A Mom-Friendly Culture
After earning my Bachelor of Engineering in my home country of India, I encountered several major life changes in a row. I got married. My husband’s employer is in The Netherlands, which meant I had to move to a new country. And I became pregnant. All of this made me hesitant to apply for my first job: Here I was in a new country, with no prior experience, and expecting a baby in a few short months. How would employers react?
Even though there is a policy in The Netherlands that prospective employees don’t have to reveal aspects of their personal lives to potential employers, I knew I would have to take maternity leave, so I would have to share this information. Would it turn them off, or even set my career back? In India, attitudes about pregnancy and maternity leave are not very positive.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry for long. I came across an advertisement for Palo Alto Networks’ LEAP program, a two-year, early-in-career program for recent graduates that provides them with an opportunity to work as full-time employees — not interns — while learning the necessary skills of the job under the direction of experienced professionals on the team. The advertisement specifically stated that pregnant applicants were also welcome to apply, which is exceedingly rare. Seeing this as a perfect opportunity, I applied and was fortunate enough to be invited to be part of the next cohort of 26 graduates in the company’s Technical Assistance Center in EMEA.
Within a few weeks of being hired, I explained to my manager that I was pregnant and would need to take maternity leave. To my relief, I received a very warm reception. I never felt any negativity or different treatment about having to take that time off so soon after starting the job. If anything, I felt very special — rather than feeling like an outsider, I was met with positivity and congratulations for my growing family. I expressed my concern to him that I would have trouble filling in the gaps in my knowledge that my colleagues would have acquired during that time, but he reassured me that I had nothing to worry about with regard to this fear. He told me, “Just concentrate on taking care of your new baby; we’ll have that all sorted out for you so we make sure you get back on the same page as the others.”
Three months after beginning the LEAP program, I had my daughter and went on a five-month maternity leave — I was granted four months immediately and I took an extra month.
When I sent my daughter to daycare and returned to work, I saw my manager had been true to his word: I picked up where I had left off and continued my training. Of course, I’m several months behind them, but I’m working hard to catch up and take on more cases in order to acquire the knowledge they have received. When I first came back to work, I felt anxious about what to expect and how far behind I would be, but I had little time to worry: I had scheduled training for my first month back. And my team always made sure that I didn’t become overwhelmed and said that I could always reach out to them if I had any problems. Fortunately, that never was needed — the goals that were set for me were challenging but realistic, taking into account my circumstances as a new mother, and I managed to achieve all the goals that were set for me.
The work itself is challenging. Every 45 minutes, I am assigned a case, helping a customer who is facing a technical issue regarding our product. I troubleshoot, analyse their data, and try to resolve the issue as soon as possible. I currently handle about three cases a day, so by the end of the week I have handled 12-15 cases. Some are quite complex and need to be escalated to engineers. Of course, we are doing all of this remotely, due to COVID, so we have to work with each other via email or Slack. We have a very organised, effective system, but every case is unique, which places great demands on my abilities. It is a great way to learn.
This company has proven to be family-friendly not only in its policies around maternity leave but also in work-life balance. During the worst moments of the pandemic when daycares were closed, I was really struggling to maintain a balance between my rigorous work schedule and the demands of a newborn, but my manager continued to assure me that he was always there for help — if it ever felt like too much, I could have someone else take on my caseload and he could make other arrangements for me. Just knowing this, even though I never needed to take advantage of it, greatly minimised my stress, and before long I was able to take my daughter to daycare.
I have been so pleased, since joining Palo Alto Networks, to see that there’s a lot of effort put toward inclusion. The company is making great strides in giving more opportunities to women, regardless of where they come from or their personal situations. If a company understands and is willing to support you during such times, imagine the times when you are doing well, and the support you can get to grow in your career.
The unique thing at this company is the diverse environment and a very inclusive culture. We have various Employee Network Groups (ENGs) to celebrate that. I am a part of the leadership team for Salam, our ENG for Muslim employees, where I focus on community service by providing training to high school students about cybersecurity. Besides that we always have fun events conducted for LEAP graduates to have some team building and to improve the general wellbeing of employees. That never fails to lift my spirits and I am always left craving more.
I can only be grateful to work for an organisation that celebrates differences, represents my personal values, and brings out the best in people.