Announcing a pregnancy at the office can be nerve-racking.
Yet since joining Alliance Data in 2007, I’ve had four sons and five promotions. Before I started, I assumed I might have to switch jobs to move up. But, from the first day, I realized this company expected that people can have kids and a career. Men and women in leadership roles were open about life outside of the office, and people talked about their kids regularly. I felt that I would get the same opportunities regardless of whether I had kids or not.
In fact, I was promoted to manager right as I learned I was pregnant with my first son via IVF. We were managing the biggest program the company had run at that time. I was working 15-hour days, but it was fun, exciting work.
Sadly, my son passed away.
Rocco died in utero at Christmas. He was almost seven pounds, and perfect, but the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Here we were, in the middle of this big program, and I remember my direct leaders telling me, “You do what you need to do.”
At the time, I didn’t want to work anymore, but my husband wouldn’t let me crawl in a hole. The outpouring of love and care from employees was amazing. While our company is recognized for female leadership, it’s important to note that when I came back after losing my son, everyone reached out, including men. Everyone made me want to come back.
I knew I had to get myself together because there was a team of people looking to me for direction. Although they needed me, I needed them just as much. Work was a way to keep my mind busy. Soon after I came back from leave, I was promoted to senior manager.
I knew that if I ever wanted to have kids again, I would have to do it right away, so I focused on getting ready, mentally and physically, for IVF again. Everyone was really happy for me once I told them I was pregnant again. When our twins Joey and Vinny were born, they were very supportive. I remember telling my boss that I’d continue to add value, but I wanted to focus on the boys. They allowed me to have a flexible schedule and work from home sometimes.
A short time after this, we went into hyper-growth mode, and I was asked if I would consider a director role. I was hesitant at first, but I received the same reassurance I always got from leadership. I could seize this opportunity and still make my boys a priority.
Our last child, Lou, was a surprise and a miracle. I was reporting to the chief client officer who asked me to help turn around a struggling team at the time. I agreed to take the role but told her she needed to know I was pregnant. We laughed and she said, “You’ll be fine.” She understood my commitment to the company and my family and trusted I’d show up and do good work. Soon after, I was promoted to senior director.
As I reflect on my journey, I believe these three strategies helped me advance my career alongside having children and may be of benefit to other working parents as well.
Plan for the unforeseen
I laugh when people ask me how I do both jobs, work and home. Like most moms, I just do it. It’s difficult, so you have to plan. If you don’t, your day could be chaotic.
I come in ready for the day. Sometimes my days are long, but that’s okay when I can see the light at the end of the project. It helps to find work-life balance–not every day but over the course of your career. I walk out of the building with a skip in my step when I’m excited about what we’re doing. And when I see my kids, they get the best version of me. It makes me a better mom.
Show up and deliver
I am a generalist. I don’t have a craft or a specialized set of skills. Part of what helped me advance in a company where there were opportunities was to have a willingness to jump in and solve problems. I never thought about getting noticed. If you want to get to the next level, I say stop worrying about getting promoted and just do good work.
Build networks naturally
Avoid forcing strategic relationships. If people know you can be counted on, they will naturally call you when they need something. Always be reliable and ready to help.
Jennie Dodovski is vice president of Client Partnerships at Alliance Data. The company develops private label, cobranded, and commercial credit card programs for many of the world’s most recognizable brands.