A seat at the table series: Focusing on career development while being a mother

On September 27, 2023 motherhood, parenting, women in programmatic

IAB Australia has partnered with The Women in Programmatic Network (TWIPN) to launch the Seat at the Table Series. The series will dive into the personal experiences of those from the local advertising community, and give these role models a seat at the table to share their story. Each month we’ll feature a different topic and guest speaker.  

September is the most common month for newborns in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, three out of five most common birthdays are on September 17, September 23 and September 24.  In the past, career orientation/progression and motherhood were not seen as compatible. This has started to change, and we have some wonderful examples of women in our industry who are doing both.  So for our September interview, we are featuring Aline Eloy, Group Digital Director at Alchemy One who will be opening up to us about her experience focusing on career development while being a mother.

To get started, we’d love for the readers to get to know a bit about you and how you got to where you are today. How did you land in the media industry and why did you stay?

I’m originally from Brazil, and my journey in the media industry began there when I started as an intern, working with digital marketing for Dell Computers. What drew me into this world was the dynamic and ever-changing nature of agency life. It’s a fast-paced environment where no two days are the same, and success relies on teamwork. Of course, when I was younger, I also felt in love with the perks!

When I decided to make the move to Australia, I knew I had to start from scratch as an intern again. However, I welcomed the challenge because, in media, it’s not just about mastering the tools. As a planner and buyer, I needed to understand the Australian media landscape and how things worked in this new market. Along the way, I had the privilege of finding mentors who recognised my potential in specific areas and were open to giving me opportunities to grow.

My journey has taken me from being a digital planner and buyer to delving into programmatic advertising and ultimately adopting a more holistic approach to managing all digital channels. There have been moments when I questioned the industry’s alignment with my values, but I’ve been fortunate to adapt and reshape my perspective over the years, finding renewed inspiration to continue on this path.

The media industry has been a rollercoaster ride, but the opportunities for growth, the constant evolution, and the chance to work with incredible teams have kept me motivated and committed to this field.

Who inspires you in our industry? And why? 

One industry figure who has recently inspired me immensely is Melinda Geertz (CEO, Leo Burnett). Admittedly, I had to give this question some thought, but fortunately, my perspective was enriched after attending the IPA’s Business & Agency Leadership event, where I had the privilege of hearing her speak.

What truly stood out to me was Melinda’s approach to leadership. I found her willingness to be vulnerable by intertwining her personal life journey with her professional experiences to be incredibly inspiring. It’s not every day you encounter a leader who is both exceptionally knowledgeable and exceptionally kind. Melinda struck me as precisely that kind of leader. Her authenticity and kindness made me think, “I want to work for someone like her.”

Beyond her career achievements and expertise, Melinda demonstrated what true leadership is all about. It’s about inspiring people not just through their professional accomplishments but on a human level. She reminded me that great leaders are those who make others feel inspired by who they are as individuals. Her ability to blend her personal story with her career insights left a lasting impression on me, and she serves as a shining example of the kind of leader I aspire to be.

Choosing to have children is a huge decision for women emotionally, physically, financially and in terms of their career. When considering having children, what concerns did you have, particularly for your career?

To be completely honest and transparent, it was a surprise from the universe! I had no clear plans to become a parent when it happened. So I feel like I personally didn’t have to make the decision to take this step, but I had to decide how I would adapt to it.

One of the primary concerns that weighed heavily on my mind was the rapidly evolving nature of the digital industry. The digital landscape is in a perpetual state of transformation. I couldn’t help but feel a strong sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) at the thought of stepping away from my role. I was worried that upon my return, the industry would have evolved so significantly that I’d feel like a complete outsider, struggling to catch up.

Adding to my apprehension was the fact that I don’t have any family here, and I lack a support network that could extend a helping hand when needed. This aspect felt particularly overwhelming because I was acutely aware of the late nights and early mornings that my role often demanded. I knew that maintaining such a schedule would become increasingly challenging with the responsibilities of parenthood.

In essence, the decision to start a family forced me to reassess my priorities and take a hard look at my career aspirations. It introduced a host of new challenges and uncertainties, but it also offered an opportunity for personal growth and a shift in perspective on what truly matters in life.

You have a beautiful daughter, Lani, who is now 5 years old. What is something that you wish you had known when you were planning to become a parent?

Thank you, yes, Lani is indeed a beautiful and sassy bundle of joy. Reflecting on my journey as a parent, there are a couple of things I wish I had known.

First and foremost, I wish I had a deeper understanding of just how demanding parenting can be, especially when you’re also juggling a full-time career. People often throw around clichés about the challenges of parenthood, but I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of it until I experienced it firsthand. Balancing the responsibilities of work and parenting is a constant juggling act, and it requires an incredible amount of patience, time management, and emotional energy.

Additionally, I wish I had known myself better and acknowledged the need for an adjustment period when returning to work after becoming a parent. In retrospect, I see that I didn’t allow myself the space to transition gracefully into this new phase of my life. I dove back into full-time work with regular hours immediately, without recognising that I needed time to adapt both personally and professionally.

In essence, I underestimated the importance of being gentle with myself during this period of transition. It’s not easy, and I often humorously refer to my life as having two jobs. At 5 p.m., my second job as a mom begins, and it’s a role that demands just as much dedication and effort as my career. Recognising the need for balance and self-compassion has been a valuable lesson, and it’s something I wish I had realised sooner on my parenting journey.

As you mentioned, The Advertising industry changes every day. Women returning to work after having a child are more likely to face discrimination or to be pushed out of the labour force due to having to take care of a child. How long were you on maternity leave and what was it like to return to work?

I absolutely agree that the transition back to work after maternity leave can be incredibly challenging, and it’s a topic that deserves more attention. Personally, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take 10 months of maternity leave, which allowed me to spend valuable time with my child during those critical early stages of development.

Returning to work was undoubtedly a difficult adjustment. One thing that people who haven’t experienced parenthood often overlook is that you’re not just caring for another human being but a tiny individual with their own unique needs and demands. From illness to dental appointments, pediatric check-ups, and daycare or school responsibilities, it’s a full-time job in itself. I’m grateful to have an incredibly supportive partner in parenthood – my husband – who shares the responsibilities, but there have been moments when I’ve questioned if I should be doing more.

The pressure to meet societal standards of what constitutes a “good mother” is immense. And when you return to work, there’s often an expectation that you should seamlessly pick up where you left off, which is an unrealistic expectation. It’s not an isolated issue for our industry, but our industry has increasingly seen the departure of women after they become a parent. I believe companies should be more accommodating and respectful of the transition and demands of being a parent while juggling a full-time job. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found a workplace that understands and supports my parenting needs, and I believe it’s crucial for more organisations to adopt such an inclusive and supportive approach.

You hold two full-time jobs – being a mum to Lani and as a senior leader at Alchemy One. How have you approached your career growth while also raising a family? What are some key decisions or milestones you’ve encountered along the way?

I don’t think there’s a recipe for it, as each individual journey into parenthood is so unique. As I said, I feel very blessed to have a very strong partner on this journey that is an amazing support for my career and personal needs. I’m clearly still working on these points, but here’s my checklist for principles and decisions that have guided me along the way:

  • Setting Priorities: One of the most critical aspects of balancing career growth and parenthood is defining and maintaining clear priorities. Recognising that you can’t do it all and being honest with yourself about your limits is essential. I’ve learned that it’s crucial to focus on what truly matters to you and your family. What makes you happy? What makes you excited? What gets you excited to get out of bed?
  • Quality time & setting boundaries: It’s not about how long you spend at work or with your child, it’s about being present and having quality time. Establishing boundaries between work and personal life is vital. Knowing when to “draw the line in the sand” and being firm about what you can and can’t do is key. It’s easy to try to do it all, but understanding your limits and communicating them to your team and family is essential for maintaining balance.
  • Building a Supportive Team: Having a team that supports you and understands your needs outside of work is invaluable. It’s crucial to have colleagues and supervisors who are understanding and flexible when it comes to family commitments.
  • Respecting Yourself: One of the most significant decisions I made was to respect myself and acknowledge that I can work hard without sacrificing my well-being or my family’s needs. It’s about finding a balance that allows you to excel professionally while also nurturing your personal life.
  • Prioritising Efficiency: Parenthood has taught me the importance of being efficient with my time. I’ve become more selective about how I allocate my time and energy, focusing on activities and relationships that genuinely add value to my life, both personally and professionally. This selective approach helps me maintain a sense of balance and control that I’m in charge of this journey called life.

In your opinion, is our industry doing enough to support those going on parental leave? What can be improved?

Hard no, not only our industry. I wholeheartedly agree that there is much room for improvement in how our industry, and many others, supports individuals going on parental leave. Parenting is one of the most profound and important roles in a person’s life, and it’s essential for workplaces to acknowledge and facilitate this transition. 

The rigid nature of many workplaces, including our industry, makes it challenging for parents to find a balance between their professional and family responsibilities. The absence of part-time roles or flexible work arrangements limits options for those who may not want or be able to return to full-time work immediately after parental leave. Companies should embrace more flexible work models to accommodate parents’ needs. For me, this really shows that there is a need for a greater understanding of the challenges and demands that come with parenting, especially during the early stages of a child’s life. Companies should foster a culture of empathy and support, recognising that employees can still contribute effectively in different work formats, such as part-time or remote arrangements.

In my opinion, it’s essential for businesses to consider the long-term benefits of supporting employees through their parenting journey. By investing in the well-being and work-life balance of parents, companies can create a more loyal and motivated workforce. Moreover, retaining experienced employees can be more cost-effective than constantly recruiting and training new talent. Encouraging a culture that values and supports parents can lead to more engaged and dedicated employees. Companies that go the extra mile to assist parents in their transition back to work, provide childcare assistance, or offer parenting resources can build stronger loyalty and commitment from their employees.

To close, we’d love it if you could share some earned wisdom with our readers.  What’s one piece of advice you could give to those who are considering becoming parents?

Parenthood is a profound and transformative experience. By being informed, financially prepared, and flexible in your approach, you can navigate this journey with more confidence and resilience. Remember that your career and personal growth are still within your control. You don’t need to have all the answers for the future. Things might change, and aspirations might change, but be gentle and caring with yourself.

In saying that, I do have some pieces of advice. Before embarking on the journey of parenthood, take the time to thoroughly research and understand your company’s parental leave policies and benefits. Reach out to colleagues who have experienced parenthood while working at your organisation to gain insights into their experiences. Knowledge is power, and being informed about your rights and options both within and outside the company is crucial. Don’t underestimate the importance of flexibility. While it may not always be easy, try to negotiate with your employer for a work arrangement that aligns with your needs and the needs of your family. It’s okay to prioritise your well-being and the well-being of your family.

Parenthood comes with its own set of financial responsibilities. Plan and save accordingly to provide yourself with the financial freedom to enjoy the journey without undue financial stress. On top of that, if you plan, you also don’t feel like you need to come back for money. Make decisions based on your own terms rather than external factors.

Remember that every child is unique, and every parent’s journey is different. No amount of advice can fully prepare you for the joys and challenges of parenthood. Embrace the unknown and be patient with yourself as you navigate this new chapter in your life. Be gentle with yourself when making decisions, and truly focus on doing what is best for you. One thing that I learned the hard way is that if you’re not good with yourself, no one around you will be good. Back yourself on your decisions and if you get it wrong or if it doesn’t work, change!

Your career and personal growth ultimately depend on you. The vision might change along the way, and that’s ok, but if you have goals, focus your energy toward achieving them. Parenthood can be a catalyst for personal development, so use it as an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.