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Juggling roles, Career PA and Parenthood

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Posted: 10th Jan 2017  |  Share this Article:

Cornerstone42 are delighted to talk to Dalya Perry-Bernstein in our Career PA and Working Parent segment. Dalya is Executive Assistant to Sufyan Ismail. PA of the Year in 2014 for Pitman Training Super Achievers, as well as 1st runner up PA of the Year 2013, Executive PA Magazine. Dalya also sits on the National Board for EPAA.

In our interview Dalya talks about her career to date and her newest role as a working parent.


Tell us a little bit about your background?
After leaving school I went to Music College where I gained an A-level and HND in music. I became part of a professional duo whilst also working in Tesco’s. I then got involved in Pulse records and recorded an album called ‘Two pence to cross the Mersey’. This was available to buy on ITunes and generated lots of opportunities and media coverage, including being featured on Granada Television.  I decided to get an office job as a backup plan and one thing led to another. I enrolled at college for courses in Excel and also completed the ILM certificate in First Line Management. My line manager approached me as the Directors’ PA was leaving. I was asked to apply for the role and the rest as they say is history! I was also singing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings as well as working full time as a PA.

What does your role entail?
I am Executive Assistant to the Director and I’m also Head of Operations at Select Concierge. My Boss is a very charismatic entrepreneur. My working environment is fast paced, extremely busy & varied and also includes charitable work.  I manage a property portfolio in the UK and oversee all aspects including marketing. I assist with business and charitable work. My role involves arranging travel and accommodation for my Boss, staff management, managing domestic and complex international travel, arranging personal engagements and teleconferences and an overall involvement in managing the business. I also organise events and assist when required.  Public speaking is also an aspect of my role.

Ok.  Let’s talk about the pregnancy and motherhood– and congratulations on the birth of your son.

At what stage and how did you tell your employer about your pregnancy?
I found out I was pregnant on Christmas day 2015, just 4 months after my wedding (which my Boss attended).  I wanted to tell him as soon as possible so I didn’t wait the full 12 weeks. To tell you the truth, I wanted to reassure him of my commitment. Part of me wanted to know whether my role was vulnerable. I rang my boss and asked him if we could meet up and have a “chat”.

What was their reaction?
We met for lunch and I was a little apprehensive but I just went straight in. I said ‘I hope this does not put you off your lunch’ he guessed straight away and was really happy for me.

During your pregnancy, did you suffer from morning sickness or other issues? If so how did it affect your work?
I was so grateful that I didn’t get any sickness. In fact, I didn’t feel any different at all and managed to go swimming every morning before work, three to four times a week. Exercise is very important to me, it makes me feel better. Though I’m struggling to fit it in at the moment!

Did you have any difficulties managing your workload during your pregnancy?
No, apart from the first 12 weeks when I felt really tired, I had a really great pregnancy.

Did you have the opportunity to work flexibly? If so who instigated that decision?
I felt fine, so didn’t feel the need to ask for flexible working. I did have a lot of scans during the pregnancy and there was no issue attending these appointments.

How much time did you take for your maternity leave?
I originally took two months, then I requested another month due to sleep deprivation.

Regarding your maternity cover did you get the opportunity to get involved with the recruitment process?
Yes, in my role part of my remit is recruitment so I recruited my replacement. I was looking for someone who was extremely flexible with the start and finish date, which I thought was going to be impossible but luckily I found a really great temporary cover.

How did you prepare for the handover?
I was able to arrange for my maternity cover to start three weeks prior to my planned finish date. I had a lot to cover in my handover. This included the admin and management for the property portfolio and my Boss’s requirements. The period which I was going to be on maternity leave was also our busiest time of year. Although I had cover, due to a scheduled caesarean, I went into hospital four days prior to the C-Section. I worked whilst in hospital, but to be clear, this is what I wanted to do and was entirely my own decision.

Did you keep in touch with work, your colleagues or the PA industry whilst on maternity leave?
Yes. I checked my emails every day to keep on top of my work and accepted any meeting requests. I spoke at two public speaking engagements, one in London and one in Vienna. I accepted these speaking engagements whilst pregnant because I really wanted to speak at these events. I also went to the Manchester PA awards ceremony which was held end of September.

When did you finally disconnect from work, meaning no contact – or did that not happen?
It didn’t really happen. I only went three or four days without checking my work phone.

Did you feel any pressure to stay involved with what was going on at work?
There wasn’t any pressure. If anything, I put pressure on myself. I did tell my temp cover if they needed any help to contact me. On the odd occasion this did happen but I wanted to be involved and preferred to be available to assist if there were any queries.

How did you prepare for your return to work?
A couple of weeks before I returned to work, I spoke at the PA conferences mentioned above. I also worked from home a week prior to my official return date.

Did your employer offer you any support?
I asked for a longer period maternity leave which was no issue. Support was always there and readily available.

Can you tell us what you planned for childcare?
Childcare is split between my mum and mum-in law. I also work from home two days a week and of course my husband is a great help when he is not working.

How did you broach the subject of flexibly working?
I asked about working flexibly and working from home is not an issue, as long as the work gets done

What challenges have you faced since returning to work?
I have only just returned back recently and the challenges are being super organised. I have to think and prepare for my baby’s needs when going to my mums in the morning; I need to decide what I am wearing in advance; basically making everything runs seamlessly. I don’t want anything to change with regard to my work and work ethic because I have had a baby.

Is there anything you wish you knew before that you know now?
I wish I had known that not every baby is going to be ‘text book’. That I am not going get ANY sleep for the first couple of months and sleep deprivation is just awful. Perhaps I shouldn’t have plucked out a figure of two months for my maternity leave and not giving any thought about the bonding element.

Do you have any advice to give to women who are due to go on maternity leave or planning to return to work?
My message to new mums is to get a good temp/cover. I would suggest employing them as early as possible to enable you to do a proper handover. You will feel more comfortable and confident about taking the time off work without being contacted too much. Returning to work: Try to keep contact with work so you have an idea of what is going on. Visit work with the baby to have a catch up. It is important to get yourself back into work mode. Whilst on leave, it is important to go out. Not only does this help you socially, it gives you an objective to help you prepare for a deadline of getting yourself and baby ready by a certain time. Go to the baby groups available to you locally. It really helps being able to talk to other new mums and share tips. If you are not able to go into work, arrange a one to one telephone session to receive an update. Pack all maternity clothes away before returning to work and find out what work outfits still fit, as you may need a shopping trip.

What tools do you keep organised with parenthood?
Baby brain does kick in, so for me (whilst on maternity leave) a pen and paper. Amazon Prime Now has been a genius for me. You can order anything from baby food, nappies, groceries etc. and it can be delivered within two hours.

In your opinion and I am not referring to your employer per see – what more can employers do to help working parents?
Interesting question. I would suggest perhaps a crèche? Definitely the option to work from home or incorporate an element of flexi time.

Dalya, I am going to give you the last word – do you have any further guidance that you can give to new mums?
Just try and enjoy the time with your baby. In hindsight, I perhaps should have taken longer for my maternity leave. Luckily, I can work flexibly and have the option to work from home.  Try and enjoy the time off and don’t get too stressed. I was lucky that I had close friends to ask about feeding routines but getting advice from other mums was invaluable. Enjoy being a mummy, it’s the best and most rewarding job ever!

Thank you! Dalya.

Follow Dalya @DalyaPA

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Vivien Edwards

Written by

Vivien Edwards

Cornerstone42 founder

Vivien has nearly 20 years administrative experience covering project and event management, recruitment, training and development, mentorship and supervisory for other admins.

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