An Amazon director’s top five career tips for working mums

Many worry that becoming a parent – particularly a mum – can have a negative impact on their career. For one senior executive at Amazon, however, it had the opposite effect

 
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Becoming a mum can help a great deal with career progression, particularly as it enables you to gain a lot of perspective

Author: Fiona McDonnell, Director of Beer, Wine and Spirits, Amazon

13 Feb 2018

When I had my first child, I was the managing director of a Dutch manufacturing firm. At that time, I was working late and wondered how I would ever be able to keep up with the intense demands of the job. I returned to work after 16 weeks (the Dutch standard) and decided to still feed the baby myself.

Logistically, the first few months were brutally organised to allow for both feeding and work, but it was important to me that I did this for my child. I didn’t have any extended family nearby, but my husband and I became a real team – we found a way. What at first sounded impossible soon became routine, and I quickly found I dropped the things that didn’t matter, made different choices and became way more productive as a result.

I quickly found I dropped the things that didn’t matter, made different choices and became way more productive as a result

I have always aspired to be a leader and I didn’t want to compromise my position in the boardroom when I became a mum. Nor did I have children with the intention of never seeing them. So I set out to do both. Not only was I able to keep up with my career, I also found my new outlook helped me progress: I joined Amazon Germany as Director of Toys in 2015 and quickly became Director of Beer, Wines and Spirits for the whole of Europe.

Looking back, I’ve found that becoming a mum has helped me a great deal in my career, particularly as it has enabled me to gain a lot of perspective. Here are the five most important things I learned when I became a mum:

Prioritise and become more productive
Start as you mean to go on. If you want to feed your baby yourself while still working, be ruthless when organising your day. Focus on the important things, say ‘no’ more and trust your gut feeling to make quicker, better decisions.

The clarity that stems from having a little baby that depends on you is enlightening. You’ll be surprised how much stuff is suddenly not that important – and this skill will stay with you. You quickly develop your own routine and this will help manage colleagues’ expectations of you in the process.

Flexibility is invaluable – ask for it
Getting the support of your partner or spouse is key, and don’t be afraid to ask family or friends for help. Look into your company’s parental leave policies, too. They can be really valuable in giving new parents the room to find their own routine and fit work around family.

I have breakfast with my kids, work during my commute and leave the office promptly to be back at home for bedtime reading each evening. I also work from home one or two days a week so I can do the school run, which is important to me. In this day and age, with the freedom technology offers, work can be done almost anywhere and many employers offer some degree of flexible working.

Don’t hide ‘the mum’. It’s an asset
Sleep deprivation is almost unavoidable when becoming a new mum. One coping mechanism is to understand where you get your energy from – mentally as much as physically – and then drop things that don’t support you. It takes energy trying to be someone else or uphold some vision of the ‘perfect’ mother or career woman. Be brave enough to let go.

It takes energy trying to be someone else or uphold some vision of the ‘perfect’ mother or career woman. Be brave enough to let go

Authenticity emerges when you stop trying to be someone else. You may find yourself more relaxed and content – you’re likely to be more effective, too. Take inspiration from your kids. There’s many a parent who has learnt a lot from negotiating with a three year old or from their child’s ability to simply say things as they are.

Leave your work at work
As tempting as it is to keep an eye on your work phone for incoming messages, don’t mix work with your family time – especially on holiday. Holidays are there for a reason and quality family time should be just that.

Being effective is about managing your attention as well as your time. It’s not always easy but you will soon reap the benefits, becoming more refreshed and focused as a result. 

Find your own definition of success
There will always be people queuing up to tell you women can’t have it all – don’t listen to them. No two women and no two mothers are the same; we all have different priorities in life. There are so many opportunities today in terms of technology or policies that employers deliver to support employees’ working preferences, so find something that resonates with you.

Only you can define what it means to ‘have it all’. Measuring yourself against other people’s definition of success will leave you unfulfilled. Know what your values and priorities in life are, keep your ambition and set out to succeed on your own terms.