Jo Mathews finds a flexible culture and clear communication help her get the right balance between her HR career and her family

by Liz Marchant

Jo Mathews, Director of People and Culture, Crossmark.

Age: 39
Number of kids: two
Age of kids: Five years (son) and three years (daughter)

What’s important to you in a role?

I absolutely need a role where I’m constantly challenged. I want to work with passionate people at a workplace that provides flexibility when raising a young family.

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

I’m the Director of People and Culture. The role covers everything from performance management to talent acquisition, and health and safety, all of the HR components. Operationally, I need to ensure everything functions as it should. Strategically, I work on HR projects throughout the business.

I mainly work in the office as I have lots of face to face meetings. Sometimes I travel to the Auckland office.

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

Yes. It was a huge unknown as to how it would work. Previously my time was my own and I had no time constraints. It’s daunting to figure out how to continue to manage your role and combine that with child care, sick kids, etc.

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

Internally, we have an absolutely flexible culture. I am measured on what I get done. I work how I need to. I work part-time, I can leave early, arrive late etc. It’s been instrumental in keeping this role.

Externally, I have a very supportive husband and we have a good support network of family, friends, mothers’ groups, and so on.

What are your work commitments?

I work four days and I have flexible hours. I can work from the office or from home. I travel one week per quarter.

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

It all works well when everything goes to plan. But, plans often get thrown out the window. Having flexibility and being able to change plans when you need to is key. Especially when you get a phone call from daycare saying your child is sick or there’s a last-minute assembly.

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

I took 12 months for each.

What advice would you give someone before commencing maternity leave?

Be open minded. Be really clear communicating what you need and be clear on the expectations from your employer. Be prepared that things will be different. Going back to having hard deadlines and pick-ups, you can’t just stay back if there’s an emergency. Daycare closes and you have to be there. So you have to set those expectations and work around them. You may need to leave to do pick-up and then jump online when you get home. You may need to talk on the phone in the car. Think differently.

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

It’s really important again to have clear expectations on both sides so that when things don’t go to plan you know where that flexibility is and what your back-up plan is. Communicate what’s important so there are no surprises.

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

Not many women. We have a lot of men with young families and they don’t work part-time but absolutely come and go if they need to. We often have kids in the office during school holidays. I would like to have more women at this level though.

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

It is hard to prioritise but I’m trying to carve out some time, doing Pilates and some weekends away with friends. If you don’t focus on it, it goes to the bottom of the list. I’m trying to prioritise it this year.

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

I do pick-ups and my husband does the drop-offs. I’m fortunate to have him for the madness in the morning. I get to the office at 8am then leave by 4-4:30pm during a standard week. Sometimes I do leave earlier and do some work phone calls on the way home, or after the kids have gone to bed. It varies. I have a choice to reduce my workload, the time varies. Sometimes I can work for ages if I’m on a roll, or sometimes it’s just 20 minutes.

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

It’s taken me a little while to get to the point where I’ll confidently get up at 3pm and leave the office without feeling guilty. It’s taken a while to accept I’m measured on my output so it doesn’t matter what time I leave if I’m doing my job. It’s about owning the flexibility rather than feeling guilty.

A lot of companies are supportive of working parents. Sometimes when speaking to friends in similar situations, they’re afraid to ask if they can have flexibility. When people do, they’re often surprised at how flexible they can be. So, if you need to make your work-life balance better, ask the question.