What I’ve Learned: Louisa Pontonio on motherhood, and the power of ‘non-negotiables’


Louisa Pontonio returned to work with relative ease following the birth of her first child. Here, she opens up about parental leave, the value of good communication, and the power of 'non-negotiables'.

Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself, your baby, and the work you do with Leidos.

My name is Louisa Pontonio and I am a new mother to baby Charlie, who is eight and a half months old. I live in inner north Melbourne with my fiancée and two step children – Mia, 14 and Jackson, 11. I returned to work when Charlie was six months and I am lucky to have support from my family to do this. I am completing some additional studies at the moment and am really enjoying this new chapter of my life both personally and professionally.

My background is Design/Project Management and I have been working in the Defence industry in Project Management for the last 10 years. Before that I worked in consulting and the not-for-profit sector. I have been with Leidos for six and a half years, and have worked across a number of business lines in program delivery, most recently, successfully delivering projects for the Navy and Army. On my return to work I have come into a new role as Account Manager in the Intelligence business line. My role is responsible for Intelligence Program oversight across the number of different projects. This includes project reporting, resourcing, governance and engagement/collaboration across the business line working closely with the Intelligence Senior Leadership Team (SLT).

What was your return to work like?

It was really straightforward and seamless. I touched base with my manager regularly in the lead up, discussing the logistics and priorities from a work perspective for my return. I was really looking forward to returning to work, seeing my work colleagues and getting involved with some exciting work again. The appreciation I now have for working parents is huge, it is a complete juggling act, but so rewarding at the same time.

What are the most challenging things you’ve discovered, about juggling work and looking after a baby?

That no two days are the same! Every day is different, with different challenges which makes flexibility so key, both personally and professionally. Being super organised is important, as is communication. To enable enough time with my baby, family and full time work every day it takes lots of juggling, planning and support.

What are the best things about combining work and family?

Being a new mum and spending time with my family motivates me professionally. I love being busy and getting things done, and this new phase of my life means every moment is precious.

What’s one idea that you’ve taken away or put into action after going through the GP program?

The non-negotiables. This was something that really resonated with me and I felt like it gave me confidence to return to work and have conversations with my manager around the flexibility I was working towards. My non-negotiables are to spend the morning with my son getting him ready for the day, having breakfast together and working from home. Once he is picked up or dropped off I make my way into work to start my day. This means my days are longer at the other end sometimes, however, that suits me and I am able to pause in the evening, spend time with my family and pick up some work again in the evening if required, especially when working from home where you don’t have the additional time travelling to and from work. Other non-negotiables are making time to exercise a few times a week, this provides me with a clear head and clarity for the day ahead. 

What would be your advice to any expectant or new working parent?

Communicate with your manager and talk about what works for you both. The feeling of returning to work can be really overwhelming, stressful and make you feel quite vulnerable, so having support is really important. There are going to be both good and bad days, however, making a commitment with your manager around what the new professional normal looks like is key. In addition, work out what your non-negotiables are too and have an open and honest conversation with your manager/leader around this to assist in meeting them, making sure you do these things for yourself will make you even more motivated professionally.

What would be your advice to any manager/leader out there in terms of enabling their staff to balance both career and care?

Provide a safe and secure environment for your staff member to be honest with you around what works for them on their return to work. Providing this support will alleviate any anxious feelings and bring the best out in the staff member. Supporting the fact that work hours may be a little all over the place at times is important as is flexibility in location and timings. Once this has been established, you will have a very dedicated, trustworthy and happy staff member, motivated to achieve their best for themselves and the company.

Would you recommend the Grace Papers program for parents and carers at Leidos?

Absolutely. I had a great coach in Kate who provided some excellent support through her coaching. There were a number of exercises that I completed to get me to think about motivation, my professional vision, what is important to me as a mum, setting professional and personal goals and thinking around my values and what sort of parent I want to be. The coaching sessions were a great mix of getting me back in the mindset of work and my professional self, but also reflecting on this new and exciting journey of motherhood ahead of me.

What I’ve Learned is a series featuring the parents (and wisdom) within the Grace Papers community.