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EP 225: Pivoting Your Career Without Taking a Career Break, with Nadia Gil

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Episode Description

Nadia Gil is Head of Business Strategy at Google Cloud, where she is responsible for developing international strategic planning and transforming the operations for Google Cloud's cyber security products. Nadia has over 20 years of experience in strategic transformation and operations with a specialty in strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and integrations. She has an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. After the births of her each of children, Nadia considered taking a career break, but ultimately opted to remain in the workforce on her own terms by redirecting her experience and transferrable skills into new roles. We speak with Nadia today about her process of reinventing her career path to accommodate her changing priorities, and what that looks like today.

Links to Episode Content

Nadia Gil - LinkedIn

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Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and Co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Today, we're going to depart from our normal topic. And we are going to talk about not taking a career break and the decisions that go into that process.

And I can't wait to speak with Nadia Gil about this topic. Nadia is head of business strategy at Google Cloud, where she's responsible for developing international strategic planning and transforming the operations for Google Cloud cyber security products. Nadia has over 20 years of experience in strategic transformation and operations with a specialty in strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions and integrations. Earlier in her career, she worked at Deloitte Consulting, PWC, Cognizant and Siemens in similar senior roles in transformation, finance strategy and operations.

Nadia received an MBA from the Wharton School University of Pennsylvania. And is also a licensed certified fraud examiner. After the birth of each of her children, Nadia considered taking a career break, but ultimately opted to remain in the workforce on her own terms by reinventing herself. In this episode, we speak with Nadia about her process of reinvention.

Nadia, welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch.

Nadia Gil: Thank you for having me. It's so exciting to be here.

Carol Fishman Cohen: We're very excited to speak with you. And as I mentioned, this is a different topic than we normally talk about because you're not a relauncher. And we're interested in your career path because we have listeners who are earlier in their careers and are anticipating a future career break, and we want, and our audience will want to understand your thought process around not taking a career break.

And what career decisions you made instead. So you considered taking career breaks when your children were born. And I want to know if you can please take us through that thought process of contemplating the career break and then ultimately not taking it.

Nadia Gil: I did, I took some maternity leaves for both kids and I was ready to quit after both, but decided to stay.

The decision was mostly financial. I could not afford to quit long-term. Around the same time, I realized that other companies were relocating my role to cheaper locations such as India, Philippines. So I realized that I had to reinvent myself to keep evolving with the technology and I'm pivoting to be in a job that allows me to put my kids to bed rather than being on the road every week.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So you just determined that initially. And then what was the process after that of identifying what these actual rules could be and making a transition to a new employer.

Nadia Gil: Yeah. I did a lot of research and I spoke with a few of my mentors to understand where the industry was going. And I found that to be useful because, they were objective about what employers were looking for, what trends they were seeing from where they were sitting.

I also had to make the decision of let go of certain things that were more ego-driven on my end. You know what I mean? Cool to be upgraded in the hotels and the airlines because of my, constantly travel job. And of course it was so cool to be the deal maker. But why I decided to pivot on that experience for, instead of being the deal maker, the one closing the deals, which is a very exciting job, I decided on being the person, creating the strategy and on what happens after the deal is closed.

Those two jobs are very close together. You cannot do one without the other, the only difference: travel. And I also realized that those are the roles of the senior executives. And that's the interesting part. You can pivot on your current experience. You don't have to start from zero and there is a term called leverage your transferable skills and I was sick and tired of listening to everyone saying transferable skills, but it is true. So I made a list of my transferable skills, such as ability to negotiate contracts, work with financial models, create a strategy, lead teams, transform operations. Those are very transferable skills that can be applied to all other jobs.

With that said, I have friends who decided to not pivot. They totally got into a new role where the technology is going. As an example, one of them, instead of continuing her role in finance, she learned to go code, there are many schools where you can take it, some trainings to, to code, and found that a startup or other friends went into startups.

It started from zero again. And that's also a viable path, if you can afford it. Because also, the workforce is changing. Things are changing from five, 10 years ago. Now people continue their careers long after their fifties and sixties, so then it's time to start a second or a third career, if that's where the technology is going, if that's where your heart is.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So I, what I'm appreciating here in your description is how specific you got about these skills that you had, and you must've had to really sit down and think it through to get that specific. And then the other thing that's remarkable to me is the idea of you thinking through, you're when you were running the deals or being the point person on a merger or acquisition or deal. It's this transactional nature of the job. It's high speed, it's super-intense and, and there's just this pacing to it that's relentless and often involves travel. Although, I don't know, maybe there's less travel now because of the pandemic.

But the idea that you're thinking through what increasingly challenging roles there could be, after the transaction is closed. So like when the deal closes, there's so much work that needs to be done. And you were able to identify that. Did that just come out naturally to you? Or did you have to really think through all these different phases of before, during and after the transaction?

Nadia Gil: Yeah, no, I had to do a lot of thinking. And again, it helps to talk to your mentors and to other people, because, and also it's worth the investment in a coach, to be honest, because when it comes to your own path, particularly on my end, being pregnant or having just had a baby, I was not very objective. You know what I mean? And you need to make these decisions with a very cold head, very strategically, the same way you would do your job. And funny enough, we dedicate a lot of hours to our jobs, but we do not dedicate that kind of care and thought process to our own career planning.

Carol Fishman Cohen: This is so significant and really relevant for our relauncher audience too, because when you're saying, one of the reasons you brought in a career coach is that you could not be objective about your own skillset or your situation, and you needed this like cool head in there, especially right after you had the baby and you have a young child, to be that objective voice.

And that's equally relevant for relaunchers, who are on career break, to think about investing in a career coach for the same reason, because a someone who is coming in from outside can identify and highlight for you, some of your own attributes and strengths and interests and skills that maybe you're either downplaying or you're not identifying yourself. So I can see how critical the role of the coach was. Instead of leaving the workforce, you reinvented yourself, you found these roles. Once you got into the roles and actually, I'd be interested in knowing were they different roles after each of your children were born, or were you in the same role across a longer period of time, but did the roles turn out to be what you were expecting them to be in terms of pacing and hours worked and lack of travel?

Nadia Gil: So I had my first and was pregnant with my second, doing the same job that required the travel. And for my second, I that's when I switched jobs. I actually switched jobs, pregnant. Seven months pregnant. And I was impressed. Actually, I was impressed with the the variety of answers that I would get. I decided by then, I really wanted to find a job that would allow me to put my kids to bed. Not only because with my son, it was difficult to be there for him. It was a high risk pregnancy, so I didn't want to risk losing the baby. So I was very, aggressive, trying to find another job and I became shameless, looking for roles.

The coaches have, my amazing job searching coaches, had told me, you, you can not ask your real questions in the beginning of the interviewing process. But you know that whenever they would ask, the recruiters in the first round, oh, wait, we want you to interview for this role.

And I would say, oh, by the way, I'm six months pregnant or seven months pregnant. Would that be an issue? And, and some companies actually told me, yes, why don't we talk after the baby? Which was fine by the way. I rather wanted to find out that, right now, rather than finding it after I joined the company. But my, with my, the person who became my boss, I told her, and I said, look, I'm seven months pregnant. Do you want to go with another candidate? I will understand it. Her answer was, this is not the seventies. We are investing in your long-term career. So yes, if you take a maternity leave, that's fine, but you are here for the long term. And that made me realize that it was a good fit, that I wanted to work for that.

So that made me pursue the job even harder, but it was a big risk, to be letting them know, by the way I'm pregnant. I'm I'm joining and in two, three months I'll take a maternity break.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And would you, were, you said you were going to say that upfront and you probably had to where you interviewing in person at this point or was it yeah, I'm guessing it wasn't like a video interview.

Nadia Gil: Yes, I was. But you know what, I didn't look pregnant by the time I was interviewing. Later it was impossible to hide.

Carol Fishman Cohen: But the idea that you thought, you know what? I know that the advice is not to talk about this stuff up front, but you almost did it on purpose because it was like a litmus test.

You wanted to see what is the response to this. And then you knew the difference between the ones that said, let's talk after. And the answer that you got from this particular manager about, we're invested in you for the long-term and it's not the seventies anymore. That's a really interesting answer and it tells a lot about her and I'm guessing the employer too.

Nadia Gil: Yes. And this is a good lesson I learned. That the manager, the hiring manager is the single most important piece of the equation. If I was looking for flexibility. Because the company can be very flexible. They can have all these amazing policies, but if your boss is not, then you are not going to get that flexibility. Even if it's a company policy.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes, really important messaging there that it's important to understand who your manager is and make sure you meet that person in the interview process and have a good sense of how they manage and who they are. And, it's interesting, I just had an, a podcast interview with professor Syd Finkelstein at Tuck Business School at Dartmouth. And he wrote a book called Superbosses, and he was talking about how superbosses are the ones who really think about investing in you and investing in your career path longer term and how you can have the most important experiences and you have to be able to, figure out who those bosses are when you're interviewing.

And he said, ask about, tell me about a couple of people who've worked for you in the past and what they're doing now. And that was a good way to hear a little bit about what the relationship was and how they talk about the person and that and that can give you additional information. But I love that you got so much information from the person who ended up being your boss by her answer to that question about, about your pregnancy and was that an issue.

Nadia Gil: Yeah, totally. Yes.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So I, so that was part of my next question. In terms of how you got a good sense about which organizations might be the right cultural fit for you. Did you ask outright about the travel piece of it or was it in the job description or was it, how did that come up?

Nadia Gil: It is usually in the job description, and the, sometimes the recruiters know it, know the answer before, even if it's not written in the job description. With that said, I have also found that, it's not only about the travel, it's also about the hours. I, I have found jobs, particularly in New York that you don't have to travel, but you are, you have to be in the office from seven o'clock in the morning until 11 in the night.

It's pretty much the same as traveling and that's a very New York thing. And so it's important to understand that before taking the job that, yeah, there is no travel, but you know that your peers are doing these hours and if you don't do them, then you fall behind or you will be seen as the slacker. It's important to find out those little details, before taking the job.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's right. And these were pre pandemic conversations. And, so it's interesting about how things might be different now that people had the long period of disruption in terms of how and where, and when work got done or it gets done.

The conversations are probably a little bit different now because of it, but, in really good guidance in terms of what you're asking and what you're thinking about. Can you talk about how old your kids are now and have they made any comments about your various roles at work over time?

Nadia Gil: Yeah. My, my son is five and my daughter is three. It was tough. It's still tough. So as I mentioned, when my son was born, I was at a job where I had to travel every single week. I couldn't pump milk in that job, because it was considered that I was not working. And I would see my son on the weekends.

So he, I would land on Thursday night or, then he wouldn't recognize me or I would try to hug him. He would reject me. He would call me dad. And he was one. So I didn't want to do be in that situation anymore, but we were dependent on my income. So I try to change the culture at the company because I knew I was not the only one, a group of moms and I started an initiative to bring attention to these issues. But we didn't get any traction, for two years. So that was a catalyst for me to find a job where I wasn't on the road every week. My current role does not require travel, but it is still tough. Because during the pandemic, when we were all home, I would sometimes sit my kids in front of the TV for me to go to meetings for hours and they would tell me like, don't go to your meeting. Literally, that's their phrase. Don't go to your meeting and put their arms around me. That's so hard. And now this year that things are reopening, I had to travel for work a couple of months ago and I was away for one night, one night.

And when I came back, my son was crying when he saw me and he told me, mom, why'd you didn't take me with you? Next time, I want to go with you. On the flip side, now, when I, whenever this mornings, when I driving them to the daycare, I tell them, mom has to go to work. Mom is good at her job. And mom loves her job because I want them to know that I am good at what I do. And I enjoy what I do. I'm used to say, if you're not happy going to work, don't tell your kids, because they will grow up thinking that work is awful, which is true, I don't want them to think, oh, work is awful.

I also read this really great book called My Mother, My Mentor by Pam Lenahan and she shares there that your children, whenever they go to work, when they grow up and go to work, they will see you as their mentor. So that's one incentive for me to keep working.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes. Interesting. I remember we wrote about this in Back on the Career Track, the book that Vivian Rabin and I wrote that came out a long time ago in 2007. It was the guide book and framework returning after career break.

And we remember, we did many interviews of people who had relaunched their career. And the sentiment seemed to be that it's the change in routine. Like whatever the norm is there, there's a certain routine that gets established as a norm with kids. And then when there's a change in that routine, that's when they're questioning or asking or saying don't do that. So like here, they got used to being home and then all of a sudden you're gone for the day and that's the change. And they said, if things stay the same all the way along then, that's just the status quo for the kids. That's what they mean.

That's why when people take career breaks and then you go back to work and they are taking career break for childcare reasons, that's a huge change or the family and one that has to be discussed and worked through, depending on the ages of the kids, what's appropriate. But I will tell you that having spoken to adult children of people who have taken career breaks and gone back, or people have worked all the way through, the adult children seem to be like, not focused or aware of any of these details that you're talking about, how that happened when they're young, either they don't remember them at all, or they remembered them completely differently. And, it's really good to read some of these accounts. But yeah, I love Sallie Krawcheck and that advice that she gives is really important.

We also think that, when you're working, kids might not. It'd be good if they have a visual of what work is like, can they see the building? Can they see inside, or if you're working from home, then that's something different. But the idea that when you say I'm going to work, quote work, then they actually have a visual of where you are going, as opposed to trying to imagine that.

Sometimes we say, make a chart and put a picture of your work on one column and put a picture of their school on one column. And then, everyone has this visual image of where people are spending their day.

Nadia Gil: Oh, that's a great idea. I'm going to, I'm going to go back and in preparation for this talk, I was looking at some books that I read back then and I found this one, Mommy Wars from Leslie Morgan Steiner and it is such a, it's a terrific book. It's not recent. It is from 2007. But she, she has stories of both, working moms and stay at home moms. And I remember that the constant in the book from the kids is that they wanted their moms to be happy.

That, that's what they did. On both ends. So yeah, this is, I thank you for reminding me this.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. And you know what you said that you say to your kids when you're dropping them off, that I'm really good at my job, I really like my job and this idea that there's this positivity that is attached to it. And also you're a role model for them in terms of your ambition, your accomplishments on. They're watching. So that's something else to be thinking about in terms of, of your working status. Nadia, we're coming to the end of our conversation time. And I want to ask you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience even if it's something that we've already talked about today.

Nadia Gil: Yeah. So that's a good one. I would say don't be scared of having kids and losing your career. These days I mentor many young women and men and one of their common questions is, I don't really want to have kids or I'm postponing it, because they are afraid of slowing down. I was scared for many years and I postponed it for so long, almost too long. What I found out, I wish someone had told me, after becoming a mom, is that moms make it work, stay at home moms or working moms or that, my God, they get the stuff done. Parenthood gives you a sense of a speed and practicality that we didn't have before.

You know what I mean? And so that's one thing. I think that's a very important one. And of course, listen to your gut is never wrong. If your gut is telling you, quit your job, then that's the right decision. If your gut is telling you, hold on for just another day, then that's the right decision too. Because again, careers are spanning longer than in the past.

And this is changing every year. I see it, that people are postponing retirement, and they continue to work. So if you take a break now, is not such a big deal as it was even 10 years ago.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I totally agree with you. And this is such good advice. I just want to review and react to some of it.

This whole idea of mentoring people who are asking you when is the right time to have kids, because we also get that question, from people who are thinking about taking future career breaks, and they're worried about the timing and, the answer is you're saying there's no perfect time. So just when you are ready to have kids think less about how is this going to my disrupt my career path and more about how I'm going to be able to figure out how to work my work around my family situation and, because there's never going to be that perfect time. So that's one thing. And as you're saying, like people, there are some people who took career breaks for infertility reasons, and sometimes people will say, career break or no career break, they might say, I shouldn't have waited this long.

I should have not been so worried about that. So that's just a perspective from people who are on the other side of that conversation. And the other thing is when you're talking about making, if people in the audience are thinking about a future career break, and you're saying to trust your gut about whether to take it or not, just a couple of additions there.

One is to not be afraid to ask about what might be a manageable situation for you. If there's some aspect of the, of what your role is that is putting you over the edge, in terms of time management or stress level, because sometimes that your employer will work that out with you. Don't just assume that you have to quit.

And the other thing is, and we actually have a podcast with Nicole Diamond on this is to think about contracting contract work. If you do leave, Nicole ended up taking career break and then contracting later for a range of different clients. But you could actually approach your employer and talk about whether the option of you leaving, but then contracting your work back to the employer is a good option, a good middle ground. You have more control over your time. And how much work that you take, at any given time they keep the investment that they've made in you and your, your institutional knowledge. So there are a lot of reasons why a, an arrangement like that could be a positive for both sides.

Consider it, as one of the options, when you're trying to make that decision about whether to take the career break or not.

Nadia Gil: Yeah, no, these are great advice, and you're right. Now nowadays companies are also finding or creating new ways for employees to, to take time off or career breaks. Or go on a flex, 80% of the time instead of the 40 hours. So you're right, there are choices.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Exactly. Nadia, thank you so much. It was, it's such a gift. So generous for you to talk so frankly about the decisions that you've made along the way and life at home. We really appreciate that. So thank you so much for joining us today.

Nadia Gil: No, thank you Carol, it was so great talking to you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And thanks for listening to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and Co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch conferences and events, to sign up for our job board and access our return to work tools and resources, go to

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