The hidden pressures women face at work
March 14, 2019
Lisa was a first time mother returning to work when tragedy struck. Instead of dealing with her pain, she not only soldiered on, but pushed herself to the limit, like many women in corporate environments do. This is her story.
I tendered against Accenture for a contract as their competitor in 2010. We lost.
Soon after, I got a call from the team at Accenture who had heard I was going to lead that account. They wanted me to do exactly what I was going to do, but with them instead.
It was an unexpected opportunity I couldn’t say no to. Off the back of that, I went from the outsourcing lead at a senior manager level, to being made the managing director on that account.
After six years on the account I was itching for something new, when I fell pregnant. Upon my re-entry into work, things took an unexpected turn.
It’s a sad and positive story at the same time. I’ve been this career minded, ambitious, would-work-long-hours, can-do-anything-sort-of-person my whole life. And then this gorgeous little boy comes along and changes my world. Your life and priorities shift.
All of a sudden, I was a return-to-work, first-time, older mum in my 40s. I didn’t want to come back to full time work, which Accenture was very supportive of, but there was a lot of pressure from the client to go full time.
My husband and son with me on a London trip last year.
Unfortunately, within a few months of returning to work, I found out I was pregnant again and because there was so much going on, I lost the baby while at work.
I had a miscarriage during a presentation I did for the client. I knew it had started. I was distressed, but I couldn’t leave. The project was worth millions of dollars and there was a lot of pressure on me to do this presentation because the client wanted it, so I soldiered on.
I had a procedure and I kept it all to myself. Within a couple of days, I was on a flight to host that client in one of our delivery centres in the Philippines to showcase what we were doing. I had a moment when someone asked, are you okay, and I realised I wasn’t.
That was the turning point because it made me think, is Accenture the right place for me? Should I be running these large scale delivery outsourced gigs? What is important to me?
When I finally disclosed what had happened, I was completely surprised by the level of support I got from Accenture. It was the beginning of a brand new journey for me.
I had a conversation with two male leaders I work with, and I thought they were going to say, “You’re not a good fit for Accenture if you can’t do this anymore”. It was the opposite.
Both men were upset that I had hidden so much for so long. “How could we have put you in this situation? Why didn’t you tell us what was going on? Why did you feel you didn’t have the support around you to reach out to us?”
What they had to say was vastly different to what I had imagined.
I have had the opportunity to travel in my role to see how our other geographies set up their offices. I was recently hosted by the Iberian team in 2018 in Madrid and Barcelona.
They recommended a great internal role in Geographic Services. They said, “We’ll be the clients, and we can manage the flexibility you need. We want women like you in these roles, because you bring so much talent to the internal organisation.”
That was a real confidence boost because not only had they shown me a new direction, which was something I craved, they didn’t compromise. Heading Geographic Services was a big job.
“My advice to others in similar scenarios is to not be afraid to put your hand up and ask for help. I did and I had a great outcome. Although it was tragic, it lead me to a big positive change. I love what I do now.”
There’s nothing wrong with saying you want to ease back in, and find your feet in the first few weeks. I went straight into contract negotiations working ten-hour days in my first week, which was hideous.
Our HR team is doing so many great things now. They are looking at a buddy system to help women transition after maternity leave. There’s someone there who’s been through it, who can tell you to slow down, when you’re going from zero to a hundred.
We’re more open to longer maternity leave, flexible and shared work arrangements. There’s so much more that we’re aware of now, and our male colleagues are seeing the benefits too. They take paternity leave and see the impact it has in their own personal lives.
Men are not immune to it. It’s not something only women go through. It’s all of us. It’s good to see male champions speak up in our organisation.
My experience has definitely shaped my leadership style. The biggest misconception about leaders in the workplace is that we’re perfect, or that we haven’t dealt with something personal that’s knocked us back.
Everybody has gone through something. Very few people have had the perfect career trajectory that hasn’t had some level of loss, hardship, compromise or change. No one is perfect.
A good leader is someone with empathy, who is able to see the bigger picture. Everybody has a different path to success and a true leader can help illuminate that path for an individual, warts and all.
Three generations (Mum, me and my son Riley in a pram) did the run together in 2017 – recovering at the Accenture tent.
Lisa Crennan is active corporate citizen, a disabilities sponsor and an advocate for Accenture’s Inclusion & Diversity. She supports Women in STEM and Dress for Success.