career

Meet the woman helping Australian mums back into the workforce.

Returning to work after having a baby is, for many women, nothing short of a nightmarish prospect.

Because while men who are fathers are more likely to be promoted and held in higher esteem by their colleagues, women are more likely to be demoted, moved off major projects and not given the same opportunities as their childless counterparts.

And according to Valeria Ignatieva, it was all of this, plus her own years of experience, that lead to the creation of her co-shared company, Diverse City Careers.

Arriving in Australia as a Russian immigrant 23 years ago, nothing has come easy for Ignatieva throughout her life.

Valeria Ignatieva
Valeria Ignatieva. Source: Facebook.

As an 11-year-old, she started school not speaking a word of English, having her mother side beside her in class and translate. Then, a few years later, she left school to begin a Coles Myer traineeship and study business management.

And for a while, things were good. Ignatieva was focussed on her career and rising through the ranks of her apprenticeship. But when she became a single parent to a son with cerebral palsy and was forced to leave her job, the now 34-year-old found herself searching not only for the opportunities she'd had in her previous position but also a position that would understand and support her.

The one thing she had on her side at that time, Ignatieva tells Mamamia is motivation.

"I was very young at that age and was very motivated," she says. "I'd clean someone's house and then go and vacuum a gym and then go and do the dishes. Literally, I'd do anything."

The reason, she says, was the desire to provide the very best for her son.

Listen: Mamamia Out Loud discuss the importance and detriment of maternity leave. Post continues... 

"There was literally no one else that would have supported him," she says. "If he wanted to go and attend a private school that had better facilities, that school cost $25,000 a year. I had to make that work."

She adds, "Maybe if I had the support I wouldn't have felt so much pressure, but because I felt like I was the only one that could provide for my son and that it was up to me and no one else, that was motivation enough."

And so eventually, Ignatieva began the hunt for a permanent, career-scaling position. Something that she never expected to be as hard or as dispiriting as what she experienced.

"I had so many jobs that I would go for and I would be the ideal candidate, but when it got to the section about flexibility and I would say that during holidays I really needed to be with my son I would just get completely dropped from the recruitment process," she says.

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But thankfully, after months of searching, she found a job with an understanding employer that not only supported her parenting commitments but also challenged her and offered career development.

"Things got a lot easier from there," she says.

Fast forward to February 2015 when the mum-of-one joined forces with her former colleague Gemma Lloyd to create Diverse City Careers, a company that vets employers and rates their flexible work arrangements; their paid parental leave schemes; their minimum tenures for parental leave; their outlook and approach to career development for working mums.

Rather than allowing other women to experience the hardship she faced, Lloyd and Ignatieva have created a system that asks the hard questions on your behalf and helps women find employment in companies that actually want them for who they are and what they have to offer - as a parent and an employee.

"It's all about giving women the opportunity to evaluate the employers before they go and apply for the job," she says, adding the success they've had since launching DCC has been incredible. "The winning feeling you get when you produce great results for women is very motivating."

Valeria Ignatieva
Gemma Lloyd and Valeria Ignatieva. Source: Supplied.

There is one working mother myth that annoys Ignatieva more than any other, and that's when employers think women who are mothers no longer have career motivation.

"I'm so sick of that misconception," she says sighing. "This idea that mothers returning to work aren't focussed, it's just not true and there's data to show that. But then, in my circle, I also see a lot of positive things happening to change that. There are a lot of good things happening. There's also a lot of bad things happening, but let's focus on the wins and focus on the real change that is happening. We've had amazing results."

With her son now 18 years old and "thriving", Ignatieva says there has been one constant in a life that has seen her move countries, become a parent and start her own business: her attitude.

While most people would be exhausted and feel cheated by it all, Ignatieva has a positivity and optimism that is utterly contagious.

"I really do feel that you need to look at all the positives and see the glass half full," she says.

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