Mums in Tech – feat. Ana Catarina Figueiredo

The purpose of the ‘MotherBoard’ content series is to highlight incredible working mums within tech & data, as well as individuals and businesses that are supportive and progressive within their approach to creating more inclusive tech & data teams for women. As part of this, MotherBoard caught up with Ana Catarina Figueiredo, Engineering Manager at Peanut.

Amber @ Motherboard: Can you please introduce yourself, your role and why you feel supporting mums working within tech & data is so important?

Ana: I was born and raised in Portugal, in a small city on the coast halfway between Lisbon and Algarve. I came to the UK 10 years ago to pursue my career aspirations. During these 10 years my career progressed from being a Software Engineer to Tech Lead and then to Engineering Manager. In between I became a mum of 2 cute and cheeky boys who are now 7 and 4 years old.

Currently, I am an engineering manager at Peanut with the responsibility of leading the mobile team, ensuring we keep and improve our technical standards, supporting the growth of each engineer in the team, and collaborating with the Product team to plan and monitor the delivery of features.

The majority of the workplaces’ culture hasn’t yet adapted to support employees that have children. Unfortunately, this has more impact on women because they are still the ones carrying the majority of childcare responsibilities. More specifically in the tech & data industry, there is also a big factor that the majority of the workforce is men, so the struggle is even bigger given women are much less represented in these roles. Supporting women that are also mums in tech & data is fundamental to improving their relationship with work and promoting a better work-life balance. Feeling trusted, supported, and understood by the employer when there are childcare responsibilities creates a feeling of safety that will increase motivation and engagement with work and will lead to much better outcomes both for the company and for the employee.

I believe that organisations that promote this kind of support serve as an example to other organisations and to society in general and this will ultimately impact the number of women and mums in tech & data.

Amber @ Motherboard: What does a typical work/ parenting day look like for you?

Ana: Usually, it starts at around 6 in the morning with one of my kids waking up and asking for breakfast. From that moment until around 9 am it’s all about getting myself ready to work and the kids ready for school.

When I finally do the school run and I sit at my desk it feels like I have gone through a whole day of work already. I mainly work from home, and this helps a lot when I need to juggle work and childcare.

During the workday, I spend most of the time in meetings and 1:1s conversations with the engineering and product team. In between I work on the actions from meetings, plan and prepare for future meetings, check how things are progressing in the product development, and sometimes I will take on some technical tasks.

At some point during my working day, I have to pick up the kids, so I need to ensure my working schedule works around those times.

I usually finish working between 5.30pm and 6pm. I will then have some time with the kids which also includes making sure they have a shower and have their things ready for the next day. We will have dinner around 7pm which I have cooked at some point in the evening or the day before.

After dinner, we have a bedtime routine that includes reading a story and staying with them until they are fast asleep, and sometimes that includes me too!

Amber @ Motherboard: How have you managed to build a successful career, whilst also embarking on motherhood and what challenges have you faced in finding a balance?

Ana: Transitioning from being a woman to then being a mum is a huge change that no one or nothing will prepare someone for. When I got pregnant, I remember being very concerned about the time I would take for maternity leave and how behind I would be technically. I remember my manager back then, who was a dad of 3, telling me that although it might feel that I will be putting my career on pause and not evolving in any way, with motherhood I will be experiencing such different challenges that will force me to gain skills that will be useful in my professional career.

Since the day my first son was born, motherhood has been teaching me how to be a better person and consequently a better professional. I have learned skills like patience, empathy, compassion, negotiation, perseverance, vulnerability and so many more. Being a woman in the tech & data industry can feel intimidating and I found that it is very common to suffer from imposter syndrome and this lack of confidence very often becomes more prominent when women come back to work from maternity leave. For this reason, I started to be much stricter on the opportunities I look for, I started looking for workplaces that promote work-life balance and that give me the support I need to achieve their expectations and at the same time feel I can have time for my kids.

I have also started to plan my career opportunities based on my strengths. I started thinking about what I can bring to an organisation and focusing on that while still trying to improve areas where I would like to be better. I found from the moment I started doing this, my influence in the workplace grew and so did my confidence in my skills.

One last thing that I believe helps anyone across the board, but it has been fundamental to me is having a support network, having people that know me, know my worth, and can support me, especially in the moments that I doubt myself. Keeping good relationships with the people that I know would vouch for me is very important. These people are usually people I work with or worked with that became good friends. Creating good relationships with the people that I work with is very important to me because I know these people will always support my career and will always be there to help me when I struggle the same way I am here for them. It creates a feeling of safety, security and ultimately helps me be more confident.

Amber @ Motherboard: What is the hardest moment you have had as a mum whilst at work?

Ana: I am fortunate to say I haven’t had a lot of difficult moments with my kids in terms of health issues. However, I have had difficult moments and one I can think of was during the Covid pandemic, at the start of the first lockdown. My kid’s dad and I were both working from home with both kids at home (4 and 1 years old at the time). We were both in roles that required a lot of meetings and happened a lot of times that both of us would be in meetings at the same time. There was one unfortunate day when we were both in meetings and the kids were playing and my youngest trapped his finger in a door. It was so bad that he had to go under surgery to make sure his fingernail would grow properly again. This was a very stressful situation, seeing my 1-year-old going under general anaesthetic and adding to the fact that Covid was happening so there were a lot of restrictions in the hospital. Unfortunately, back then I didn’t feel a lot of support from my manager considering everything that was happening and that added up to my anxiety. I ended up feeling super scared for my little boy and at the same time concerned about my job. Thankfully everything worked out well in the end.

Amber @ Motherboard: What do you think businesses need to do to support mums working in tech & data better?

Ana: There are a few things that businesses could do to ensure people follow them and that would be extremely beneficial not only for mums but for anyone with dependents or other big responsibilities in life. Flexibility is essential, allowing people to take time to support their kids, do school runs, take appointments, be with them when they are sick or just take a break to take them to the park because the sun is out and is healthy for everyone. To do this I believe employers need to focus more on outcomes rather than outputs and make sure employees are not judged or criticized for having to leave earlier or having non-working blocks in the middle of the day to have time for their children. Allowing remote work and flexible working hours is essential to support mums.

Paid leave to support dependents is something we don’t see very often in a benefits list, but it is something essential to give that peace of mind to every mum/parent when they have a child that is ill. It is very stressful having one of our children sick and still having to juggle work or having to take time off.

Amber @ Motherboard: What do you think the government needs to do to make it easier for mums to balance a career and parenting?

Ana: There is a lot that can be done to provide better financial support both during maternity leave and also when returning to work. Childcare is one of the highest expenses a family has in this country, and this is one of the bigger factors why women stay at home after maternity leave instead of going back to work. For a lot of women unfortunately the salary, expensive childcare in addition to the possible cost of commuting, and all the added stress of juggling work and childcare often become the deciding factor that it is better to stay home looking after their children. I believe if the Government contributed more to help families with childcare expenses more women would go back to work after maternity leave.

The government could also provide a number of days that people with dependents can take to look after them. These could be a fixed number of days the same way there is a minimum number of holidays the companies have to provide to their employees.

Amber @ Motherboard: Do you have any final words of advice to our readers about balancing being a mum and having a successful career?

Ana: No mum should ever need to compromise their time/dedication to their family to build a successful career, both can be achieved simultaneously. My advice is for mums to build trust in themselves and their potential, acknowledge their strengths, and finally find where better to use them. To find a place that supports them and gives them the tools to grow.

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