Returning to work after having a baby is never easy: you’re getting used to a new (demanding) person in your life, your body is healing and hormones are racing, your relationship with your partner is shifting, and you need to find suitable childcare. Suffice to say, a lot of moving pieces need to come together. Add a pandemic into the mix, where social distancing makes everything, from seeing the doctor to making other Mommy friends, harder to near impossible… well, the stakes are unbelievably high for new moms at the moment.
According to a study just released by the National Women’s Law Center, thanks to COVID-19, women’s participation in the labor force hit a 33-year low in January, which may be the first statistical results of a trend identified in an earlier report “Women in the Workplace,” by Lean In and McKinsey & Company in September 2020. The report found that one in four women are considering downshifting their careers.
To make sense of the pandemic’s impact and its realities for women working in hotels, hertelier will be doing a series on issues around motherhood, interviewing mothers and experts, to come up with ideas and suggestions on how to help manage the juggle.
In our first installment, we meet Francesca Marcigliano, Chief Planning Officer, Finance, HR, IT for the five-star 196-room Hotel Excelsior Venice Lido Resort, a historic property built in 1908, now part of Iconic Luxury Hotels and L+R Hotels. Francesca has been heading up finance, managing a team of 11 people at the property for three years, having worked her way up through accounting and finance roles in different luxury brands--Bulgari, JW Marriott, and Belmond--at properties in Italy and Spain. She shares herstory about navigating new motherhood, how she has managed to not only return to work but feels motherhood has actually made her more productive.
Tell us about your job, what do you do at the Hotel Excelsior Venice?
I started in 2018, my role is Chief Planning Officer- Finance, HR, and IT. I am responsible for the strategic planning for the property; this means budgeting for everything from personnel, the physical property, IT to any costs associated with running the hotel. I report to the General Manager. With COVID, my job has actually intensified, with the openings and closings mandated by the government. We have had to change plans many times to accommodate--change budgets, opening plans, contingency plans, what can we do, what we can’t. Because we are a historic hotel, we can’t stop everything, especially the huge maintenance investments. Those need to continue because if you stop one year, the year after you will have three times as many problems.
How old is your daughter?
Chiara was born in Sept 2019, she is 18 months old now. A few months after she was born, Italy went into lockdown. My company does not have a maternity policy, they follow the law in Italy, where the government pays 80 percent of your salary for up to five months. After that, they pay 30 percent of your salary. To maximize my leave, I worked until I delivered and then I returned to work after six months.
Do you have a partner? Where do you live?
Yes, I am married. My husband also works in hotel management as a Food & Beverage Director, we met at work. The three of us live in an apartment in Venice. I travel on a Vaporetto (the canal boats that run through Venice) to the hotel which takes about an hour.
What do you do for childcare?
My daughter normally goes to a nursery, this has been great for her, but now they are closed until after Easter due to COVID. My husband and I alternate our work schedules to care for her. In Italy, at the moment, they are assessing the level of risk weekly, and open and shut the school accordingly. After this lockdown, they are predicting the risk will be low enough for tourism to open in May.
How are you managing work and being a new mother?
Being that my job is about budgeting and efficiency, I’ve looked at my life through the same lens. How can I reorganize my day to be more efficient? How can I maximize the use of my time in the office?
The silver lining of COVID is that we have all had the opportunity to work from home and employers have seen that people can work effectively without coming to the property every day. So, I asked my boss, the General Manager, can I continue to work three days from home and two days in the office? He agreed and here is how I work now on the 3/2 schedule.
The first hour of my day I use as an “organizational moment,” on the days I am going to the hotel, I do this on the Vaporetto on my phone. I plan what I will be doing for each meeting and the tasks I need to accomplish that day.
On the days I am on the property, my day is completely dedicated to the people in the hotel, and they know that I am 100 percent there for them. My day is full of meetings, and people know that they can come to me for anything.
On my way home, also an hour, I take another “organizational moment” to review what I have done, what is left for the next day, and so on. So basically, two hours that I used to spend listening to music or whatever, I now use for work. The benefit is that this allows me more time to focus on my daughter because my workdays are already organized, and this is a load off my mind.
On the days I am home, I focus on operational tasks that I need to do without interruption. Things like creating and reviewing budgets, planning, and writing reports.
How has your new plan worked?
Great! I am actually much more efficient and, as a result, my team has become more efficient. My General Manager has noticed increased productivity and is very supportive.
Any unexpected benefits of your new method?
For me, my new schedule has made me much more creative. Because I feel appreciated, I want to help more in other areas, to think out of the box. It has been very natural. As a result, I have been working with my GM and Sales & Marketing on promotional ideas. This is a very peculiar year with the pandemic, and we were trying to come up with a unique way to celebrate Venice. As we are a historic hotel, and I am a fan of all things artisanal, I suggested events to celebrate luxury artisans from the city - from textiles and jewelry to glass and art. The team loved this, and we will celebrate Venetian culture by partnering with local craftspeople.
Do you think your plan can work for others?
Yes! In hotels you can tend to stay hours and hours, especially if it is connected to a guest request; but long hours without a specific purpose should not be the expectation, even in operational roles. Leaders can look at the team schedule and can offer more flexibility if the employee is worth it and contributing to the business. Within my team and hotel, I’ve challenged how working from home is perceived, so that people don’t have to be afraid to ask for more flexibility. My team sees my example and they follow. My biggest message is that people have a personal life, and they need to manage their personal life along with work.
What do you think is the most important thing to make flexible working more accepted?
Communication. People should never feel sorry if they want to dedicate time to their babies or any part of their family. People need to be able to freely express their doubts and feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask to leave early or for a doctor or school appointment, if you are effective when you are working.
You make it sound easy, is it?
My career is important to me, but I still have an internal fight. Am I doing well? Is this working for my baby? I am the type of person, where I need to prove answers with facts. I do see practical confirmations daily: my daughter is doing well, she is relaxed and happy. She likes the routine of school and she must feel that, as I have found more equilibrium at work, I am happier relaxing with her.
What has been the hardest thing for you as a new mother?
Judgment from others, because sometimes people think of maternity as vacation leave. It is not. With the mix of feelings and hormones, the lack of rest, it is just not the easiest period of life.
What has been easier than you expected?
Easier is the stress. After the physical trauma of delivery, breastfeeding, hormones, you feel more empowered to deal with stress and prioritize. I actually think maternity helps you to become more efficient naturally. I have more focus when I am working because I want to get back to my family.