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Bringing your whole self to work

This is the first blog in our ‘identity’ series.

Everyone has something that makes them different, but we don’t always get to share that at work.

In this blog series, we’ll explore what makes Zopians different and how bringing your authentic selves to work can have a positive impact, not just on your day, but on the company culture as a whole.

When I had my daughter, many people asked me whether I would return to work, whether I could balance and do justice to two jobs – essentially raising a child and being in full time employment without the help of any extended family.

There was never any question in my mind about this – of course, I was going back to work, of course I wanted to set an example and be a role model for my daughter. Post maternity leave, I went back to my employer at that point in time and had a relatively smooth transition back to work. And why wouldn’t I – I had worked there for a decade.

But then I wanted to seek a new challenge for my career. Your ambition doesn’t die when you become a mother! Again, people warned me about not changing jobs – I was in a “comfortable working environment with a lot of flexibility” and with a young family, surely I was crazy to be giving up all that and wanting to work in a start-up type environment that implied long hours, unpredictability and tough but exciting times ahead!

I was also warned by seasoned interviewers not to mention my young family at all through the interview process, as it could jeopardise my chances of getting the job. In fact, they weren’t entirely wrong – I once interviewed with a large American financial services firm who told me they were looking for someone, who given my family situation, could be more “flexible than me” to fill the role. I decided that the firm wasn’t the one for me.

However, when I walked through the doors of Zopa, it felt different. It felt authentic and I felt that I could be myself. While it was important that the organisation felt I was a good fit, the organisation also had to be a good fit for me and my family!

Throughout the interview process, I found myself at ease. I could talk about my experiences and how they have shaped me – and being a mother was a big part of that. No eyebrows were raised and no judgements were made. There were no alarm bells ringing in my head as I asked about work/life balance, flexibility and Zopa’s attitude to working parents in general.

Six months in, I have been able to make Zopa work for me and my family as well as it did for my previous employer. I have the flexibility to work from home as and when I need to, I manage my own working hours and that means if I need to leave early because my daughter needs me then I do so; there’s no need to make excuses.

Equally, it makes me motivated and committed to give back the flexibility to Zopa – and that means some days logging on and working when my daughter is in bed, instead of curling up on the couch.

It is also very encouraging that many people (men and women included) in the senior management team have children and openly talk about making work “work” around their family – some work from home regularly, some come in late post the school run, some leave early. In fact, we have as many men as women on formal flexible working arrangements here (after all parenting isn’t just a mother’s job!), although unfortunately this is not a common pattern for many organisations.  At Zopa, we encourage everyone to make “work”  work around their life, and not make work their life.

My team is mostly millennials who don’t yet have children. However, that doesn’t stop me from sharing my experiences, challenges and frustrations of being a working mum with them. They are as interested in hearing about my weekends involving play dates, visits to zoos and museums as I am in hearing about the new movie that’s playing or the new bar in town. That’s what makes working here interesting, dynamic and diverse.

It also helps me crowdsource ideas (which sometimes as a working mother, I am short of time). In my six months at Zopa, my colleagues have helped me book a last-minute birthday present for my husband (not my fault that my daughter’s birthday falls two days before his, so between work and her birthday, he just doesn’t get my time!) and also come up with ideas for my daughter’s costume for world book day!

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I would say for a working parent, it takes an entire organisation.

And finally, I can proudly say that at Zopa, I bring my whole self to work. That’s 100% mother, 100% HR director!

Sneha Bakshi is Zopa’s HR Director