We’re All in This Together — Working Mothers on Thriving During the Pandemic

We’ve all learned a lot since the pandemic necessitated a shift from on-site working and schooling to a remote life. Working mothers used to being remote have had their worlds change dramatically as well, as the challenge of remote learning has piled on top of their already teetering stack of responsibilities. Recently, Fairygodboss talked with four women from Aramark’s Empower Employee Resource Group to see how they are managing during these difficult and draining times.

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Photo Courtesy of Aramark.

Photo Courtesy of Aramark.

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Fairygodboss
April 16, 2024 at 1:23PM UTC

We’ve all learned a lot since the pandemic necessitated a shift from on-site working and schooling to a remote life. Working mothers used to being remote have had their worlds change dramatically as well, as the challenge of remote learning has piled on top of their already teetering stack of responsibilities. Recently, Fairygodboss talked with four women from Aramark’s Empower Employee Resource Group to see how they are managing during these difficult and draining times.

Similarities abound, no matter the family structure or job title, all named some form of physical activity as a way to de-stress and they all emphasized the importance of patience. They also all offered concrete advice on navigating online schooling and switching from face-to-face interactions to video calls. Read on to see what they had to say about their experiences, how they are coping with the new normal and what they’ve learned during this stressful time.

They are:
Shannon Nichols — Director of Business Development-Facilities Higher Education Aramark
Heather Hoge Allard — Director Talent Management and Employee Engagement
Erika Fiest  — Director, Corporate Brand | Aramark
Brisbane Vaillancourt  — Vice President Operations, Aramark

Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities?  

Nichols: My current role is all around sales and obtaining new facilities business in the higher education segment, covering 9 states total along the Midwest.

Allard: I have the fortunate opportunity to do what I love — and that is work with people! I support preparing Aramark employees for the future of work by empowering leaders and creating experiences that foster growth, performance and retention. I lead our global performance management, employee engagement and onboarding initiatives.  

Fiest: As steward for the Aramark brand, I elevate the best stories across the company to share with our employees, clients and community in creative ways across our digital platforms. I have the pleasure of working across the company to create meaningful content to help people learn who Aramark is and what we stand for.  

Vaillancourt: I am the Vice President of Operations for Lifeworks, a premium Business & Industry brand within Aramark. My current priorities are to keep my team engaged and having fun during this challenging time, develop and have a comprehensive session plan at all levels and continue to serve our guests safely, while creating experiences that enrich and nourish lives.

Shannon Nichols — Director of Business Development-Facilities Higher Education Aramark

What has been the biggest challenge for you as you are navigating this “new normal?” 

Nichols: My situation is unique. I started my current role in March right as Covid-19 was getting started. I went from traveling and onboarding to a standstill. Being in sales during a pandemic is not the easiest transition, on top of my children being home full time and trying to navigate schooling for both. Finding a consistent schedule and routine was key for us to keep sane in my household when Covid first started. Things are much better now that we have them both in school and have figured out what works best for us.

Allard: Not being able to travel to Idaho from North Carolina to see my dad and extended family. We travel twice a year and haven’t seen them since December 2019 –— that has been the hardest part. One day soon, I hope.  

Fiest: Honestly, I think just learning a lot about myself. What makes me more stressed, less stressed, and how to handle those triggers and find release valves. As someone who tends to be future oriented and planful, I try to balance my excitement for creating future plans for the Aramark brand while realizing and being open to changing direction.

Vaillancourt: Staying connected with my team around the country. Fortunately, my business has remained busy and we have employees on the front line, serving our guests every day. During this pandemic, I have asked more from the team than usual, so finding ways to show appreciation and recognize them has been a challenge. I lead from the heart and there is no better way to show appreciation than recognizing them in person. I look forward to the future, when I can get back on a plane and celebrate those that have continued to execute and exceed client and Aramark expectations. 


Heather Hoge Allard — Director Talent Management and Employee Engagement

If you are a working parent, are your kids doing remote learning? What has that experience been like and what advice would you give to others?

Nichols: My daughter is in the fifth grade, and we opted to do full-time virtual schooling. This was extremely hard as she enjoys the face-to-face interaction and being with her peers. She struggled to get engaged and stay focused, having to sit in front of the computer all day and learning all the new technology. For me it was finding ways to encourage her and make it fun so that she was excited about learning. One thing we did right away was convert a guest bedroom into what she calls her “office.” This is her space for school. She decorated and picked everything down to her desk. Virtual learning is not for everyone, but the key is to be patient and continue to find ways to help your child navigate this new world. She is a Zoom wizard now and has learned a lot more than most kids her age from a systems standpoint by virtual learning.

Allard: Back in the early spring of 2020, had I been asked this question I likely would have started to cry and not even had a response. Every day was virtual and with a child moving into kindergarten, it was nearly impossible to balance work and school. Someone had told me “I feel like if I didn’t have children, I would be a better employee and if I didn’t have a job, I would be a better parent to my children.” Those feelings resonated with me daily. Now, we are fortunate (and pray it stays that way), that our girls are in school four out of five days. The elementary school has done an exceptional job with the curriculum and outlining expectations. On virtual days, we alternate shifts between myself, my parents and my husband. I would encourage other working parents to keep in mind that these are incredibly stressful times. Take a deep breath and know that everyone may not be experiencing or going through the same situation as you. 

Vaillancourt: Since the start of the 2020 academic year, we are fortunate to have them back in school. Our youngest started preschool and our oldest started kindergarten. Every day we brace for the potential news that the school is going virtual. When the pandemic first hit and all schools were forced to go virtual, it was a challenge to have balance in our household and keep our children inspired.  

Brisbane Vaillancourt  — Vice President Operations, Aramark

What’s your advice for other women who are working remotely with their children at home?

Nichols: I have a ten-year-old and a three-year old. My daughter is doing remote learning while my son attends in person pre-kindergarten. I would say have patience as this is new for everyone and a very big adjustment for a lot of children. I had to teach her a lot of new technology systems. This was no easy task; we had our moments but I had to step back and remember that this is new and frustrating for her and tried to find the easiest ways to teach her and make it fun. 

Allard: I will steal the tagline from my daughter’s elementary school – Patience and Grace. My number one piece of advice to other working parents is to take time out of the day to be 100% present with your spouse and children. As a family, we have committed to being “present” during dinner time; no iPads, no phones, no tv, no laptops. We also practice “3 roses and 1 thorn.”  Every family member is required to talk through their three roses, or positive things that happened that day; and one thorn, something that didn’t go as well. It is amazing what I learn from my children!

Fiest: My best advice is to still try to find that tiny bit of time for yourself to recharge. As they say, if mama’s not happy, no one is happy. Even if it is 10 minutes on my yoga mat or a quick walk around the block, those little breaks can seem somehow indulgent, but they are so critical to mental and physical health.

Specifically, what resources or support has Aramark offered employees during the crisis? 

Nichols: Getting involved in the LEAD (Leaders Employees of African Descent) Employee Resource Group has helped me a lot in the sense of belonging to something, and making new friends that I wouldn’t have had without joining LEAD. Most importantly, feeling like I am making a difference during this unique time we are living in has been a great experience. I look forward to 2021 and what LEAD will accomplish.

Allard: I have had flexibility in my schedule to work around school drop-off and pick-up. A number of mental health resources have also been made available. I have worked from home for 10 years and actually feel a bit more connected leveraging advancements in technology such as Virtual Teams meetings, where otherwise I would just be on a conference call. My Aramark family has truly helped us get through this time. The sounds of children in the background are a daily occurrence and one we can all relate to and understand. From our top of the house leaders to peers and colleagues, everyone has been so supportive.  And had it not been for COVID, I may have ever met the children of my peers, while it is via Zoom, it is great to get to know my teammates ever better.  
Fiest: Aramark has offered a number of classes through the ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) and other groups on professional development, diversity, inclusion and other highly relevant topics. The fitness center has continued to offer virtual classes including meditation and mindfulness. And our teams have had several group scavenger hunts and other fun Zoom calls to laugh and destress. 

Vaillancourt: Aramark is a great organization and really focuses on our well being. From the top down, our organization has prioritized people throughout the pandemic. I am thankful to have the leadership we do.

Erika Fiest  — Director, Corporate Brand | Aramark

What is your favorite way to destress outside of work?

Nichols: Working out. When the pandemic first started, I went through a phase of just not feeling myself and in a way let myself go from a physical standpoint. I quickly realized that was not the answer and started working out virtually with my friends and sisters. Fast forward to today, I am a proud owner of the Peloton Bike and excited about the fitness journey I’ve started. It is a great way to just relax, clear your head, and most importantly live a healthier lifestyle. 

Allard: Listening to music while walking! I can escape and get some fresh air.  

Fiest: We live in the city, so we enjoy getting outside on the weekends for a walk to a new or favorite park or arboretum. As the weather gets cooler, knitting is a hobby I enjoy that forces me to sit down for a bit and relax.  

Vaillancourt: The Peloton. It’s my daily day work ritual and it really kick starts my day. I find myself laughing with the virtual instructors and constantly chasing my last record. Without the Peloton, my daily routine would be out of balance. 

More about Aramark Empower

Aramark’s Empower Employee Resource Group launched in April 2011 to enable business outcomes through the connection of engaged women in leadership. Since then, Empower has worked to accelerate the advancement of women leaders through providing coaching, mentoring, and contributing to the development of leadership competencies.

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