Anne Michels, Head of Product Marketing, Microsoft Teams Core, Education and Free
👩🏻💻 Job: I lead Product Marketing for Microsoft Teams for the areas collaboration, education and the free version of Teams. Our goal is to drive usage of Microsoft Teams to help organizations around the world to improve how they collaborate and communicate and to assure that our customers get the most value out of using the product.
🇺🇸 Seattle, USA
👶🏻 Tori (2 years), Emma (2 weeks)
Career: Impacting a millions-users-a-day product
Could you tell us more about your work and what you like most about it?
I lead product marketing for Microsoft Teams for the areas collaboration, education and the free version of Teams.
What I love most about my job is the impact that I have – Microsoft Teams is being used by 115 million users every single day – and I get to tell its story and influence the product strategy!
Working in product marketing also means that I get to do a mix of a lot of things – definition of the target audience, definition of the overall marketing strategy, storytelling, messaging and positioning, customer presentations, events, product and features launches, customer research and we also work very closely with our engineering teams to make sure that the product meets the needs of our customers.
And I get to work with smart and passionate people every single day – so I guess, I love all of it.
Career & Parenting
Family vs Career challenges
The birth of your first child seems to have been a revealing experience: you now are a fervent advocate for working moms! What was the driver/reflexions that led you on this path? Personally, my first pregnancy really changed the image I had of Parents. It’s been a real slap in the face. How was it for you?
I definitely hear you on this. Before I had my first daughter Tori, I didn’t have a lot of friends that had children and I never fully understood the challenges that working parents struggle with every day.
Now, I definitely do – it’s hard to be a working mom! The question “‘How do you balance motherhood and a full-time job” is a question every working woman who is thinking about starting a family is faced with.
There are actually a lot of people who believe that the reason there aren’t more women in tech is that companies are not giving women, especially mothers, the flexibility they need to pursue their career and raise a family at the same time. There are many women who choose to put their career on hold at some point when they have a child. According to the Harvard Business Review, 43% of highly-qualified women with children are leaving careers or taking a career break. Think about that for a moment – 43%!
I now understand why. I now understand the concerns that women have. I had those concerns myself when I was thinking about starting a family. I’m one of those people, I love working, I love my career. So when I got pregnant I had a lot of concerns about what this would mean for my career.
Especially working in the tech industry, an industry that is known for its fast pace and demanding nature. I have a job – and many of you probably have as well – that sometimes requires me to put in long hours, join early morning meetings or travel for business. How do you do this with a baby?
While it definitely is a challenge, I strongly believe that having children should not prevent you from being able to pursue a successful career and I want to help others to achieve the same.
Parenthood Talks: learn from each other
What do you talk about in your ‘parenthood’ talks? What is the message you want to address?
The first step is to create awareness of the challenges that working moms are facing. We can’t fix a problem if people don’t acknowledge it, if we don’t see it. So a focus of my talks is to simply educate and share data and research in this area.
For example, a lot of people have never heard of the motherhood penalty – a phenomenon according to which working mothers encounter systematic disadvantages in pay, perceived competence, and benefits relative to childless women.
I also want to make sure that any working mom attends any of my presentations gets something actionable out of it. We all face the same problems, the same challenges and we all find unique ways how to deal with them – and we can share those ways to learn from each other instead of trying to figure it all out on our own.
For example, one question that I get all the time is “Can you do it all?” Can you have a fulfilling career and a rich family life? My answer to this question is yes, you can have it all BUT what you define as “Having it all” will be different when you have children. And it will be different for every single person. That is very important for women to realize – and for me, that realization didn’t come easy.
I first tried to do everything the same way I did it before having a baby. But that doesn’t work because your entire life changes when you have a child. And you also change as a person – your priorities change and as well as the way how you think about work.
So yes, you can have it all. But the ALL will look different when you have children. I wish someone had told me all of that before I had my first child.
Microsoft: “Expecting” program
In this post, you announce the launch of the program to better support parents at Microsoft as they prepare for parental leave. Could you tell us more about it? How did people receive the program at work? Are there other topics you’d like to address at work in the near future?
Be the change you want to see.— Anne Michels (@Anne_Michels) February 16, 2021
When I returned from maternity leave, I had the strong belief that the experience could be improved even further.
Today, I launched a program to better support parents at Microsoft as they prepare for parental leave.
Having a baby and going out on maternity leave is a critical career inflection point for working women. When I went out on maternity leave with my first daughter, Tori, I had a lot of questions about the experience.
I especially wanted to better understand what going on maternity leave would mean for my career. And talking to others at Microsoft, I quickly realized that I wasn’t alone. Others had the same questions. Others were going through the exact same experience.
There is no question that Microsoft is a great employer when it comes to maternity leave and supporting women on this journey. We have an internal website which is called “I’m having a baby” that has a wealth of information. But it can almost be too much information! A lot of women I talked to felt overwhelmed by the information and they all spent a lot of time trying to make a plan. And they all shared that it was most helpful for them to directly speak to someone.
When I returned to work after my leave, I had a lot of ideas on how to improve the experience and I decided to create a program by employees for employees – which I called Expecting – that supports employees as they prepare for parental leave by providing them with a structured experience and resources incl. a welcome email with resources, HR sessions to get an overview of leave options, a mentor program, workshops on related topics and a parent network.
We launched the program in February and the response was amazing – we had a lot of women reach out to us in the first week who wanted to get involved or take advantage of the resources.
We’re just getting started. One of the areas that we want to tackle and improve next is the experience managers have as they support employees who are going on maternity leave.
As a working mom, what was your morning routine? (before maternity leave) I read in one of your posts that you would get up very early to spend time with your daughter.
Oh, the morning routine. Before becoming a mom, I had this image in my head of me getting up at 5 or 6 to work out before the kids wake up. Well, I quickly realized that when you have a baby, that sleep is much more important than working out in the morning. And also that spending time together as a family is much more important.
When you and your partner both work fulltime, it can be difficult to find quality time with the entire family. So I now protect the time we have together in the morning so we can always have breakfast together. And as bedtime is still quite early between 7 and 8, we pick Tori up at daycare early on most days so that we can spend time with her before she goes to bed. That means that I sometimes have to still work a bit at night but it’s worth it.
Quality time for yourself: 3 things
What is, in your opinion, the biggest challenge of being a working mom? And how do you handle it? I haven’t been back at work yet from maternity leave, but I am afraid that time and sleep would be hot topics.
That’s what I thought as well but sleep was actually only a problem in the first few months..
What I’ve found to be one of the biggest issues instead is how to find quality time for yourself.
When you work, much of the day is taken up by that. And the remaining time, you spend with your partner and your children. So when do you have time to do the things you enjoy?
What works well for me are 3 things – first, I now use my lunch breaks intentionally for example to go for a quick run.
Second, my husband and I often split one day on the weekends between the two of us – one watches the kids, the other gets to do whatever they want.
And third, get a babysitter! Who says that babysitters are only for date nights? We use our babysitter all the time during the day – we even had her come at 6 am when Tori was little so that we could catch up on sleep.
Moms: 3 factors impacting your career
Which leads me to my next questions: Do you think it is possible to grow a career with kids? - as time and sleep are missing, the brain tends to lack amplitude to focus. Or much of the work has to be done before having kids? Formulated differently: Do you think having kids may slow your career down? Or on the contrary move it forward in some way?
This is unfortunately a topic where I have to answer with Yes at this time. For many women, having kids can slow their career down for a bit. There are multiple reasons for that, one being very obvious – maternity leave.
For some women, going on maternity leave can have a negative impact on their career as they might for example miss the chance of getting promoted.
I’ve seen this in my own experience and this is also what research about the motherhood penalty shows. According to research, mothers often experience disadvantages not just in terms of pay, but also when it comes to hiring and daily job experience.
But I’ve also seen in my own experience that it doesn’t have to be that way! I actually got a promotion while being out on maternity leave with Tori.
In my eyes, there are 3 factors that are extremely important when it comes to your career as a working mom:
First, your manager – is your manager supportive of you and your decision to have children?
Second, your employer – does your employer support women in their journey of starting a family?
Third, your environment at home – does your partner support you with your career, and do you have other family members or friends that can help with the kids if both of you are working full time?
Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely recommend women to take maternity leave – I’m taking 5 months maternity leave for the second time right now and I love these first months with my little one!
But I think we have to be realistic about the experience many women have today so we can discuss how to improve this. So that hopefully one day, the answer to the question if having kids slows your career down is no.
Being a second-time mom
You were pregnant for the second time. What changed compared to the first pregnancy? I always hear that you tend to be less anxious for the second but more tired as you have to take care of the eldest at the same time, meanwhile you could just take care of yourself with the first pregnancy. How is it for you? How being a second-time mom differs from being a first-time mom?
It’s really different! Pregnancy was easier and harder at the same time. Easier because you know what to expect during those 10 months. For example, you know how often you have to see your OB and what will happen at those visits. You don’t have to buy maternity clothes and most importantly, instead of spending days putting together a baby registry, all you need to buy are diapers and wipes.
Being pregnant the second time was also harder because with a 2-year-old, you are always on your feet. It’s hard to explain to them that you need to re> st for an hour when all they wanna do is go to the park. So I was definitely more tired!
In this post you talk about the baby blues. Did you feel more prepared the second time? It may be challenging for many moms especially in a pandemic as meeting with family and friends is restricted.
Ugh, the baby blues. I think this is one of the topics people don’t talk about enough. I actually just went through it for the second time and again, it was really hard. There were some days where I didn’t recognize myself – I was extremely irritated, I couldn’t concentrate, and I had crazy mood swings. There were days on which feeding my newborn every 2-3 hours felt like too much of an effort. Or responding to your questions was impossible for me for a few days.
If you are used to being a high performing and successful individual, this change can be really tough. I have high expectations of myself and it felt as if I was failing myself, my little daughter and my family.
I had to constantly remind myself that this wasn’t the case and that this was just a phase which would be over soon.
On being kept busy
Was it hard to stop working? I really found it bewildering to go from full-time working to maternity leave. What are your activities during maternity leave?
This time it was actually easy for me. I was so tired when I stopped working at 36 weeks – I was constantly fighting with headaches and random pain, so being able to just lie on the couch all day long felt like a very welcomed change at that time. But of course, this is not something that will fulfill me during the entire maternity leave!
A learning from my first maternity leave is that for me to be able to truly enjoy maternity leave, I need to do something in addition to taking care of my little one – I need to keep myself busy and do something productive.
And I discovered a lot of things I can do while taking care of my baby, especially while being on stroller walks or while I carry her.
So I have quite a list now: improve my Spanish by taking online classes, meet friends for coffee walks or brunches, get back into writing blog posts on LinkedIn and get back into running and working out once I’m cleared by my doctor.
To make all of this work it is important to be flexible because babies definitely do not stick to a schedule!
Being connected with family abroad
You’re originally from Germany, living in the US. Do you teach your child german? Or anything about the german culture? Do you easily connect with the family?
Yes, we are raising both our children bilingual. Both of them have American and German citizenship so we want them to not only know both languages but also both cultures. In today’s world, it’s so easy to stay closely connected to friends and family on either continent as they are always just a quick video call away.
Joy children bring to your life
What do you like most about being a mom?
I never expected the amount of joy children bring to your life. I can have a terrible day at work, and still, when I come home and spend time with our girls, they will make me laugh within minutes. This really puts things into perspective, and you realize what is truly important in life.
No screen policy
Working at Microsoft, what is your approach about technology and screen for your daughter?
My husband and I both believe in a fairly strict ‘no screen policy’ until the girls are older. We both grew up in the countryside in Germany and spent the majority of our childhoods outside – which is the same experience we’d like our girls to have.
Of course, there is some screen time – we might call the grandparents in Germany or look at some photos – but besides that we try to spend the time we have together each day more intentionally. They will be exposed to screens early enough.
WIT and MIT stakes
You support Women in technology initiatives (“Building a successful career in tech as a woman”). Do you think WIT stakes and Mothers in tech stakes overlap?
Thanks everyone who provided input for my talk on "Building a successful career in tech as a woman"— Anne Michels (@Anne_Michels) September 29, 2020
Here are the topic I'll talk about:
- Building credibility
- Building a network
- Taking credit for your work
- Making your voice heard
Sign up at https://t.co/Wj32OjUK29
Absolutely. There is a very natural overlap as every mother in tech is of course also a woman in tech.
The not so obvious but very important overlap is that every mother who works in tech might be raising the next generation of women in tech. And that every mother in tech serves as a role model for girls out there who are asking themselves if tech is a place where they can be successful as a woman – and mother.
My biggest learning is that we all need to be gentle to ourselves.
Being a parent is hard. And being a working parent is even harder. So don’t be too strict to yourself. Be gentle to yourself. Especially if you have a little baby, adjusting to the new reality of working AND having a baby, that adjusting will take time. Things won’t always be perfect. And that’s okay.
Do you have any “techy” content you would like to share to have readers know more about your job?
You bet. Here are some links to presentations about Microsoft Teams that I’ve done:
Thanks for reading Anne Michels’ post!
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