Interview

Elinor Prevost thrives in her successful corporate travel career while raising a young family

by Liz Marchant

Elinor Prevost, Corporate Travel Management.

Age: 35
Number of kids: 1
Age of kids: 2.5

What’s important to you in a role? 

Overarchingly, management that trusts your judgement and believes in you. When you are empowered, you are in a position to achieve great things but also take ownership and learn quickly from your mistakes.

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

My role involves interacting with potential corporate travel customers. Corporate travel is a really interesting field, as its usually one of the top three costs in any business, and touches almost every employee at some point. My day involves meetings, strategy sessions, solution design architecture and then presenting our plan and demonstrating our technology platform to the customer, all in the context of a competitive bidding process.

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

Initially, when I started working after seven months of maternity leave, my only concern was to get through that period with a healthy, well-adjusted child. Slowly, I have been able to work on some of the commitments that I took for granted before becoming a mum, like my own health and fitness.  Team sports, or anything that requires a commitment, is not something I have incorporated yet, as one week to the next can be very different, and I hate letting people down.

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

My mother is the key piece of the puzzle that makes our family life work, as she looks after my son two days a week. My husband’s family are abroad, meaning that all the grandmotherly duties lie on her shoulders and while it’s not easy, she is in her element looking after him!

Her background is teaching, and she ‘lesson plans’ and prepares creative activities for him, which alleviates my mother guilt incredibly. When we have a busy week that hasn’t left much time for reading and learning, I’m so thankful he’s had quality time with his grandmother. It’s also great to get updates on demand, and photos showing the highlights of his day.

My husband has taken on his fair share of the parenting chores, and 90 per cent of swimming classes. Despite both of our roles having out-of-hours commitments, so far, we have been able to avoid any big clashes, and negotiate week by week. We use a central calendar app to manage anything outside our normal routine, so we can confidently say yes or no to things as they arise.

My son attends daycare the remaining three days a week. I get updates every few days through their app, and I like to think of that as his social time, which is also really important. When I see the phone number for daycare flash up on my phone my heart always skips a beat. At any time, he could be sent home, with the expectation that we will be there within 30 minutes. This uncertainly provides a base level of stress, but it also makes me highly productive. Knowing I have a deadline that must be met, with the potential for my day to be cut short at any moment, means there’s little room for procrastination, and like most working mums I know, we manage to do a lot in a short amount of time!

At work, I’ve found its so important to have a team around you that you get along well with. With my group of friends outside of work (particularly those with children of their own), organising a catch up can take weeks of notice and a fair bit of logistical planning- and then when you finally meet up, you are lucky to finish a conversation without a little one interrupting. Having the opportunity to have a social life in the office, and a lunch catchup with a workmate is something I try to make time for regularly.

What are your work commitments?

I work full time, with additional commitments to attend internal and external conferences, and meetings with hotels and airlines after hours for updates and events. Every week is different.

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

When everything goes smoothly, it works. It’s hard but it works! Once there is an unexpected disruption (illness, daycare strike, or anything else that can go pear-shaped without notice), that’s when things can be stressful. More often than not, sleep is the one thing that gets reduced so you can pick up the slack.

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

Seven months with my son, which felt about right for both of us.

What advice would you give someone before commencing maternity leave?

My advice is not to commit to a timeframe for your return to work, as your parenting style may change dramatically when your baby arrives. Having read a few recommended books, I had a strategy of how I was going to have a well-behaved, easy baby who slept though the night within three months.

The reality was that the minute I met him, maternal instinct kicked in, and I decided on a softer approach, and it has guided my parenting ever since. One thing I did was use ‘keep in touch’ days, which are paid days where you go to the office, or attend a conference. You can use up to 10 days during your maternity leave period. It’s a great way to ensure your skills remain current, as well as a trial run to see how being back at work feels.

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

While returning to your role three or four days a week can make sense, what I have seen was that those mothers ended up working the equivalent of a five-day week anyway. My advice is, if possible, go back full time, so you are paid appropriately, as you will also notice how efficient you are when working late isn’t an option.

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

Yes, and it’s lovely to bond with other mums at work and share stories about our kids and the funny things they do. I am particularly heartened by how some of the fathers in my team are also leading the charge for equality, and doing their share when it comes to pick-up, carers days, and paternity leave.

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

It’s rare but when I do find an hour to myself, I love to spend it running, lying in the sunshine, or getting a massage. If I’m obliged to stay at home as the little guy is asleep, I’ll generally try to have a nap of my own and fully recharge.

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

I certainly have some career regrets, although I am philosophical about it as I feel I am where I need to be at this moment right now. In my early 30s, with a wedding, pregnancy and a new baby, there was always a reason why it wasn’t the right time to step up and take on a bigger role, or move organisations to take a more senior position when opportunities were slim. Looking back, I’m certain I could have really shined! I’ve recently learnt that career aspirations don’t need to be a secret and, in fact, when you make your dreams known, your support crew (your colleagues, family, and friends) can lift you up and help you achieve it.