Interview

Athena Rogers, advancement manager at the University of Technology Sydney reflects on the challenges ahead with raising teenagers

by Liz Marchant

Athena Rogers, advancement manager, University of Technology Sydney
Age: 44.
Number of kids: 2.
Age of kids: 14 and 11

Can you describe what’s involved in doing your job on a day-to-day basis?

My day-to-day is really varied. I work for UTS, at the Centre for Neuroscience & Regenerative Medicine. My job is to source philanthropic funding to support research in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and spinal cord injury recovery.
I act as a conduit between a potential patron, their dream of a future without dementia, Parkinson’s disease or spinal cord injury, and the researchers who can make it happen, provided they have the right resources.
It involves building strong, strategic relationships with individuals and corporates, to align their interests with the programs and research initiatives of the University; very much like a business development role.
I see it as tapping into the humanitarian vision of high-powered people, to create long-term impact on some of the greatest health challenges of our age.

What’s important to you in a role?

I’m driven by giving back, empowering people, and making this world a better place. I wanted to work in the medical research space because there is so much to be done, and with a little money, we can make great change.

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

When I went back to work, my daughter was starting school, and my son would have needed full-time child care. We didn’t have family living nearby at that point.
We did the sums and realised we weren’t going to be better off financially, so my husband made the choice to stay at home. He said it was the best thing he could have done, because he got to spend two years of quality time with the kids. It enabled me to sleep at night so that I was focused at work, enabled business travel and to attend out of hours events.

What kind of support do you have at work and outside of work?

UTS has excellent flexibility when it comes to families; one of the best maternity and paternity (partner) policies I’ve seen. UTS helps achieve the work-life balance we’re all striving for.
I’m now a single parent, and when I first separated, I did have family to help for a while. However, I ended up investing in an au pair, which was a godsend.
You need a community around you. I’m half Greek, and when visiting family in Greece, I saw the community in action; they’re all there for one another; the elderly, the children. That’s what I wanted to create for my family here in Sydney.
My kids and I now have a village of family and friends around us, which has been built over time. It’s a diverse network of trustworthy people who are good role-models for my children, and great support for me.

What are your work commitments?

I work full-time and also have after-hour commitments including events, trips to present research findings, presentations, and donor networking.
I’m always making sure my son and daughter have sport or an art class, or something else on after school so that if I’m not there, they’re being educated. They have a rich and active extra-curricular life.

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

I think the biggest challenge is in front of me; being there for my children in these crucial teenage years. I know I need to be present.
The ability to work from home, or flexible working hours, are solutions many employers-of-choice are now providing employees facing this difficult choice.
With the support of progressive, forward-thinking organisations like mine, parents can have it all.
Another challenge is playground politics: that is, knowing who my kids’ friends are, and developing good relationships with their parents. You can’t know everything, but if you’re talking to – and open with – their friend’s parents, it makes things a little easier. I recommend investing in those relationships with quid-pro-quo sleepovers and carpools. Other parents play an integral part of the community I surround myself and my family with.

How long did you take maternity leave/time out of your career with each of your children?

I took one year’s maternity leave with both my daughter and my son.

What advice would you give someone before commencing maternity leave?

Make sure you continue to nurture your business networks, if you can, via a simple platform like LinkedIn.
Enrol in yoga classes or group fitness, you need the break and social interactions for your sanity.
Your mothers group will probably be friends for life, enjoy the time together.
Pre-plan for one income. You need to be thinking ahead about how to support yourselves in one of the most expensive cities in the world (Sydney).
Build your support network.

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

Be very organised and plan for things to go wrong, because at 7am, when you learn your child is sick and can’t go to child care, you need to be able to call on someone to look after them. That might be a neighbour, grandparent or friend. Alternatively: employ an au pair.

Are there many women at your level juggling family and work at your organisation?

Yes, about half my department are managing work and family commitments – men and women. Those with older kids have a network to help when needed. Because many of my colleagues and I work in business development, we’ve put our professional skills to use developing our personal network. Connections with quality people are the key.

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

I use occasions when my children are at social commitments, or regular weekend activities, to have some time-out for myself. And I lean on my community, when I have my own social commitments. And I help out my friends by minding their children, when they need time-out. I’m also fortunate to have a workplace gym which I use during my lunchbreak.

Do you have a daily routine, and if so, what does it look like?

Yes, my daily routine is to prepare the night before, so everything’s ready to go, whether it’s work commitments or family.
Each week we update the calendar with upcoming excursions, playdates, parkour and dance competitions, including my travel or evening events and this is all on the planner on the fridge. I find if the children know what’s happening, the more comfortable they feel, and there’s less anxiety and questions.

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

I would have gone back to university and done as many degrees as I could in my early 20s, because you have no time later on. I remember my mum saying ‘travel, enjoy yourself, get married and have kids.’ I don’t think she thought I’d go back to work after having children.
Also; I would have tried to find a mentor in one of my first roles, instead of in my 30’s. They are imperative to fast-tracking your career progression. If there’s no one worthy of being your mentor in your office, you can find them at industry conferences or tradeshows, through networking groups – like your university alumni events, or by reaching out to a professional you admire on LinkedIn.