Sandy’s career has taken her from her native Canada starting out in politics and public service, to HR and consulting, spending 16 years at Mercer in Melbourne after moving to Australia to be with her husband.
Sharing with us what it was like becoming a mum while maintaining her senior corporate roles, her advice to other mums out there trying to juggle it all is to drop the “mama guilt” because “whatever you do or don’t do, it will all be fine, as long as you are happy, and your kids are loved.” Sandy’s daughter Alex also shares her story of how having a working mum has shaped her and why she is an amazing role model.
Can you tell us about your career journey so far?
I have had a mixed and varied career journey. I started my professional life back in Canada, where I grew up. I was passionate about politics and worked and studied in this space for a number of years in Ottawa, which is Canada’s answer to Canberra. I moved from the political side to the public service and worked on a major privatisation project which brought me into the human resources space which I loved.
Along the way I met my partner in London, who was an Australian and after a period of long distance dating, I packed up my life and moved to Melbourne, not knowing anyone.
I was fortunate to land a role with Mercer and ended up staying there for 16 years. I worked in the change management and HR consulting space, and was both the second female partner in the business and the youngest appointed partner at the time. I took on a lot of responsibility for running a professional service consulting practice, initially for Australia and then for Asia Pacific. I also ran the marketing function for a time as well. I then got asked to take on a role heading the business development function for Marsh & McLennan, the parent of Mercer. This meant working with the senior leaders across Mercer, Marsh, Oliver Wyman and the other businesses to generate sales leads and cross business revenue. After a few successful years in this role I was asked to take on the HR Director role for Marsh & McLennan across Asia Pacific. This was a new position responsible for overseeing an HR transformation process. During this time, I had two children, Alex who is now 14 and Aidan who is now 11. I took two maternity leave periods and I was one of the first partners to work part time and to work from home.
After 16 years I restructured myself out of a job and was made redundant. After a short career break where I took the kids out of school for a term and travelled Europe, I decided to start a business helping people manage their careers and this is how Career Money Life was born.
Career Money Life is a start-up that has been running for three years now and supports employees managing their own career transitions and challenges by providing access to an online platform which allows employees to choose services and suppliers to best support their needs, be it changing roles, jobs, going on parental leave, getting fit and healthy or supporting mental health challenges.
You had a pretty senior role at a large corporate when you became a mother. How did you manage the juggle with little children? What was the hardest part?
Those years when Alex and Aidan were young were really hard to be honest. I had a very demanding role that required a lot of travel, both domestically and internationally, as well as endless late night and early morning global conference calls.
Due to my schedule and my husband’s, who was with Boston Consulting Group, we didn’t have a lot of flexibility, so we chose to have a nanny, or rather two nannies, identical twin sisters who job shared, looking after the kids. My son Aidan, called them both LisaLoren for the longest time, thinking they were one person. I was so lucky to have these wonderful girls in my life, who have both gone on to be school teachers now. They made it so much easier to manage, we could get home late if needed, and know the kids were fed and bathed and could enjoy some time with them. It was emotionally difficult too as I often felt extremely guilty for working and having a big job and wondered if I would regret it or damage my kids in some way. I don’t and I didn’t – at least not yet!
Some of the other challenging things were when things didn’t go to plan and the baby world collided with the work world. I can’t count the number of times I was changing a nappy while on a conference call, thank goodness for the mute button.
Travelling to London for a partners’ meeting while still on maternity leave, things went pear shaped quickly when my nine month old daughter started projectile vomiting on the first flight from Melbourne to Singapore. Three days later and after an admission to the hospital in Singapore for both of us with a horrible virus, I was back on a plane to make the remainder of the partners’ meeting in London.
On another occasion when the Global CEO was in town and I had to take him to a meeting with one of our biggest clients. It happened to be on my non-work day, so I planned to bring Alex, my 18 month old daughter to my husband’s office while I attended the meeting. I had to wake her up from her nap to take her to town and she had the biggest tantrum I have ever experienced, would not get dressed, wouldn’t get in the car, screamed and cried hysterically, the whole time I am trying to get her out the door, knowing I have one of the biggest meetings of my career about to happen. That is where the real stress comes in, when things go out of your control. I did get her into the car and to her Dad’s office with just enough time to make the meeting with the Global CEO. As I sat around that boardroom, the only woman among 10 senior executives, I thought about how different their morning had been from mine.
Once my lovely son Aidan came along, the juggle was even more challenging. When speaking to my kids about my work, Alex mentioned how I used to travel so much and was away a lot. Aidan who is three years younger, said “did you used to travel a lot?” I realised he was too young to even remember that I was away. It made me think about all the angst and guilt I felt leaving them every time. I realised then that it hadn’t impacted them nearly as much as I thought. In fact, it probably made them more resilient and more independent.
During those years, what I had to sacrifice was the ‘me time’, getting out, getting time with friends, frankly just getting your hair done was a minor miracle. But for me it was worth it and as I am in a different stage now with a 14 and 11 year old, I find that there is a lot more time for that again.
Congratulations on building a very successful business. What was your motivation for launching Career Money Life three years ago?
Career Money Life is my new baby. It has been an incredible amount of hard work and has had a lot of ups and downs along the way, but I love it. I left the corporate world and didn’t realise just how exhausted I was, until I stopped. I found myself in a space where I didn’t feel I had the passion for another corporate role. So, I started on my own career journey trying to find the thing I wanted to do next. I was always someone who was excited about the idea of being entrepreneurial and felt this was the perfect time to give it a try. I came up with the idea for the business over a dinner, talking about the power of giving people choices about their career, development and well-being. Then a light bulb moment hit me. We could build a platform that enabled people and HR teams to easily facilitate and manage these choices.
Three years later we have a business up and running with an impressive book of corporate clients and most importantly, extremely happy employees according to our feedback scores. We have recently won a Silver HR Award for Reward and Recognition service provider, and a Gold Asia Pac Stevie Award in the HR Technology category, which is very exciting and shows the hard work is paying off.
Now that your children are a bit older, what advice do you have for other working parents who feel guilty about juggling young children and a career?
Stop feeling so guilty about your choices. Whatever you do or don’t do, it will all be fine, as long as you are happy, and your kids are loved, all the rest just isn’t that important. Kids are much more resilient, intuitive and non-judgemental than we give them credit for. Stop beating yourself up over your parenting approach, do what you think is best and please can we stop judging other women and the choices they make? Finally, please stop saying to working women, “I don’t know how you do it.” Even with the best of intentions, it is laden with judgement, and makes people feel they need to justify themselves.
And have more fun, don’t worry about the Lego on the floor. Just be with your kids when you can, they don’t need to be in a program all the time. Sit and enjoy the clouds going by, because this time is fleeting and before you know it you will have an independent 11 year old boy and a 14 year old daughter who towers over you and you will be the one asking for their time.
Where do you see your career going next? What is one dream you have yet to accomplish?
I have always been passionate about supporting and developing women. I am currently a founding board member for the Australian Gender Equality Council and would love to direct more of my time and energy into this space. I would also enjoy a career in the start-up space, working with founders to share my learnings and experiences, maybe even become a Shark Tank member. I also do a lot of coaching and mentoring and would like to continue to do that. Maybe go back into politics too one day and come full circle.
When you were little and growing up, your Mum and Dad had pretty full-on jobs. What are your memories of this time?
I remember I had babysitters (who were twins) who looked after me during the day and when Mum and Dad were working. I always loved having a babysitter as I thought that the ‘big girls’ were so cool but I also remember racing to the front door when I heard Mum and her high heels come down the hall and be so happy. I never felt that I was missing out, it was just my normal and to be totally honest, because I was quite young, most of it I don’t remember that well.
Often parents feel guilty about wanting to have a career and be parents. How do you feel about your Mum and her work?
Well when I was younger I didn’t like being away from her, but it made the time I had with her more meaningful. I also think that it made me more independent and mature and I think that it’s really important that parents can work and be a parent because it means that for girls especially, they have a good female role model that they can look up to and want to be a 21st century working Mum.
How would you describe your Mum in three words?
Inspiring, caring and hardworking.
What’s your favourite thing about spending time with your Mum?
My favourite thing about spending time with my Mum is our good chats about life, such as my problems and daily issues as well as hers but also discussing important and interesting topics.