Interview

Tips for success from Full-Time Woman Rachel Beauchamp

by Liz Marchant

Rachel Beauchamp, Senior communications manager, VMware.

Age: 46
Number of kids: 2
Age of kids:  13 and 10

You’ve changed roles relatively recently; what’s important to you in a role?   

The most important thing for me is flexibility. As a parent with growing kids who lives a long way from the city, I need to know it’s OK if I don’t get in at 8:30am every day, that I can work from home when I need to, or that I can leave mid-afternoon to watch my child receive an award at school. This not only makes my personal life much easier, it’s a really strong sign that my employer places a high level of trust in me and is confident that I’ll do what’s needed to get the job done.

The people I work with are extremely important too. Being surrounded by positive, supportive people who value a team environment makes a huge difference when you’re faced with big challenges. I’m very lucky to have worked in several companies where I’ve been surrounded by great people, including the one I’m in now, which has a fantastic culture and outlook.

What was the role you were doing previously, and what’s the role you’ve taken now?   

Previously I was general manager at Spectrum Group, a communications agency focused on clients in the technology industry. My role focused on senior client counsel, as well as managing the team, HR and finance processes. I spent 12 years there before moving to VMware last year to take on the role of communications manager for Australia and New Zealand.

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

 My role at VMware is very broad and no two days are the same. I cover PR and media relations, analyst relations, internal communications, and executive communications. My primary responsibility is to protect the VMware brand and grow understanding internally and externally of how we make a difference. A day could involve anything from developing comms strategy to taking media inquiries, engaging with sales teams on customer stories, writing executive speeches, working on thought leadership initiatives, creating comms plans for diversity and inclusion programs, working out how we can better use social media, or meeting with our PR agency to run through activity in progress. And meetings. There are lots and lots of meetings!

Why did you change? What have been the biggest differences you’ve found?   

I spent 12 years in the Spectrum organisation because the business leaders supported my personal needs during a lot of ups and downs in my life, some of which included the birth of my second child, the ending of my first marriage and several years as a single parent.

After so long in one business and in a new chapter of my personal life, it was time for me to move and challenge myself again. I had a range of roles at Spectrum which were fantastic and the GM role taught me many new skills about running a 20-person business. It also taught me a lot about myself: mainly that moving further into a business manager role, which was heavily focused on HR, finance and admin, isn’t where my career heart lies. So, I decided to move back into a role which focused on my passion: communications.

The difference has been huge. I loved the people in my old company but the work became taxing for me because I wasn’t enjoying it. Finance has never been my forte and the HR management was extremely challenging. I think it’s a natural human reaction to get emotionally caught up on some level in other people’s issues and I found it to be extremely draining. My family suffered as a result because I brought my work baggage home with me and it took me longer and longer to wind down and disconnect from work.

In my current role, I am part of an Asia-Pacific team and I have no direct reports. I have the time and headspace to focus on what I love. I work within an organisation made up of smart, diverse, inspirational people who I learn from every day. And, I get to work for one of the biggest software companies in the world which is doing amazing things. Even on the most difficult of work days, I go home happy and my family has noticed a significant difference in the person who comes through the door.

In more practical terms, one very big difference is that I went from working a four-day week to five days. That took some adjustment to begin with because I’d worked four days per week for the past few years. I got used to full-time fairly quickly and without a lot of anguish because I used to do a lot of work on my fifth day anyway, so it often felt like a work day. And, my kids are older now and don’t need me at their beck and call (as much!).

Did you have any personal concerns or worries in relation to family or out-of-work commitments before accepting the offer to move?

Absolutely. In hindsight, I should have left my previous role sooner but I was afraid the market lacked what I needed in terms of flexibility and interest level. I thought that, to move, I’d need to take something I wasn’t really passionate about, or I’d have to take a big pay cut to get the flexibility I needed.

I’ve since learnt that there are opportunities if you just ask. They may not advertise flexibility or remote working but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you have the skillset a business wants, many will work the specs of the position to fit your needs if you’re the candidate they want.

How do you currently manage your work and family commitments?

I still juggle regularly but I have a wonderfully supportive husband who is self-employed and can generally manage his work hours around mine, and kids who are simply used to Mum working. Teaching the kids to be more independent has also made a big difference. While I hate to admit it, I could probably have easily turned into a helicopter parent had I been around a lot more, so my working has benefitted the kids in simple ways. For example, they are OK at home by themselves for a while, they know how to make their own lunch if they have to, they’re happy to walk to see friends, and other little things which allow them to have their lives without having to wait for Mum.

What are your family commitments?

My kids are like any others with school events, weekend sports, and mid-week training, Girl Guides, music lessons, homework and assignments. My husband and I work it out between us.

What are your work commitments (hours/days, state/international travel etc.)?

I work Monday to Friday, whatever hours it takes to get the job done. I try to work two days per week from home. When I travel to the office, I’m usually on the train at about 7:30am and aim to leave by about 4:30pm to get some family time in the evening. Then I get back online again later at night to catch up on the things I’ve missed in the late afternoon.

I travel more than I expected to in this role. In the seven months I’ve been here, I’ve done four international trips and there will be at least a couple more this year. I love the travel but, at the same time, it’s hard to be away from my husband and kids for a week at a time. It’s a good opportunity for enforced me time. When I’m cut off from the rest of the world on a long flight, I use the time to read, catch up on movies I haven’t seen, or just enjoy the headspace.

Has your work and family balance changed much as your kids have gotten older?

The change in kids’ dependency levels as they’ve aged has made a big difference to my stress and guilt levels as a working parent. Having kids of an age who can understand that I’m working late for the next few days, but it’s not forever, makes a big difference. Though I do find there’s a lot more cheeky negotiation coming my way in the form of, “Mum, you weren’t home for dinner earlier this week so does that mean we can all go out for dinner on Friday?”

What sorts of hours and commutes were you doing early in your career compared to now?

 My commutes have always been long. For much of my life, I’ve lived in outer-western Sydney near the Blue Mountains and I’ve worked in North Sydney, Drummoyne and Frenchs Forest. I drove to all of those jobs. Frenchs Forest was the worst for commuting, but it was pre-children. There were no realistic public transport options for me so it was a minimum two-hours’ drive each way and it made sense to get in early and leave late.

As I moved through my career, remote working became more of a reality so I’ve been able to incorporate flexible working into my last few jobs.

I’m currently based in the central CBD. It’s the first time I’ve ever caught the train to work on a regular basis and it’s awesome! Being able to use the hour each way as part of the work day makes a big difference. It means I can see the kids in the morning and not have to leave before they wake up, and I can get home at a time where we can all have dinner together as a family.

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

I suffer from a lot of parenting guilt, so I think the answer to this question is convincing myself that I don’t need to feel guilty. If there’s a school event that I can’t get to, I feel like the worst parent who ever lived. I hate having to leave the house before the kids wake up in the morning or getting home after they’re in bed.

My Mum chose to stay at home so she was always there and, when I became a parent, I put very high expectations on myself to deliver the same type of experience for my kids; all while working and being the perfect employee and the perfect wife, friend, daughter, etc.

From a financial perspective, I didn’t have a choice about working so it was never a question of what I’d do after the kids were born, which seems to be a reality for a lot people these days. I feel so many women put a huge amount of pressure on themselves to be everything to everyone and that’s where we get ourselves into trouble. While we’re focused on everybody else, we can completely lose ourselves. That’s what happened to me and it ended in depression, and was one facet of a complicated marriage breakdown.

As my kids have grown older, I’m finding it easier to come to terms with the working mother guilt because I’ve recognised that being able to work and the work that I do forms a significant part of my identity. It also shows my kids work ethic, commitment, opportunity, learning and growth, material benefits and the fact that while they might be the centre of my universe, the world doesn’t always revolve around them.

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

I took eight months with my first child and six months with my second due to financial constraints. If I had the choice, I would have taken longer with both because I wasn’t emotionally ready to go back to work in either instance. I suffered post-natal depression with my second child, which turned into ongoing depression as I went back to work because of the pressure I’d put on myself and standards I felt I wasn’t living up to.

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

Everyone has a unique experience but from my own, I’d say take your time and be kind to yourself. Take as long as you feel you need and when you do go back, ease back in gently. If you have to go back earlier than you really want to, engage your support network early and have people around you to help bear the load. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find out from your employer what it’s going to be like integrating back into the workplace. Is there a process? Is there retraining? Will you be thrown straight back in right where you left off? It’s easier if you know what to expect.

I remember my first day back after my son was born. I was anxious on the way to the office and had to spend some time in the car composing myself before I started. When I walked in, it was like a blur. It felt like they said, “Thank goodness you’re back,” threw a pile of folders at me and expected me to get up to my armpits billing clients immediately. That day and every day for a couple of weeks afterward, I left the office in tears because I felt like a horrible parent and a sub-par employee, so I wasn’t meeting anyone’s expectations. I should have put my hand up for help at this stage, but I didn’t.

Something this taught me for when I moved into the GM role was that a re-integration process for mothers returning to work was critical. I’m not sure if this is standard across businesses, but I think it should be part of the parental leave process because everyone’s needs and experiences are so different.

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

I’ve recently remarried and my kids spend every second weekend with their father. These are the weekends I get me time. My husband and I have a lot in common when it comes to our personal time so our “me time” is often “us time”. We both love to go to the beach or the gym or for a bike ride or a walk, find somewhere great to eat or just hang out and read or watch a movie.

My train trip to and from work is also great for clearing my head and spending some time to myself.

How do you manage your work and family commitments in school holidays?

We used to use vacation care a lot but don’t need to now the kids are a bit older. Sometimes my husband is home during the day or I’m working from home. Sometimes my Mum will take care of the kids for a day or two or we’ll prearrange playdates at other kids’ homes. As they move more into teenage years, they’ll be able to manage their own days and it won’t be so much of an issue if we’re out at work each day.

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

I wish I had moved to the UK to work and travel when I was younger. I don’t know if this would have made a difference to my career trajectory but I would have loved the life experience. Otherwise I’m happy with where I’m at in my career and my life. I’ve had a lot of experience in both and continue to learn more every day.