Find out from the interview with Vanessa Vallely how she does it – Vanessa is Head of Business Management at Aviva Investors 4 days/week, she is also the founder of leading women’s network and website, www.wearethecity.com which serves an audience of over 100,000 City Women. She co-founded the City wide diversity network, The Network of Networks which includes the Diversity heads and heads of women’s networks from 45 FTSE firms.
Vanessa has won a number of prizes and awards, most recently the Champion for Women award at the 2011 Women in Banking and Finance Awards. She is regularly featured in the media and is often called upon to speak at corporate and charity events.
Vanessa has a husband and 2 daughters (aged 8 and 11). She is a school governor and Non Executive Director for the National Youth Music Theatre and the Prostate Cancer Charity. Just this Sunday she ran the London Marathon. So I went to find out for you how on earth one single person can manage this.
That sounds like quite a busy life. How do you do it?
I am highly organised, I keep lists and even keep lists of lists, and I have two smartphones. I guess I have always been capable of a lot of output and get more done than others. My current boss said: ‘What she does in 4 days, others do in 5 or 6’. I never waste any time, you don’t find me dreaming on the train, I am planning my next meeting or working out a plan. I always write things down: ideas and actions.
When do you have time to relax?
Not often. I run for relaxation, when I run I am in my own world, listening to my own music. Four days in on holidays I start to relax, however in down-time I generate more ideas, which means more work, so I feel it’s not so good for me to relax.
I do find me-time in pockets. I am an only child and enjoy being on my own. This Sunday morning I relaxed, sitting back with my laptop on my lap, catching up on e-mail on my own, which was lovely as I feel on top of things now. Sometimes I take a special moment of relaxation in the bath with candles.
What does a normal day look like for you?
5.30 Get up, do my make-up and get dressed
6.00 Wake up my eldest daughter, check their lunches and bags (but they do it themselves)
6.30 My child minder (live out nanny) arrives and I hand over to her
6.45 Catch a train
7.30 Breakfast in the office and start work, or a networking breakfast externally - I usually meet people for lunch and/or before I go home, that’s where I fit my networking in
9.00 Start work
18.30 Leave work
19.15 Home, Child minder goes home and I talk with my 2 girls and catch up on their day
Later my personal trainer comes. I train in the conservatory with the children around so I don’t have to go out again. In the rest of the evening I fit 1 or 2 hours work in, Skype or do some work for We Are the City.
22.00 Go to bed
I am away about 1 evening per week, when I do networking or go to an event. I usually do fit in a few hours of work on Saturday and Sunday as well. On Saturday I get up at 6.00 and fit in a few hours for non-work things such as We Are the City before my daughters wake up.
What kind of support have you got at home?
I have a child minder who comes to my house, and she has been there for many years. I also have a cleaner 4 hours/week and someone who comes to pick up my ironing every Sunday.
My mum works full-time so she can only baby-sit occasionally.
My husband has a senior position at the FSA, and his work is not very flexible. So we sit down every Sunday to look 2 weeks ahead and plan which one of us has more space to take full responsibility (for the children) that week.
When do you get to see your children?
I do see them every day at the end of the day, and on Saturday we do things together, I take them to drama, or we go climbing at the climbing wall.
And of course Friday is my day off from work, I do the school drop-off and pick-up and have an Open House, where they can bring any friends they like, to compensate for the other days when I am not there for play dates.
I am also at assemblies and sports days, I won’t miss those and as a school governor I feel I have to be there. When I was less senior I often pretended they were other meetings, now I don’t care and just tell people at work where I am.
I travel with them too. I put up a world map and they choose where we go. Up front we read up on those places. That way they have already seen a lot of the world.
What about your husband, where does he fit in?
We talk in the mornings when we travel to work and at lunch-time. He doesn’t miss out at all. We work in the same industry so he understands what it takes. We have an agreement we work hard now and one day life will be easier.
How do you feel about working 4 days a week, do you feel you have to put more hours in?
It works well for me. I am at least 9 hours a day at work, but not on a Friday. I make sure I get the work done.
When I reached COO level at a major retail bank I realised I didn’t want to go any higher and that if ever I was to become a CEO it would be for a charity and not a bank. I am an individual who gets the job done and who can sit behind someone and make them hugely successful, and I actually enjoy playing that role. I realised that if I was to go for the big office and the big chair, I would have to severely compromise my family time and some of the things I love doing, like my community and charity work, I am not prepared to do that.
I think when you hit 40 you look around and you appreciate life a little more. Work is a massively important aspect of my world, and I don’t doubt I will always be in senior roles in the City, however I now appreciate balance, so if a job doesn’t give me that balance I don’t take it.
Do you ever feel guilty?
All the time, either about work or about the children. I don’t think I or they miss out though, it’s just a different view. My children understand I need to go to work and why. We’ve had that conversation. I explained the things we can do now, with the extra income. One of them said ‘you’d better go to work then’and the other said ‘fine, you can stay at home’. They understand it’s a trade-off.
At which stage in your career did you have children?
Most of my career happened after children. When I had my first child I was a team leader/supervisor, I returned to work after 3 months and did a step back to a more administrative role. Initially I worked 3 days/week, after 4 months 4 days/week and then back full-time. I did the same with my second daughter.
I used to think working less and having a family would harm my career. I guess it’s also about how hard you are prepared to work. If I’d missed a meeting when working part-time, I made sure I would know who was there and what was discussed.
How did having children change you, your ambitions and priorities?
I never thought we would have children. Then I met my husband and it did happen. As a result I think I was very maternal. Having children became a reason to achieve, to show it to my children. I come from a humble background and have a strong driver to give them a better background and better opportunities.
What kind of things did they never tell you about having children?
Emergency moments, you just can’t plan for them. When your child is ill your child minder will not have them, and your mates will not take them either, so it’s down to you. It’s a nightmare and I have missed many work things because of it. I am glad we are clear about that one now as they are older.
Then there are the sleepless nights, they never tell you they go on for a number of years.
Last there is the tension in your relationship, about one partner doing more than the other. We have had regular discussions about whose meeting is more important. Once we both had a key meeting on the same day. We solved it by becoming a tag-team, me going in in the morning and straight back home as soon as I had the US delegation on the plane in the early afternoon. My husband joined his key meeting once I got home.
What advice would you like to give to other mums?
I learned 80% is enough, for your children and at work. They don’t have to be immaculately dressed, and you don’t have to be at every single school event or meeting at work.
Your house doesn’t have to be 100% either. For me, I have learned to enjoy those rare moments when there is no e-mail waiting, the house is tidy and clean and all jobs are done. I have learned to treasure those moments, rather than expect this is the normal state of affairs.
If I would do it all again I would probably take a year off, I returned to quickly after maternity leave. I don’t think it harms your career, if you have the right employer. That’s the key, to choose the right employer. I changed employers several times and it can make a big difference.
I would also recommend not to wait for your boss, I have always taken my own advancement in my own hands. I kept a network outside of work, looked after my education and build my own profile. When you work part-time or are on leave you can still go to training events, for instance.
Would you advice your daughters to do what you have done?
My daughters do want children. They see me doing charity events, help out with We Are the City events and come into work at Christmas. They see me and don’t want to do it like that, it sounds like too much hard work . I would advise them to do what makes them happy. I was just never going to be a coffee-morning mum, this worked for me.
About the interview: Vanessa Vallely was interviewed by Inge Woudstra, founding Director of Mum & Career on 27 April 2012. Vanessa is Head of Business Management at Aviva Investors, founder of leading women’s network and website We Are the City, and she co-founded The Network of Networks which includes the Diversity heads and heads of women’s networks from 45 FTSE firms. She is a school governor and Non Executive Director for the National Youth Music Theatre and the Prostate Cancer Charity.