Creating amazing workplaces for working moms with Advaita Naidoo, MD, Africa, Jack Hammer Global

Once you start raising awareness about unconscious bias it will no longer be unconscious.

– Advaita Naidoo

On this episode of On Work and Revolution podcast, Debbie talks with Advaita Naidoo, MD of Africa at Jack Hammer Global & a prominent voice on workplace culture in South Africa, about how to make workplaces supportive of working moms and parents. Jack Hammer has been a women-led firm for over 21 years now – hear what we’ve learned so far about creating a women-first & career-mom-first workplace. This episode shares our personal stories alongside research on this topic. 

Debbie & Advaita discuss:

✓ The dichotomy of a good worker vs. a good mother.
✓ The practicalities of creating amazing workplaces for working moms (career moms).
✓ The latest research & legislation highlighting the very real unconscious bias that exists.
✓ Best practices to not only celebrate women in the workplace but normalize and role model what it looks like to not hide our/their families in the background.

About our guest, Advaita Naidoo:

Advaita is the MD, Africa of Jack Hammer Global. While completing her Masters in Research Psychology, she embarked on a brief but successful career in academia, seeing her work published internationally and being recognised as a meaningful contributor in several studies. But there was a cognitive itch that pure research just couldn’t scratch, which was to see the desk work translated into commercial outcomes. So, she packed away her journals and threw herself into the world of executive search, where finding a great leader can impact the corporate and NPO landscapes in unexpected ways.

As MD of Jack Hammer’s Africa business, Advaita manages the end-to-end business activities that make Africa’s largest boutique search firm the undisputed success it is. While also juggling the challenges that come with having three boys under the age of nine.

She brings a unique international outlook to the business, having lived on four continents and covered more than a quarter of the globe in her travels. Her natural commercial acumen and insights gleaned from ongoing learning have helped companies make sound business decisions. And her wisdom comes packaged with a sharp intellect and dry wit, making any engagement with her a mentally stimulating interaction!

Helpful Links:

Follow Advaita on LinkedIn
Learn more about Jack Hammer Executive Search Firm here.

Open for Full Episode Transcript

Open for Full Episode Transcript



mothers, companies, parents, kids, moms, baby, practicalities, world, women, culture,


Debbie Goodman  00:05

Welcome to On Work and Revolution, where we talk about what’s shaking up in the world of work right now. And how we can make work life stuck less. For those of you who know me and most of you do, you know that I’m aiming for an amazing work-life, but on some days, suck less can be just fine. Today we have as our guest Advaita Naidoo, who many of you know as well, and I’d love to do my favorite thing on podcast- which is actually doing the introductions. So Advaita is the MD of Africa for Jack Hammer Global. As you know, Jack Hammer is a global group of executive search and leadership coaching companies. A little bit about her background – some of you may not know this, she comes from a very illustrious background in academia. She has a Masters in psychological research. She’s spent time at the Human Sciences Research Council, and then traveled all over the world working four continents and ended up at an executive recruiting company somewhere. And then when she decided to come back to South Africa, she interviewed with us here at Jack Hammer. She chose Jack Hammer, there’s a little bit of a backstory to that, and started as a researcher, became Chief Operating Officer and is now MD Africa for our Africa recruiting business. So welcome Advaita! Oh, the part that’s absolutely critical to mention, she is also mom to three boys, which are under the age of nine. I realized I probably wouldn’t be mentioning, if it was like a guy on the panel, right? We don’t always talk about, well, he’s a father to four kids. But it is particularly relevant for this conversation, because we’re talking about creating amazing workplaces for working moms. Okay, enough from me! Advaita – our origin story, where you had interviewed with Jack Hammer and I knew instantly, I just knew that I wanted to hire you. And so I moved quickly, sent an offer through, you seemed really excited and enthusiastic. And I was like, “this is a done deal”. And then… there was silence. What was going on?


Advaita Naidoo  02:15

For anyone who hasn’t heard the story yet, I’m gonna share our superhero origin story. So when I met you, about nine years ago, I’d also met with a couple of other companies. And then the Len, who was the person who noted he was not on mute just now, he and I went back to Singapore. And that’s where we lived at the time. And, you know, I think everybody already knows this punch line. But let me just do a little dramatic effect here… I found out I was pregnant. And as it happens, another company had also made me an offer at the same time, so I let you know, I was pregnant, I let the other MD know. And he retracted his offer. And I got that party line, “feel free to get in touch after you have the baby will keep the door open, etc, etc.” Whereas you, you said these exact words to me and I always quote this verbatim, because this was a watershed moment in my life. You said, “so what, start sooner”, and my mind was blown. You had no idea what I was going to be like as a team member, you had definitely had no idea what I was going to be like as a working mother. So even though Nolan had just accepted a job in another city, and we knew he’d have to spend time away from this new family unit, we were building in Cape Town, your words really stuck with me. And we made the conscious choice as a family. We anointed Jack Hammer, the place for us to grow, grow our family, and albeit that the other MD had taken the choice out of my hands at that particular moment, I still felt I had agency, I still had options. And I would choose Jack Hammer again and again. And I think now it’s so easy for me to dismiss that other MD was no small amount of vitriol, but actually, he was doing what so many others probably would have done and still would do, let’s be honest. So I wanted you to tell everybody what it was that made you react in a completely in a polar opposite way to that guy.


Debbie Goodman  04:05

It was an instant knee jerk reaction. But I’m not sure that I would have had the same approach had I not had two babies of my own. My children were quite young at the time. I think pre kids, I might have had a similar response to the guy who let you down or retracted his offer. And what shifted for me was the practical experience the lived experience of particularly when I’ve had my second baby, it was 2009. And it was a global financial crisis. And I think maybe four weeks after giving birth, I realized that the business was at serious risk. And I needed to go into the office because we didn’t have zoom and I couldn’t work remotely and the only way to just keep things alive was actually to get in there and like get on the phones and do my thing. And so I took the baby with me and fortunately I did have some help at the office. My Connie, some of you will know she really did help me but I figured out how to literally work and have the baby with me, and try to figure out how to juggle all the balls literally in the same physical space at the same time. And it was hard. But there was absolutely no moment where I was thinking to myself, Oh, I’m gonna be less excellent or perform at a reduced level. Because I have a because I’ve just given birth was a bit about the relentlessness of needing to just function at that time, it was a crisis moment. But I thought to myself, you know, something, I’m not that special, if I could have done it. And yes, with help, if I could have done, it’s so good, everybody. And then the other thing is that that time, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. So just don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking anybody to come into the office prematurely. In fact, quite the opposite. I would absolutely wish that everybody has proper time to spend with their newborn. But the watershed moment for me was that I realized that that I got a new appreciation for First of all, how quickly the time passes and how precious it is. So I absolutely would want every mother to spend that time, but also, that time passes quickly. And so I knew that you would come you would start training and then with, you’d go on maternity leave, and you’d spend your four months and you know, spend time with your baby, and then you come back, and then you would be here for a long time. And that was probably one of my best decisions ever. So that’s a little bit about the moment, but the frame of mind. And I think the mindset that actually grew and evolved from there was that from a mindset point of view, I continually wanted to be able to be pull and present with my baby, with my kids with my family, not hide them in the background, not feel like I had to make excuses, be completely open when I got to go and do the doctor and the vaccinations and take time out. And I didn’t hide that I wanted to be able to celebrate that. And I think that’s partly the evolved sort of culture that we manage to really creep in as part of an intrinsic fabric to the culture that we develop back to you investor.


Advaita Naidoo  07:05

Well, I mean, I think not to open up the membership to our mutual appreciation society too early. But I think that really obviously laid the groundwork of us being so family first, and it’s so normalized for us. As you know, I’ve been my third child, what is a pure lockdown baby, he was born three weeks before we went into hard lockdown. And similar to you, we were in a crisis, a global crisis. And it had to be all hands on deck for the survival of our business. But that didn’t get me being at work wasn’t to the detriment of this newborn I had at home because I was able to prioritize both in ways that made sense for me at the time and made sense for our family and our work family. And in preparation for the session I actually chatted to a few of my close friends, to ask them where their companies are succeeding and where they’re still falling short. And just to focus a little bit on the challenges for now. But I heard things like my Do Not Disturb hours are encroached upon projects on distributed fairly, it seems like working mothers are overlooked for promotions, because managers assume we won’t be able to take them on, or my manager talks about balance. But at the end of the day, it’s all smoke and mirrors. And I know, you know, we all have but you’re especially I’ve been reading up a lot of global research on this. Am I over indexing here? Is this very specific group of my friends feeling these things in isolation? Or does the data support what they say?


Debbie Goodman  07:15

So – absolutely. I mean, I am also really on top of the particularly things from the US side, because that’s the world that I immersed in for those of you who don’t actually work for us. I work in Los Angeles, so I’m actually living in from Manhattan Beach was on the West Coast, it is extremely 2am. So I am really immersed in what’s happening in the US culture and world and work world. And there that is definitely not unique to one sort of small microcosm of your network. This is a really, I think it’s a western culture situation. But in the US, there are so many not amazing workplaces for women. I mean, there are few few key points. First of all, I only discovered relatively recently, that paid maternity leave was not legislated in the US. And so it was only relatively recent in American history where American labor law where you needed to actually give, leave. So it’s legislated that women can take leave, but then it’s not required that companies actually pay them. And so, parental leave benefits are considered a privilege and a luxury. I follow a woman by the name of Reshma Saujani. You find her on LinkedIn, she’s really amazing on Instagram. She is a huge gender equality activist. She’s CEO of Girls Who Code and she has recently written a book called Pay up. It’s also really interesting on gender pay equity, but she writes a lot about the issues around working mothers. And by the way, that term working mothers let me just put up And then there for a second because all mothers work. Okay, so I prefer the term career mothers or career moms. But we’ll use those interchangeably back to Reshma. She just wrote her an article in Vogue magazine, actually, which quoted some Wall Street Journal data. That is right now the snapshot in the US economy is that due to the tightening of the US economy is that this has been a significant reduction in even the companies that were paying maternity benefits that has reduced significantly like in the last three months, can you imagine that? I speak to many women. This is anecdotal. But I speak to many women who are in their sort of like early 30s, aside from the fact that a lot of them are having to like freeze their eggs or trying to freeze their eggs because they don’t know when they’re going to be able to do the baby thing. They started to think about things like, Oh, I’ve got to stride ahead, I’m going for my last big promotion, because I eventually want to have kids like the time is coming. And this idea that they know that there’s a sort of certainty that their careers are going to plateau. If once they have children, it’s almost like women with babies in America are seen as a corporate inconvenience. And there’s an almost certainty that, that their careers are just going to if not nosedived, they’re just going to stagnate for a while. And then the other piece of data because I’ve been just doing so much work in, in hybrid work. Hybrid work solutions is also from rationalise book pay up, she’s quoted a stat that I hadn’t seen anywhere else, which says that there’s a 50% reduced likelihood of promotion for people who choose to work remotely. Now, that’s men or women. But what we know is that mostly women are choosing to take remote or hybrid work. And even when the options are to come back into the office, they are choosing to stay more remote, because for two reasons, the one is they’ve got probably the greater burden of domestic responsibility. And also, and this is what we know from our world, anecdotally, in our company. For the first time, there’s been this moment in time where we’ve had flexibility, more flexibility than ever. And we’ve been able to show up being the kinds of mothers that we want to be, I was speaking to somebody the other day at DSTV. And they’ve just been all hold back five days a week, like the pandemic never happened. And she said the biggest, like sort of hot moment for her was that she can’t pick her kid up from school anymore. And I just thought to myself, oh my goodness, that one thing that made her feel like she was showing up in a way for her kids that she’d wanted to just being able to fetch our kids from school. And that was not taken away, because she just had to stay at the office or five, that like really hit me a lot. So those are just some sort of high level US centric viewpoints, which I know is in the South African African, you know, many countries all over the world from a both data and anecdotal data point of view. So I think what we need to talk about is we know that it’s short for a lot of people,


Advaita Naidoo  13:05

I actually just wanted to say it’s, it’s so interesting, it’s it’s like it’s this unconscious bias that hasn’t been articulated before this assumption that mothers can’t be greeted both roles, the mothering and the working. And we need to really highlight the circled dichotomy of good worker versus good mother, like all our unconscious biases, they need to be spoken out loud, we need to raise this awareness that, you know, these things aren’t mutually exclusive.


Debbie Goodman  13:29

Yeah, let’s just start there with unconscious bias, because I think we have spent so much time thinking about unconscious bias in relation to race, in relation to gender. And even in relation to now we you know, there’s a lot of ageist bias that we have, but I don’t know that the spotlight has been put on unconscious bias towards working parents. And once again, I know we’ve been very heteronormative in our language here, and very generalist, let’s not exclude men from the conversation. But by and large, the unconscious bias against working moms. And the thing about anything unconscious, any kind of prejudice that you have, the moment you do, that you shine the light on it, it’s once you see it, it’s been seen. And so I think as we start raising our awareness, and as we start spreading awareness, it can no longer be unconscious. So I really want to use opportunities like these, as well as, you know, content that we create, as, as well as sharing with the other amazing, unbelievably capable proficient women in the workplace, to start continuing to raise awareness and share the message around this. I mean, they’re examples on their own. But I really want that to be like, why shouldn’t that be added to the list of all the other unconscious biases that we’re working on? So put it on the list? I think the other thing is that I feel that women Leaders, particularly working mom, in my mom’s in leadership roles really need to become role models in this particular thing I know there’s a lot of burden all the role modeling that we need to do. And like do we need one more thing to actually add to the bloody long list of things that we are role modeling for other people. But this is an important thing. And most of our environments are still very male dominated. And even, you know, though they have kids, as I said, they may particularly if they’re sitting at an executive level probably got a whole host of people who are taking the burden of the domestic responsibilities. And so, as working moms, we’ve got to be the ones in leadership roles, we’ve got to be the ones to normalize and to role model, what it looks like, to be able to not hide our families in the background to actually be family first, to, to not feel like we need to be making excuses. I mean, I love the fact that we’ll get a message from somebody in the team that says I am going to the parade or I’m going to the gala. Or, in fact, sometimes I mean, we just got a message today from one of the team members who I know she’s just had so much on her plate with her kids. And she sent her message today to say, I’m off tomorrow, I’m taking me time. And that for me, it was just like yes, to have an environment where we can be sharing the celebrations and the chaos because it gets chaotic. We all know that. That needs to be role modeled from the top, we know that culture, creating amazing culture of any sort. If your leaders at the top aren’t starting with the message, it’s really hard to inculcate that anywhere else. So there is an onus of responsibility on women in leadership roles to be driving this as an agenda item to really be thinking about it consciously. Okay, back to you on some practicalities. I know you want to talk about this.


Advaita Naidoo  17:02

I love the practicalities of actually just wanted to say I think the thing about talking about parenting Reshma Saujani calls it “collectively parenting loudly”. And I love that because for me, it means you know bringing the kids into the workplace and not necessarily physically but conceptually, and you bring your whole self and this is how we normalize that we are simultaneously workers and mothers, one role doesn’t preclude the other. And I also like the thing about, you know, we can’t just be forgiving of the time out for looking after sick kids or other family emergencies. working parents do need to prioritize the fun things like the cricket matches, because nobody is doing their best work if they’re distracted or stressed. And if the timeout gives lends itself to superlative work delivery, why wouldn’t we do more of that? So I think those are those are the high level points. But I think just on the practical things, it sounds insurmountable. It’s a whole lot of policy that needs to go in. And it needs to come from the top. And it absolutely does. But there’s so many tangible things that companies can do build a breastfeeding room have childcare in the building, implement and respect the Do Not Disturb hours. One of my friends said that every January, the management at her company sends out a memo that says parents are going to be a little bit less available over the next few weeks because school is starting again. They’re buying uniforms, they’re covering school books, they’re adapting to a new sports timetable. So just cut them a little bit of slack, you know, nothing is going to fall apart. At that same company. They also have a Slack channel that’s dedicated to parenting issues, which I just love it. You know, parents can discuss anything from teething remedies, to healthy lunchbox ideas to teenagers who want to get nose piercings. And you know, just like that, that comment about collectively, parenting loudly. It’s a way of building community for parents in the workplace, letting them know that they’re not running this cone to that alert, because I think there’s nothing more isolating than thinking that I am alone in this drama and this joy that is parenting while working. But actually we’re not alone.


Debbie Goodman  19:04

Such great practical examples, because ultimately, if we talk about culture – what is culture? Culture is the way we do things around here. And so once again, you can talk about, yes, we have a very flexible policy for parents, but if in fact, every time you know somebody who has maybe got a sick sick kid is saying I’m sorry, I need to take sorry and the usual sentence is sorry, I need to take time to go to the doctor. And then the response on the other side is the heave of the site and the rolling eyes SickKids again, you know, so that becomes part of the culture where that is once again the corporate inconvenience. So for companies who are consciously intentionally looking to really harness embrace the idea of creating amazing work place for her Working moms for career moms, we have to look at the practicalities, we have to look at what are the rituals, not just the attitudes, because they are really key and important. But what are the things that we’re doing around here that point to our values that essentially create the culture? And so it’s partly leadership. It’s partly attitude. It’s partly the practicalities. And all of us in our working environments, regardless of whether you’re in leadership or not have an opportunity to start the narrative. If it’s not there already, who do you speak to? How can you be an activist, we’re not talking about an activist like standing on a soapbox, the activist can just be to start the conversation, to start a Slack group or Whatsapp group to have a conversation with another working parent to start asking questions. So everybody has an opportunity to influence their own environments, we happen to be in our world quite lucky, I think. And, honestly, I don’t know that I that without having kids of my own and experiencing Oh, my God, you know, by the way, my teenager just got a nose piercing. Speaking of back two weeks ago,


Advaita Naidoo  21:17

I’m sorry, we didn’t have a Slack channel set up for you.


Debbie Goodman  21:19

And that’s the thing, I love sending the photographs of my kids to the whole company, because I want to celebrate my joys. And I think that when you’re in an environment where you can celebrate the joys with your kids, to your peers, there’s something really magical that happens, it shouldn’t be unique. It shouldn’t be so special. We happen to have something special, but it shouldn’t be like that. I would hope that if in six months or a year, we convene again and have conversations around what are the shifts that are making each one of us has an opportunity to actually influence the the environments that we’re in? So for those of you who don’t work at Jack Hammer, who are on this call, what are you going to do tomorrow or next week, to further impact your environment for the better, because you do have agency and you can make an impact? So I’m going to put the challenge out to everybody else. And we’re constantly looking to improve. So Jack Hammer-heads, if there’s more that we can be doing, I want to know about it. If there’s stuff that we’ve you know, gotten blase about, I want to get out of the comfort zone so we can up the ante. So thank you all very much. We did start a little bit late. Thank you for joining us.


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