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Reflections on a Year of Pandemic Mom Life
The COVID-19 crisis has taught us many things we never expected to learn, but perhaps at the top of the list is resilience. We’ve learned to take unexpected challenges — and frequent disasters — in stride and come back swinging. Perhaps no segment of the world’s population has been more resilient than mothers.
Achieving the elusive “work-life balance” has notoriously been a struggle for women, who often are expected to bear the brunt of the child care and domestic duties while maintaining their careers. And just as they were making big strides in the workplace, as research into the last year reveals, the pandemic came along and turned everything upside down.
Here at Palo Alto Networks, we realize that mothers bring a remarkable set of skills that make them invaluable in the workplace. Nothing about the pandemic has been easy, especially for mothers, who almost overnight had to change how and where they work, perhaps even their job titles and descriptions, while also becoming teachers, chefs, nurses, counselors, activity coordinators, and playmates.
Here you’ll meet just a few of the mothers working at Palo Alto Networks’ and discover what helped, what didn’t, and what this year has taught them.
What’s one thing Palo Alto Networks did during this time that made it easier to be a working mom?
It takes a village to raise kids, and for me, that village is my employer. Palo Alto Networks (PANW) created a strong support system with a parents’ Slack channel and Connect Groups, providing a safe space to talk and help one another navigate this temporary normal. Being a mom of two kids, it was difficult for me to attend every Connect Group meeting, but when I did, just listening to other parents made me feel like I wasn’t alone and helped me become a better person/parent/employee by being more patient and empathetic toward everyone around me. These groups kept me strong and kept me going.
Sofia Dona, Manager, Safety and Security
During the first company all-hands meeting of the pandemic, some executives had their babies or children either join them on their laps or playing in the background. Being a mom of two toddlers, it meant a lot to me to see that they wanted to normalize kids interrupting meetings and becoming our new coworkers. I really felt comforted and supported.
Palo Alto Networks cares about its employees and helped me truly excel, as a female worker, daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, volunteer, coach, mentor, and more. The people here are not just supporting women in the workplace; they are helping women thrive! Equal opportunity, rewarding career roles, a strong learning environment, encouragement and support — it’s all here. The company also has exceptional leadership, challenging work assignments, and flexible schedules, which has further helped me grow my career. As many know, maintaining a manageable work-life balance is not always easy. Palo Alto Networks supports me all the way. I love it here.
Bobo Yu, Systems Engineer 1
Oftentimes, the role of motherhood doesn’t just stop just because the workday begins. As I went into the lockdown, I took on the role of teacher, around-the-clock chef, mediator of sibling rivalry, and house cleaner, all while being a Systems Engineer in a new company, learning awesome new platforms, and configuring VPN for students who need access for remote learning! Life can be overwhelming at times. I was fortunate that everyone, from our CEO (Nikesh) to my director and my manager, echoed their support and understanding of the “new normal.” There is a culture within the team of everyone being so willing to help each other. Nikesh hosts roundtable discussions, just to check in on the employees on the field, and Liane (our CPO) put words into action by creating the FLEXWORK and FLEXLearn programs. I'm so grateful to be part of this family.
What's one way that being a mom has made you a better employee?
Being a mother, I became extremely efficient in multitasking and prioritizing the goals to execute in a timely manner. I developed a sense of maturity in decision-making, approaching human interactions with patience, and gaining empathy while driving team members with business urgency. I became more productive in generating results.
My two daughters are likely to learn and follow my examples. It motivates me to do well in both my career and family life. Motherhood has taught me how to balance, which is an essential component to being a better employee and people manager. My work energizes me to give my best to the family.
Soundarya Sivaramakrishnan, Senior Manager, SW Engineering
I’ve learned planning and executing efficiently! Managing both my children’s interests and activities while working as a software engineer for the most competitive cybersecurity company will not happen if I don’t plan my time efficiently. Working efficiently with the resources I have at hand makes me create wonders at home and at work.
As a mom, I have come to understand that each individual is different and special in their own ways, and there is a way to work with each of them. This makes it easier for me to work amicably with everyone. After all, I want to work in a happy environment!
(Picture from an at-home volunteer project provided by Palo Alto Networks. We made a beehive using bee pollinator kits, it was so much fun!)
Can you share one funny or memorable story that illustrates your life as a pandemic mom?
Wailohia Woolsey, Sr. Mgr, Information Security Governance, Risk & Compliance
During a company all-hands meeting, the CEO was interrupted by his 5-year-old. I have never identified with him more than I did while witnessing that moment. There's not one meeting that goes by without one of my kids interrupting to ask me a question. My kids have been introduced to most of my teammates, and they don't hesitate to drop in on my Zooms to share how their distance learning day is going. The kids have also been participating in Ujima (our Black Employee Network) at home volunteer projects and Black to Yoga fitness classes The pandemic has brought work into the home, and we've all been doing the best we can to survive. But I can say one thing: The kids are fine!
Sonal Sethia, Manager, Service Delivery
The pandemic has challenged us working mothers to be our efficient best at multitasking, juggling between our jobs and caregiving multiple times through the day, working smarter to make more out of less time.
Trust me, this is nothing short of an extreme sport. What is most important right now is that we sometimes lower our expectations, always keep our sense of humor, and hang up that SuperMom cape from time to time to recharge!
My 5-year-old daughter, Kiara, loves to be in front of the camera. She is often found pressing herself against the glass on my office door, making funny faces, strutting around wearing her princess crown, and passing her special drawings through the door to “show to my friends from work.”
Early into the pandemic, one bright morning, I was hosting an Executive Business Review for a very important customer. I woke up extra early to get organized, fed the kids their breakfast, gave them 100% charged iPads, and got them settled. Around 90 minutes into the call, with no interruptions, I was super proud of myself for figuring this out. Just then, out of nowhere, the sassy little diva walked in. She gestured her hand to her mouth and rubbed her belly with the other hand, then pretended to faint. As if I wasn’t mortified enough and before I could hit the mute button, she announced, “You know, people, she’s my mommy first! I NEED her to feed me right now.” Thankfully, the customer executive on the call came to my rescue. He burst out laughing and announced “Time for a PB&J break.” This past year, my husband and I have had the pleasure of spending more time with our children — something that we will treasure forever. At times, when things get hard and stressful, the memories we have together as a family remind me of how lucky I am for the flexibility and support provided by Palo Alto Networks.
Thank you to all you mamas out there: We see you and how hard you work. We celebrate you, we honor you, and we truly couldn’t do what we do without you.