Our definition of what it means to be a working caregiver is expanding — and the best companies are growing alongside it. Theresa Burke has seen evidence of that personally.
As Senior Manager of IT at Qualcomm, a global telecommunications company, Burke says that her company’s caregiver benefits are some of the best in the game. From fully paid maternity leave and up to 12 weeks of fully paid parental leave, 12 weeks of time off to care for seriously ill family members (also at 100% of salary) to returnship and back-up child and elder care programs, employees at Qualcomm are supported in navigating personal life milestones alongside professional ones. For Burke, this has been crucial in enabling her to care for her 93-year-old mom.
“Today, my daughter is 22, but now I have my mom living with us at the age of 93. I have many of the same challenges now as I did when I returned to work with a small child in daycare,” she shared. “I’m finding many of the benefits from Qualcomm are particularly helpful to me as I am navigating elder-care.”
Getting this degree of caregiver support from an employer is, unfortunately, rare. While too many folks today struggle with fitting caregiving responsibilities into unforgiving work cultures, Burke has been able to make family time a priority that she doesn’t have to hide.
“Determine what your priorities are and try to stick with those — ideally, family first,” she advised.
Burke recently spoke to Fairygodboss about what it looks like to work for a company where caring for an aging parent and making it to a child’s sporting event are actually encouraged, and she also gave her top three pieces of advice for anyone who’s struggling to balance caregiving and their career.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I’ve been with Qualcomm for two and a half years and in current role for about one year. Previously, I was with a cyber security company as Director of Engineering. I’ve been in the industry for more than 20 years.
How did you prepare for maternity leave and what advice can you offer to other moms who are expecting their first child?
My best advice for maternity leave is to be flexible with your expectations. I imagined I could do it all and found that a difficult standard to meet. Try to take things a day at a time and determine what is most important to you. If you plan to use a daycare, research places with good references and ones that will be most flexible with your time. Visit often and at different hours of the day to get a sense for how things run. Finding good childcare was key for me.
How long were you on maternity leave and what was it like to return to work?
I had a rather large break in work, but this did not come after my maternity leave. When my daughter was born, I had a 12-week maternity leave, after which I returned back to work. I continued to work full-time as a Director & VP of Engineering for the next five years. My daughter was in a loving and supportive daycare that was closed only on major holidays. When she turned 5, we decided to relocate from the East Coast to the West Coast. We knew nobody in San Diego, and it was at that time that I decided to take a break from work to help us settle and to support my daughter’s elementary school years.
My break from work lasted about 6 years. During that time I did a lot of volunteering, particularly with non-profits. When I did return to work after all those years, I found remarkable that it was not a difficult transition. Truthfully, it felt like I never left work.
What was the most challenging part about returning to work?
For me, I had two major challenges. First, my primary work network was based on the East Coast, so finding contacts in San Diego was a challenge. Secondly, I was trying to return to a technical leadership role and needed to demonstrate how I was able to keep my skills current during my career break.
I searched for quite some time before finding a position, and that one was a referral that my husband (also in the industry) made to a former coworker. It was a direct result of that referral that I was given the opportunity to interview. I was able to return to work under a director title, leading a QA team.
What type of programs did/does your company offer to new and expectant mothers?
My current company Qualcomm not only has outstanding maternity benefits, but it is now offering a returnship program, which helps build an environment where people re-entering the workforce feel welcome and excited to return to work. I wish I had a resource like this available to me when I was looking to return to the technical workforce!
Why do you think your company is a particularly great place to be a working mom?
Qualcomm offers everything from paid parental leave and flexibility in hours to remote work options and relevant employee resource groups. Today, my daughter is 22, but now I have my mom living with us at the age of 93. I have many of the same challenges now as I did when I returned to work with a small child in daycare. I’m finding many of the above benefits from Qualcomm are particularly helpful to me as I am navigating elder-care.
What kinds of boundaries do you follow (if any) to separate work and family time?
I prioritize any medical illnesses or appointments as non-negotiable from a work interruption perspective. Also, I try to keep weekends focused on family time.
What’s your No. 1 tip for new moms who are navigating the delicate balance of working and mothering?
Similar to my tip for maternity leave: manage your own expectations. Determine what your priorities are and try to stick with those. Ideally, family first. Don’t miss any school event, performance, or sporting event — no matter how big or small. Those times are precious and cannot be replicated, and your child will always notice if you aren’t there. Work can be adjusted to accommodate.
Clearly communicate to your manager what your needs are and how you will satisfy work demands. If you require flexibility, that shouldn’t be a problem, but be clear in what that flexibility needs to look like. Communication goes a long way in ensuring there’s no resentment or misunderstanding if you’re missing a work day.
Lastly, if your child is young and home sick — don’t expect to get work from home done that day, and don’t set expectations that you will.
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