When Cassandra Benn started at AARNet as their Event Manager she was drawn to AARNet due to their family friendly working environment, which was ideal for her young family. It did not take long for everyone to see the brilliance in her work and meticulous attention to detail. Her drive for exceptional outcomes landed her a promotion as the Executive Assistant to the CEO, Chris Hancock. She was offered the role while seven months pregnant and about to head off on maternity leave, and she could not say no to the opportunity.
Cass gave birth to her second child Lyra knowing that when the time was right she had the opportunity to return to work in a flexible working environment. Cass returned to work after 8 months off and transitioned back slowly until she felt comfortable enough to build up her hours to find the right work life balance. She was excited to get back to work, supported by the family-friendly culture.
AARNet is a not-for-profit company that provides ultra-high-speed internet and communications services to Australia’s research and education sector. It’s a company that should be on everyone’s radar because of the fantastic benefits it offers. For instance, 24 weeks of paid maternity leave. During pre COVID days, it was part of their culture for all families to be flown into Sydney for the annual All Staff Meeting and Christmas party.
AARNet is the sort of place where it is normal to see kids during Zoom meetings sitting on employee laps, including to something as important as town hall meetings and Cass’s 1:1 meeting with the CEO.
Trust starts with trustworthy leadership
An executive assistant role is demanding, but when you’re EA to the CEO, it’s a whole new level of managing competing priorities. It is amazing to hear that Cass is only doing this role over three and a half days! Cass is efficient and gets things done thanks to her experience in the events industry and being able to think on the fly.
Working just over three days a week also allows Cass to also be there for her young family.
“We have a very family friendly culture here. Our CEO memorably told the story of how he missed out on milestones in his daughter’s life as he was sitting in a boardroom and is determined that he doesn’t want that for his team.”
The pandemic was hard on everyone, especially those managing home schooling and caring for aging parents. To recognize the hard work and dedication of its employees, AARNet sent care packages to all employees which included delicious Haigh’s chocolate and a host of other goodies. It was a sweet gesture to say thanks.
“Care packages were sent to everyone and Chris also sent a strong message urging us all not to be glued to our desks all day. He encouraged us to go get fresh air, take regular breaks and get involved with social activities [during lockdown]. Some social events we had were the whiskey society and Friday night drinks just to name a few. Different teams did different things.”
Exposure to learning opportunities
Cass says her role as an EA gives her exposure to working with senior leaders including the board of directors.
“I love being part of the conversation. I get to work with the board and governance bodies which I never had exposure to before. It’s a great learning opportunity and I love soaking it all in. Chris is very collaborative and he will ask for my input and opinion. He values everyone’s contribution here and I feel very empowered.”
We asked Cass to share some career tips to inspire our readers in their professional endeavors. She says,
- Always believe in yourself: “Sometimes women can be a bit more reserved in meetings or in a room full of men. Believe in what you can do and achieve. AARNet is a not-for-profit tech company and I’m pleased to see the female representation is here and growing. We celebrate all cultures.”
- Don’t settle for second best: “I believe if you’re not enjoying what you are doing, then you need to look for other options out there.” Cass believes that it’s not worthwhile doing something you don’t love.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help: “If you don’t know, ask someone. People are generous with their time here and willing to help.”
It was an inspiring chat with Cass. She is a go-getter and a perfect example of believing in yourself and being open to opportunities, especially when you least expect them.