Being the mother of a young child and becoming a partner in a prestigious law firm? Out of the question? Not if you have talent, the will to succeed, a caring firm and some very good advice. Meet Natasha Stojanovic, Partner at Lander & Rogers:
Congratulations on being promoted to partner! Such exciting news.
Oh, thank you!
I’d love to start by hearing a little about your journey so far and your experience with Grace Papers.
I have one daughter, Bili, she’s now five. So, the last time I took parental leave was in 2013 — it’s hard to forget! I came back to work when my daughter was about seven months old and my employer at that time had a program that provided you with three sessions with Prue Gilbert (Grace Papers’ chief executive and founder).
It was time where I could actually stop and think — which I think when you have small children you don’t do very much. There’s very little stopping and thinking about anything, besides from what is on fire! So, it was really beneficial, because they were private and confidential sessions.
Prue was prompting me to reflect on what an ideal working life would look like. Whether that was working flexibly, working part-time, working full-time, whether or not I had partnership aspirations. Looking at the complete picture, not just what my employer wanted from me, but what that ideal working environment looked like for me. It gave me a bit of time and space to reflect on that.
Prue mentioned that when she walked you through creating your professional vision that there were lots of laughs, which is really common because it can be an uncomfortable experience!
I really struggled to articulate out loud that I wanted to be a partner. Sitting down with Prue and saying that without laughing or making a funny face or joking about it. She helped me develop a clarity of vision around what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and what an ideal working life would look like.
For me, it was particularly important to be a role model, as a woman, that it is possible to be a partner at a law firm and have a family. There weren’t a lot of positive role models, of female partners who were able to balance work with family. Flexibility was important to me and whilst I do work full time, flexibility is quite important. For example, on a Tuesday I might be quite late because I have court the next day. On Friday I work from home and I pick my daughter up from school. Finding the balance that works for me — as a litigator it can sometimes be quite difficult to control your schedule but trying to make sure that you’re finding that time to connect and wind down a bit.
One of the things that really attracted me to Landers is their commitment to their people. It is very much at the core of Landers’ values about respecting and valuing employees and embracing flexible work, and innovation and new technology and all those sorts of things.
We’re lucky enough to be a firm that has strongly embraced female leadership and have a very high proportion of female partners, and women in leadership roles.
You spoke earlier about the importance of role modelling being a working parent?
I like to think as a working parent I can bring my whole self to work — sometimes that means being quite candid to my team about the challenges of being a working parent. In my team of five, four are parents, with kids of various ages and stages — and at any age or stage they present their own unique challenges. So that might be like this week, my daughter’s been unwell, so there’s been very little sleep in our house. Having to lean on the team a bit more for help, but that swings around too.
Your coaching sessions with Prue, did they help you balance your family and career?
Yes. Having that clarity of vision about what an ideal workplace looks like and doesn’t look like empowered me to communicate things that would work for me and wouldn’t work for me. That might be around scheduling times of meetings and whether or not that was consistent with drop-offs and pick-ups. I became a bit more confident to say: “Hey I am a working mum and I’ve got a small kid, so does the meeting actually need to be at 8.30, or can we schedule this meeting at 9.30?” or “Can I dial into the team meetings on Thursdays because I work from home on Thursdays?”. Those sorts of things. It gave me a bit more confidence to assert myself.
In terms of taking parental leave, how did you manage the process in the lead up to it?
My commencement was pretty abrupt. And unexpected. I had a serious health issue during the pregnancy, so I had to stop working from 120 per cent to zero over the course of a week. I was seven months pregnant, so it was a fairly dramatic way to start my parental leave.
My boss at the time was very diligent at catching up with me during the time that I was out of the office, which was really welcome. It gave me the opportunity to let him know how I was tracking and also it felt quite reassuring to be kept in the loop. It certainly made me feel like a very valued member of the team, that they bothered to do that.
It’s nice to have that connection to the workplace when you’re not there, it’s so important, especially when you’re making your way back into the workforce.
Yeah! And then on transitioning back into the workforce I was again empowered by some of the discussions I’d had with Prue around what does your ideal working environment look like. For instance, at my old firm, DLA Piper, they didn’t have any facilities for expressing milk or breastfeeding or anything like that. That was something that was important to me. I sat down with HR and sort of said, ‘Look, this is my need, this is what would make this a better working environment for me. Is there anything we can do here?’ And then they actually implemented a new parents’ room, with a fridge and steriliser and various other things which was great. My daughter very swiftly after that decided to stop breastfeeding after they’d gone to all this trouble!
But it was really nice, and a couple of years later I received feedback from some summer clerks who had been given the walk-around and said, ‘Wow that’s really great and really thoughtful that there’s a mothers’ room here.’ I’m happy to have made a difference.
Having a personal board of directors, people who support you, can be really important when you’re ju
ggling care and your career. Who are your personal board of directors?
My husband is an absolute rock, a very progressive man. He has taken a lot of time out of his career for caring responsibilities. I’m very lucky to have a hands-on partner. My parents and my sister. I’m also lucky to have a variety of mentors around me to provide guidance about professional day-to-day activities.
What does an ideal day look like for you in terms of balancing your career and family?
I love having breakfast with my daughter in the mornings and reading a book together before I head into the office. Unless I have an event or function, or a trial coming up or something like that, I really try to make an effort to be very targeted about my hours during the day. An ideal weekday for me is 8.30-5.30, so I am home for bookend meals, breakfast and for dinner and the bed-time routine.
Obviously, it’s not always possible, because there’s functions and events and other sorts of things that might sort of keep you away.
Do you have any other rituals that you’re conscious about creating with her?
She has a once monthly visit to mummy’s office. She comes in for a few hours and just completely tears the joint apart. She is absolutely in love with one of the other partners. So she comes in and she does drawings and I think she really loves it. It gives her a perspective on what mummy’s doing and where mummy is Monday to Friday.
So to wrap up, I’d love to hear your top tips for a mum who has returned to work and is trying to find balance?
I think making some time for yourself is a good tip! You are very time poor and juggling work and a family.
Not being afraid to ask for help because sometimes being a parent is really hard.
And being prepared to speak up a bit. While it was quite confronting, most of the time, people were very receptive.To go back to the example of the mother’s room, the HR manager would have been in her late 20s, she didn’t know, how would you? Having the courage to speak up and say, ‘Well look, actually, have you considered X, Y and Z, and can we do things a bit differently?’ Nine out of 10 times, you’ve got a receptive audience. People just haven’t turned their mind to it.