Interview

A second-generation working mum: How connecting people and creating value positioned Autodesk’s Deb Manning for a global role

by Liz Marchant

Deborah Manning is the senior manager for global programs and promotions at Autodesk. Deb’s marketing experience spans more than two decades, during which time she’s also raised two children.  

We sat down with Deb to find out more about what drives her to succeed, the examples she’s followed, and the advice she has for other young women looking to make their mark in the world of marketing.  

Number of kids: 2
Age of kids: Jiselle, 17 and Tobey, 14

Who are you most inspired by?  

My mum was a professional and at the cutting edge of women in the workforce. She was one of only a few women in her degree program at university and now she’s retired and serves on company board in the not-for-profit sector. She grew up in a world where women were expected to do everything in the homeThe work she does now is what keeps her going, even in retirement, because it means she’s still using her mind.  

Mum was the role model for me as a woman. Back in high school it was unusual that mum worked full-time, but these days, most women my age are balancing part-time or full-time work and children. My mum’s example showed me that it’s possible to have a career and be a successful mum; one doesn’t have to switch off to have the other.  

There’s flexibility around what work means for each individual. I have friends who have built their own businesses versus those of us working for corporates. The world has hit a phase where women can craft and mould what career means for them.  

How important is role-modelling for you?  

It’s very important. I believe that the children of a working mum have to grow up fast and be independent and self-sufficient. My children have learnt to take responsibility for themselves and for things like getting homework done. We don’t track and push it; they own it.  

I’ve noticed a real disparity between how men and women who travel for work are perceived. A male colleague once said my husband must hate that I travel all the time for work; no one would say that to a man. In fact, we wouldn’t question men travelling triple the time I’m away from home. We have a long way to go before we can stop having that conversation.  

It’s essential to role-model not only working, but enjoying and engaging with work so the next generation understands that it’s not only acceptable, but desirable to gain fulfilment through your career, if that’s your choice.  

You have a global role and work from home. How do you manage your time?  

My day starts at 5am and ends at midnight often. I’ve had to shift my routine around to suit the global role as we have team members based in the US, APAC and the UK, which creates global time zone issues. I typically start my first conference call at 5am, which means I roll out of bed and I’m on camera (with an amazing filter!) 

I’ll work without any breaks until lunchtime, dealing with emails that have come in overnight. Then I’ll pause work to go for a run, sort out anything in the house that needs sorting, Then, I’ll spend the afternoon doing project work. This is when I’m most alert and focused, so it’s a good time for deep work. I like the fact that I’m not completely packed with meetings from 9am until 5pm because it affords that deep work time.  

Then, I’ll have calls with Europe from 6pm until 8pm, and maybe a later call depending on the day. Although it sounds like a heavy schedule, I’m able to flex in and out of meetings and create space in the diary for the family and personal time.  

It’s important to know how to prioritise and what’s important. It’s been really good for me to release my team to own and manage their work. There isn’t much space for micro management in this kind of arrangement. I have a great team that I can trust to figure out what needs to be done and keep me informed as projects roll out 

Unfortunately, this means that the peak of work collaborative time happens at a time that would normally be set aside for family. On the flip side, I’m at home, so the kids can come and see me and hang out when they get home. If they walk in and hear me on a call, they often pop in, give me wave, then we can talk about their day when the call is done. This creates a nice organic balance.  

How did you manage to get a global role while based in Australia?  

I started work in a small channel partner, moved to a larger national channel partner, then moved across to the vendor. This meant I got a solid understanding of the entire business, from channel marketing to field marketing, then an APAC role. Understanding all the different parts of the business has helped me fit into the wider business and drives the success I’m able to deliver.  

I think my success hinges on bringing people together. I’m really not interested in politics. I’ll give my point of view based on the business and I have genuine care and concern for the team I’m building.  

In a dynamic organisation with lots of moving parts, it’s important to avoid power struggles and be true to the needs of the team and the business. I will always sensitively speak my mind, I’m upfront about why I think a certain way, and I’m vocal and open in a collaborative way.  

When you travel for work, what happens at home?  

The family gets into a rhythm and it can be hard for me to plug back in straight away when I get back. If I try to take control, it throws their rhythm out. I’m sensitive to that; I’ll plug back in but give everyone 24 hours or so to get used to it.  

We have a regular framework when I’m away, it’s not a massive disruption. My son doesn’t like it when I travel, but he and my husband are close and manage well together. The perception is that boys are tough but they’re actually quite emotional and need their mums too!  

We deal with the space by texting each other in a family group message. Facetime doesn’t always work because of time zones, so text messaging keeps us connected. We have an open dialogue regarding how everyone is feeling. For my son in particular, we talk a lot in the lead up to a trip so he understands where I’m going, who I’m seeing, and what I’m doing. And we make travel feel routine rather than out of the ordinary.  

How do you manage the logistics of your home?  

Working in general for me means have to be flexible and let some things drop. This means no longer stressing about cleaning the house or doing the washing (OK, maybe I never stressed about that too much!). I build structure around the things I can control. I have a cleaner which is hugely valuable.  

We have had amazing support from uni students over the years to pick up the kids and drive them around so we weren’t pressured to do that as something extra. And that was flexible because I have complete autonomy over how I get work done, so if I needed to drive the kids somewhere I could.  

Basically, I refusto allow myself to be loaded up with pressure to have everything done perfectly. I let the kids manage themselves in many ways. Otherwise it would become overwhelming.  

What’s important to you in a role?  

Flexibility, challenge and growth opportunity is probably most important. I love the travel, even though it can be hard sometimes. If I asked my 17-year-old self what I wanted, I think she’d say I’m living the dream in terms of my role, experience, and growth potential.  

I may like to slow down one day, but not yet. I have a good many years of being crazy busy left in me, and then we’ll see.  

There are some challenges around missing local connections because I’m in a global, outward-looking role. There aren’t people to have coffee or a Friday night drink with, but I fill that gap to some extent by getting involved in local networking when I can 

This has given me opportunity to learn from others and mentor younger people coming up through the ranks. It also provides exposure to other industries. It’s important to be intentional about local connections to balance out the distance.  

Did you have any personal concerns in relation to family or out-of-work commitments when you started combining working and parenting?  

When Jiselle was born I had a consulting role lined up so I went straight back into work. I didn’t want to be at home full time. We used nannies or my mother or my mother-in-law. When Tobey was born, I decided to stop working and, instead, took up exchange and currency trading which was a great way to fill the void work filled 

With a bunch of other mums, we did a course and learned how to trade. It was fun to learn something I had no clue about. After a few years I felt the urge to get back into something so went back to work four days a week.  

I never liked leaving the kids in daycare but I never doubted that the kids would be OK. saw them learn, grow, cope even if things weren’t perfect all the time. I never felt uncomfortable about that.  

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced finding a balance between work and parenting commitments?  

I’ve missed concerts and award ceremonies. But you have to accept that these things might happen. Interestingly, Jiselle was getting two academic awards a couple of years back, but the speech night clashed with her work shifts. She hadn’t blocked her work schedule and couldn’t get a replacement. She maturely accepted her fate and went to work (I was devastated to miss recording this life moment with her). That was an excellent life lesson about planning in advance. She didn’t miss the awards ceremony last year but, as fate would have it, I was travelling so still missed out! 

What advice would you give someone before commencing maternity leave?  

I’d say be flexible because you don’t know how you’ll feel once you have the baby, so don’t lock anything down. Have the baby and decide what to do once you’ve had some space and really understand what is going to be best for your new little family 

What advice would you give someone returning to their career after having kids?  

Find the right flexibility and environment for you. It’s personal and you have to be comfortable with the decision. It has to work within your lifestyle and meet your family values. My family dynamics are relaxed and easy-going. There’s not too much stress around working late or travelling. We appreciate each other’s dynamics and flex with each other.  

Do you find time for yourself? If so, how and what do you use it for?  

I don’t feel any guilt about taking time for myself. I have a Saturday morning coffee with mum and I often go for a massage straight after. I prioritise myself because I wouldn’t cope well if I didn’t. The one thing that does suffer is time for girlfriends. I see my best friend every Sunday to do a walk around the cliffs and that’s mandatory, but you have to set these things up and stick to them.  

If you could do anything differently in relation to developing your career over the years, what would it be?  

I wouldn’t change a thing. I didn’t carve out this precise journey, but I’ve made the right decisions along the way. Opportunities have opened up for me based on my performance and my value to the business. I took the right pauses along the way when the kids were little, and I wouldn’t change anything.