A Mat Leave Success Story: Behind the Scenes of the Cultivate Program With Anna and Kerrie

A success story is that of two inspirational 2020 participants. In a rare program scenario, senior leader Kerrie Campbell sponsored her AECOM colleague Anna Robinson while she was on maternity leave. According to Kerrie, “What started as the challenge of how we would do this during maternity leave quickly turned into an opportunity”. This shift in mindset was the beginning of an ongoing professional and personal relationship that changed the focus of both participants.

Anna – Group Leader – Healthy Water & Civil Solutions (sponsee)

AECOM gave Anna the opportunity and the choice to participate in the program before embarking on her maternity leave journey. Anna saw the program as an opportunity to reflect on her next career steps without the day-to-day distractions of the office. Anna received regular informal updates on the business via conversations with her sponsor, Kerrie. The program also enabled her to connect with many other new people across the business while on leave.

Anna said that her most significant moment of self-discovery was learning the art of being patient: “When you are patient, it is rewarding.” Letting go of pre-existing expectations was also a learning for Anna: “Letting go pays off great dividends immediately. Being on the program while on mat leave, I think was directly responsible for me having a completely different role on my first day back.”

Anna’s advice for young females in similar positions to herself is to: “Say yes to as many opportunities that present themselves to you, without overwhelming yourself. I have learnt from the program that every time you dare to put yourself out there and say yes, there is usually a very positive payoff.”  Reflecting on what she has learnt from Kerrie, Anna encourages others: “Advice and feedback from people you admire and respect is invaluable, but when you step outside your comfort zone and seek a broader range of opinions, you are likely to have greater success in solving complex problems.

Kerrie – Director of Culture and Leadership Growth (sponsor)

One of the most significant benefits of Cultivate is that the learning and leadership development is not isolated to the sponsee; the sponsor undertakes a seven-month learning journey.  

Kerrie describes the experience as “precious” because she could make a significant difference in someone else’s future. She adds that “often in the business of our lives, you don’t get to stop and take the time to focus on someone else in the business. As a sponsor, you allow the talent before you to fulfil their potential by removing the barriers, connecting the dots and watching people flourish, and that is rewarding.”  Kerrie shared that “you go into it for the other person but come out with plenty of learnings for yourself”.

Sponsoring Anna reminded Kerrie of the enthusiasm and energy that comes with your early career stages. Kerrie was reminded to always have courage and faith: “You must have the courage to put yourself out there and take on something new and different even if you don’t know you can do it.”

Having embraced a new outlook, Kerrie says, “on a personal level, I am finding myself committing to wild ideas without knowing how I am going to deliver on them…I am leaping out of my comfort zone and learning to be brave.

We asked Kerrie to tell us what she would advise her younger self post-program, and the comments speak volumes: “Seeing how valuable this program has been to so many women, if I were a 20-year-old, I would ask how I get myself a sponsor.” Expanding your networks can connect you with people that help explain how “big things in life work and then help you navigate them.”

Kerrie advises future sponsors not to go into the program thinking you have to be a technical expert to add value to your sponsee’s development. “Sponsors are human beings too. You quickly learn in the program that it’s not about your technical expertise, it’s about your experience, it’s about your networks, and it’s about navigating organisations and careers. It doesn’t matter if you are from different disciplines; you bring value.