Research still shows career opportunities for women returning to work after having a child are considerably lacking, compared to those of men
It’s a difficult reality. But the working mother of two, Kanishka ‘Kani’ Perera, is side-stepping this challenge.
How? By working for a company that offers flexibility, support, and plenty of career development opportunities – particularly meaningful benefits for working parents.
Kani first joined Stantec as a junior accountant and has been with the company for an incredible eleven years.
Throughout her tenure, she’s gained more responsibility, enjoyed new challenges, and taken advantage of Stantec’s abundance of learning opportunities – growing into her current role as Financial Reporting Manager for Australia with nine direct reports.
The company’s significant growth has meant her role has evolved over the years.
“Stantec has had multiple acquisitions in the last few years. This has meant that my role has become more complex and kept things interesting. That’s the beauty of being part of a global company. It’s as if I’d moved jobs but kept working with the same people” said Kani.
“I love the people I work with – my team is amazing! We share the same work ethic and work well together. It’s great to have so many working parents in the team. The level of flexibility and trust Stantec places amongst its employees has allowed me and other working parents to have the best of both worlds.”
Here are some of the ways Stantec supports working parents with career development, and how Kani’s paying it forward through employee-led networking groups.
Returning to work with a culture of support and flexibility
When Kani returned to work after having her first child, Stantec’s flexibility was invaluable.
“I returned to work full-time, working two days from home – which allowed me to spend more time with my daughter. It made childcare more affordable, and I could balance my work as it suited my schedule.”
The opportunity to step into her current role came just as she fell pregnant with her second child.
“I thought my pregnancy might hinder my chances at a promotion. But I was open with my manager about needing parental leave. He didn’t even hesitate, he said I was the right person for the job, so they’d simply work around the leave I needed.
“It was so reassuring. It just speaks to our culture at Stantec!”
Even though Kani’s an accountant by trade, she loves working with people. She was the National Australia Lead for Stantec’s employee-led organization, Developing Professionals Group (DPG) from 2017-2019. This allowed her to balance her love of finance and working with people.
Employee-led networking groups
Sometimes in a large, growing company, you can feel “boxed in” to your role. But, as Kani shares, DPG opens doors for people.
The employee-led organization supports people entering the workforce with less than 10 years’ experience, by engaging, developing, and facilitating a culture of opportunity. What initially started as a grassroots organization, has steadily grown over the years with chapters around the globe at Stantec.
“In hosting events, we help people learn, meet colleagues, and develop new skills. We also do a lot of fundraising. It’s essentially a platform for belonging, and for people from all streams within the company to achieve a common goal. DPG helps people make connections and grow their network.”
What difference has it made to Kani’s career development? Well, when she took on this Lead role, Stantec had just acquired a new company.
“I was able to play a key part in driving change and rolling out our values as the companies merged. I welcomed the integration and shared messaging with our younger cohorts. The DPG makes the integration of cultures go more smoothly with the networking events we organize.”
Meaningful events with opportunities to connect
If you work in a large company, what better way is there to connect with others, than through a good old-fashioned challenge!
DPG’s Grand Challenge is an event that brings people together for activities, technical exercises, and opportunities to meet different leaders within the company.
During Kani’s tenure as the DPG lead, she organized and facilitated the first ever “ANZ Grand Challenge”. She was responsible for designing and getting a budget approved and winning senior leaders over with a business case.
“A Grand Challenge is generally run in Australia and New Zealand. But this was first one where both countries came together. During the Grand Challenge, team members from both countries fly to a single location. We host panel discussions with senior leaders, who share their career journeys. We run technical challenges, site tours to our projects like transport hubs and water treatment plants, play fun games, and battle it out for the infamous Grand Challenge Trophy.”
For one technical challenge, participants were invited to create a wave generator machine to create electricity. Other fun activities have included table tennis tournaments, game shows – and even a mini golf course in the office!
“One year, we’d just made an acquisition in New Zealand. Bringing these people into the fold through the Grand Challenge was magnificent. It’s so much fun. I was proud to have made it happen. I love that DPG gives people the platform to connect and progress, personally and professionally.”
Anyone within DPG can apply to attend or be nominated for one of Stantec’s Grand Challenges.
“It’s a great opportunity for people in the group whose everyday role doesn’t include any travel. For instance, for those in Finance like me.”
Most importantly for Kani, management sees the value in DPG.
“As leaders of the group, we’re invited to attend leadership and strategy sessions. They value our opinion and purpose, and want us to be part of the conversation and journey at Stantec.”
A focus on learning and development
Outside DPG, Stantec also offers employees training courses to continue their learning and development.
“I’ve completed leadership courses and I’m actually enrolled in another one at the moment. They help me understand more about myself, my values, and leadership style. They’re available throughout the year, giving you the opportunity to learn so many skills, technically and beyond.”
Stantec also offers lunch-and-learn events to share information about important topics, such as time management, conflict resolution, and understanding bias.
“They’re such valuable topics and hundreds of people attend. They’re relaxed, but structured. I’ve found these sessions to be so helpful in developing new ways of thinking.”
Stantec also offers formal and informal mentorship opportunities. For Kani, her manager has been a wonderful mentor and pivotal in her career development.
“He explains the big picture and provides invaluable information – above and beyond what I need for my day-to-day job. These learnings have been something I aim to share with my team too – helping them understand how and why their work fits into our larger purpose.”
Open conversations about parenthood
Another benefit of working at Stantec, Kani shares, is the open culture and conversations – particularly from the top. It’s normalized for parents to talk about their kids and personal life.
“People expect moms to talk about their family lives, but here dads do too! Having these open conversations about balancing work and life puts a spotlight on all parents and carers. The culture and flexibility also help so much. We don’t have to stick to the ‘9-5.’ As long as our work gets done, we can work in a way that suits us.
“No one misuses this trust. We all have a strong work ethic, and the support we receive in turn is fantastic.”
Stantec’s culture gives Kani the freedom and capability to enjoy the right work-life balance.
“My little girl is seven and my little boy is four. My husband and I are from Sri Lanka and we don’t have any family here. The support I receive from Stantec helps us achieve a great balance between juggling our demanding jobs and family time.”