All in a day’s work: From a newborn to a business pitch

By Helen Masters
Credit: Getty Images
Helen Masters, Executive Vice President of Ivanti, shares five pockets of wisdom that she has learnt throughout her career

I am proud of where I have got to in my career and as a mother. Which I should be, as research has shown again, and again, that women face a different set of challenges than their male counterparts. Thanks to various societal structures and socio-economic factors, many women still do the bulk – be it housework, childcare or the never-ending to-do list – and that’s in addition to their often-sizeable employment responsibilities. 

Factor in the pandemic, and all of these pre-existing responsibilities, and what we’re left with is the generation of women heading towards burnout as they try to do it all. This needs to change. 

I take myself for example, working from home, whilst positive in so many ways, has also meant housework often calls my name during my lunch break. Yet, there’s an opportunity to redress the balance that is still being formed as we navigate the world of working from anywhere. Women can do it all, but what does that look like, and how can you make it work for you? Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way.

Lessons from my mother

When I began my career in the Australian IT industry it was heavily male-dominated and challenging to rise to the executive ranks as a female. I constantly found myself having to manage the male ego. But my mother brought me up with the belief that anything is possible provided you have interest and drive, and this lesson has fuelled me throughout my life.

My mother is barely five-foot tall and a fireball. She emigrated to Australia at 11, was in an arranged marriage at 18, and had me at 19. I grew up admiring her strength, determination, and drive. While raising me, she started a number of her own businesses and taught herself everything she needed to know. She encouraged me to do anything, and I’ve tried to be the same influence for my own daughter and son. Believing that you can achieve your goals, and surrounding yourself with mentors and support systems that encourage you, is a powerful tool.

Having children without taking my foot off the career pedal

One of my most vivid personal and career memories, that epitomises these lessons, is leading an RFP from my hospital bed, with my team around me, the day after I gave birth to my son via c-section. While this might shock some, it certainly isn’t something I regret. 

I was working in a very small business at the time. There were 15 of us in the organisation and only myself and two others in the management team. We all had a stake in the company’s success, and it was pivotal that all hands were on deck. I would never expect or demand another woman do the same but see my ability to have done it as a testament to female strength.

I do not believe you should have to pick one or the other – motherhood or a career. In fact, I hope future generations entering the workforce have more options available to them, to make true work-life balance achievable.

Technology, and how businesses invest in it, can pave the way here. There are more tools than ever available to businesses, to support working. And the more businesses that invest wisely, the better placed the workforce will be to accommodate the diversity of talent that is needed to allow for success. 

Adapting your style to suit any situation

Just as I’ve developed an ability to quickly switch from personal to professional, I’ve also had to learn how to adapt my work persona to fit different societal expectations. While some of these learnings apply to both men and women – for instance, speaking slowly and quietly in Japan – there are additional nuances female business associates need to be aware of. 

For example, in some Asian countries, it would be seen as disrespectful for women to wear trousers, whilst in other countries dressing modestly and covering your shoulders is the law. 

Taking the time to learn from my local teams has been crucial to enabling me to adapt my style in order to effectively negotiate with the king of an island in Indonesia one day and the CEO of a Western organisation the next. What’s more, I’ve found that women’s naturally empathetic nature gives us the edge in business interactions.

Preventing a she-cession

While my career has been deeply rewarding it is also undeniable that being a high-achieving working mum has meant I missed a lot of my daughter and son’s childhoods. I’m conscious that other working mothers might currently have the same concerns. 

One way this could be tackled could be by incorporating childcare facilities back into offices, as was done and then abandoned several years ago. This would allow parents to see more of their children around working hours. What’s more, it would help combat the currently crippling costs of childcare, which have already begun forcing women unwillingly out of the workforce. 

In addition to encouraging people back into physical offices to prevent financial wastage on unused spaces. I also believe that businesses need to continually re-evaluate the benefits, tools and processes they have in place that enables their employees to do their jobs effectively.

Empower and support

Women have and will continue to orchestrate their own career success, including by turning traditionally female attributes to their advantage. However, it’s essential that our future female leaders are brought up believing that nothing is off limits to them as a woman. 

Furthermore, both male and female business leaders need to support them in overcoming challenges that could stunt their careers based on pervasive societal expectations. Such as the assumption that the mother should stay home with their children in the face of a difficult financial environment. 

Office creches could be part of the solution, but businesses need to challenge themselves to find out more about their female employee's needs and implement corresponding initiatives to ensure they can thrive. 


Words: Helen Masters, Executive Vice President, Ivanti


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