are in charge of your own choices: of course is good to follow advices and speak with people, but don’t get distracted from your objectives. You know what is best for you and for your activity and, most importantly, nobody else cares for it as you do. So you should have the final word, always.
I leave you with a beautiful sentence that I recently read on this: “You cannot reinvent yourself unless you are passionate about what you will become”.