3 Ways This Working Mom and Communications Leader Creates Boundaries, and Other Advice For You

Sponsored by Avanade

Sarah Heilig

Photo courtesy of Avanade.

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April 22, 2024 at 4:33PM UTC

“It’s a misconception that you always need to be accelerating, or that all careers follow a linear path,” notes Sarah Heilig, Senior Director, Global Communications at Avanade, a global technology consultancy that is focused on transforming business through the power of people and the Microsoft ecosystem. While it’s hard not to compare your progress with others, Heilig emphasizes the importance of focusing on your own needs and journey — which isn’t always simply up a ladder.

Instead of a career path, Heilig suggests thinking of it as a ‘career lattice.’ “You aren’t just moving in one direction — up — but, rather, there are opportunities to move laterally, or even to step back and gain new experiences that will help you ultimately get to where you want to go,” explains Heilig. And this has certainly been true for her own career progression.

Before Avanade, Heilig held roles in both corporate marketing and communications for technology consulting, engineering and financial services companies. And, since joining Avanade seven years ago, she’s led the development of their global recruitment marketing efforts, took on the role of global internal communications lead and most recently added CEO communications to her remit.

“I think my career evolution exemplifies what you can do here at Avanade — start in one area, pivot and grow in new ways and find yourself doing something you love that may never have been on your radar a few years ago,” Heilig remarks. 

Want to learn more about how to grow your career in a way that works for you, advice for working mothers, finding balance and more? Read on!

In regards to being a working parent, what’s your No. 1 tip for working parents?

You do NOT have to do it all. In fact, you shouldn’t.

I clearly remember coming back to work after my second son was born and taking the role of PTA president at my older son’s pre-school, navigating life as a new mom of two, traveling regularly for work, trying to fit in workouts, and feeling completely overwhelmed — but also feeling like I had to do it all. 

I was having a glass of wine with a friend and sharing my feelings of stress and failure, when she looked straight at me and said, “Why are you doing all those things? You don’t have to do all of that.” It sounded so simple hearing her say it, but, oftentimes, there’s pressure (from yourself and others) to not only be the best mom, employee and partner, but to also pick up all the pieces, do it perfectly and love every minute of it. I’m here to say that you do not! Nor should you. Prioritize what’s important, set up boundaries to protect your time, ask for help when you need it and, if you find yourself overwhelmed, find that one friend who will tell it to you straight and remind you how amazing you are!

What kinds of boundaries have you established to separate work and family time?

It really starts with making the decision to put boundaries in place and then stick to them. Historically I’ve been terrible at enforcing my own personal boundaries: I check email at all hours of the day, respond during non-work hours to non-urgent issues and can still fall victim to the old-school mentality that the longer you work, the better. The good news is that Avanade provides a work experience where people are encouraged to work in a way that works best for them, so it’s easier to set boundaries and work within those parameters. It’s been a breath of fresh air to be honest. And as a result, I’ve been able to break my own bad habits. Here’s how:

  1. I block my calendar — 30 minutes in the morning and again at the end of the day to ensure I have time to check emails, set my path for the day and get back to people before I log off in the evening. I’m also ruthless about blocking time to focus on my work, not just meetings. And, if I need to be out of the office, I clearly mark my calendar.

  2. I embrace flexible working — We work in a dynamic environment, so you can’t always spread your work evenly across five days. But I’ve found that if I’m putting in long days because we’re working against a deadline or urgent issue, I can make up that time in ways that are meaningful to me, whether that’s starting my weekend a few hours early on a Friday, taking a long lunch or making sure I’m setting time aside to work out. In addition, many team members take advantage of our alternative work week program, which allows them to space their weekly hours across four days instead of five so they can have more time to focus on personal time and family. The trick is really finding a work schedule that works for you, and I’m grateful to be in an environment where that is highly encouraged.

  3. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize — There are only so many hours in a workday and not everything can be your top priority. In managing up, I try to be as clear as I can about what’s on my plate, timelines I’m working against and what I need to deprioritize in order to meet expectations and goals. Similarly, with my own teams, I encourage them to prioritize what they have going on and help them where I can remove barriers and stress. We embrace a growth mindset and agility here at Avanade, and that means we have to be open to shifting priorities and get comfortable with communicating these changes.

What are you especially good at as a mom? What about at work?

By nature, I tend to be calm (cool under pressure) and no-drama — at least I like to think I am! I think those traits are also what make me a good mom and a good boss/teammate. 

As a mom, it’s important to me that my kids know they can come to me for anything, and know that there’s nothing they have to handle alone. My hope is that they feel that love and support, no matter what, and that our home is a safe space for them to speak up and be themselves. 

Similarly, at work, I try to be that safe sounding board for my team and teammates. Nearly 20 years into my career, there aren’t many situations I haven’t found myself in, so this is definitely a no-judgment zone and a safe space to speak your mind! 

And, when tough situations do arise, I’m a big fan of asking, “What is the next best step to take?” You don’t have to solve the entire problem or tackle a big challenge all at once, breaking it down so that it’s not so overwhelming and identifying the next move to take — not the next 100 moves — can help make things more manageable. 

Let’s talk about Avanade’s culture. What’s your favorite aspect of it?

What I find truly wonderful about our culture is the diversity of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives that make up our global team. 

As a technology company focused on innovation, a diverse and inclusive workforce just makes sense. We want a team that reflects the clients we work with and the communities we serve, and we want people who have the ability to look at a problem from all different angles and come up with the best solution. And, as an individual, it also means I have an entire community of people with different life experiences to tap into as I navigate my own journey. 

For example, I have:

  •  A mentor who has navigated a career and motherhood and who is always good for some quick mom advice.

  • A business partner who has held multiple roles during his time here at Avanade and who I can use as a sounding board when evaluating new opportunities.

  • A ‘big ideas’ colleague who I can call on when I need to brainstorm with someone.

  • A coworker I can call on at the end of a long day for a quick vent session and who can help put things in perspective.

Our CEO Pamela Maynard talks about the power of community and in finding your community and leaning into it. I feel like I have found that community here at Avanade — across a variety of functions, roles and time zones — of people who continuously step up and help me feel inspired, confident and cared for.

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