What a difference a year makes: From clashing with recruiters to launching a business in a pandemic

Last year, Alice Almeida, News Corp’s former head of digital strategy and innovation, grabbed attention and headlines when she took to LinkedIn to lament how bad adland is at letting new mothers back into the workforce. In the 12 months that followed, she launched a business, and was then confronted by the harsh realities of running one during a global pandemic. She talks to Vivienne Kelly about what a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Alice Almeida had just gotten off the phone to a recruiter, and she was mad.

She was trying to return to work after maternity leave, and couldn’t believe how much could change in a short space of time.

“The most frustrating part and the part that I struggled with the most, is I went from a ‘head of’ role when I left to have a baby,” she tells Mumbrella one year on, “and I’m not talking myself up, or I’m not being pig-headed – but I was offered, I was chased for jobs at least once a month, prior to leaving on maternity leave. And so I was in hot demand.

“And then I took time off to have a baby. And going from being in that position where I was actually having to say no to companies, to the position where I wasn’t even getting callbacks for interviews, or if I did, the callback was ‘Oh, you’ve just had a baby. Oh, I’m sorry, lots has happened in the last 12 months and we need somebody that’s been up to speed with everything that’s going on’. And other comments were like ‘Oh, unfortunately there’s lots of travel with this role’. And it just felt like people were making the decisions for me. So they were basically coming up with an answer on my behalf.”

Then another recruiter told her they were looking for someone who could be a lot more dedicated and wouldn’t be restricted to certain hours of the day. And the mayonnaise on the sexist sandwich she was being served up was also being asked to take a hefty pay cut to suit her now-apparently diminished status.

So she went on what she calls a “rant” on LinkedIn. It caught the attention of many on the professional networking site, and it wasn’t long before it was screenshotted and shared in Mumbrella’s editorial channel on Slack.

The viral LinkedIn post

Almeida turned the “rant” into an opinion piece for Mumbrella. The combination of the story across the two platforms revealed a disappointing 2019 reality – Almeida wasn’t special. Sure, she might be talented and dedicated and able to work flexibly and travel and be in a powerful role, despite the assumptions of the backwards recruiters – but she wasn’t special. This situation was happening all over the place.

“12 months ago, there were a lot of companies that were talking the talk, but not really walking the walk. And they were doing some great PR around the fact that they are supporting mums returning to the workplace, or flexible working within the workplace, but then you speak to people that work there, and they contradict their messaging,” she says.

So with the world completely shifting around her in 12 months, and too many in positions of power believing that meant she was ill-equipped to work as she had before, what was she to do?

She’d been a trade marketing custom research manager at Fairfax Media. Insights manager at APN Outdoor. Manager of innovation and insights at Hitwise. Head of digital strategy and innovation.

And then pregnant.

And she wasn’t willing to take the $90,000 pay cut recruiters were suggesting she take just to get her foot back in the door.

Well, firstly, she fronted a LinkedIn campaign about the power of the platform in bringing people together and igniting opportunities.


And then she nabbed a contract role at media start-up Ausbiz as head of audience and data.

The online financial streaming service is headed up by Kylie Merritt, former CEO of Your Money, the short-lived joint venture between Nine and News Corp.

She had hoped the six-month contract would be extended, but Almeida says the business simply wasn’t in a position to offer up that opportunity.

So, should she just give in and finally launch her own business? It’s what everyone had been telling her to do.

“[Starting my own business] is something that I’ve thought about doing for a while, and obviously with everything that went down last year when I tried to get back into the workforce, most people were saying ‘Just start your own business, you’ll be fantastic. We’ll support you’. And at the time I thought ‘This can’t be my only option. If I’m returning to work, I want to have the choice of being able to work for an organisation, or to start my own business. I don’t want to start my own business because I have to’”.

When the Ausbiz gig wrapped up though, she couldn’t face the recruitment process all over again.

So Almeida Insights was born. Clients came knocking on the door. She was back doing what she actually loved. Things were so busy, she was thinking about employing somebody else.

Almeida Insights emerged in February

Then. Coronavirus.

Clients were instructed by far-off global headquarters to pause spending. Her husband, who works for Qantas, was now working from home. And they were no longer in a position to justify paying for a nanny to help with their young daughter.

She’s not confident sending her daughter to childcare in the current circumstances, so after a year, more of her work day is about supporting her daughter.

All this. In just 12 months. She admits it’s been a lot to take on.

“It wasn’t the best time to launch a business, but it’s not something that I would have really expected to have happened. It is a once in a 100-year kind of event. So I’m just trying to do whatever I can,” she says.

If she knew then, what she knows now, and how much difference a year can make, would she still make the same decisions?

“It’s a tricky question, because financially, we’d obviously be much better off if I was working five days a week. But I just don’t know how we’d be able to do that, because both of us wouldn’t want our daughter to be in childcare, just because of the risks of coronavirus, and Sean [her husband] has got his parents that live close by, and he’s kind of the main caretaker of them.

“So if I had a full-tome job, Monday to Friday, I just don’t know how we’d do it all.

“So, would I have liked my business to succeed, and work five days a week? Yes. And if this coronavirus didn’t hit, then that would be the case. In fact, I’d probably be working six or seven days a week, but with coronavirus, it’s just something that I’m hving to kind of take a little back step on, just so that I can juggle both personal and business, which is unfortunate, but that’s unfortunately what’s having to happen.”

Almeida does still have a few clients which she works on in the spare time that she has, and is offering her services to an increasingly diverse range of industries and businesses.

Almeida Insights is still working with clients

So how does she measure success when the rug has been pulled out from underneath her? And, frankly, when who bloody knows what will come over the next 365 days? Let’s not forget the horrific bushfires which ripped through our country and we naively assumed would be the worst crisis to hit our nation for the foreseeable future were only four months ago. We rang in the new year shrouded in smoke – obviously in a much more fortunate position than those who had lost everything, but still blissfully unaware of how stupendously shocking this year would be.

Almeida is more optimistic than her tired and almost-defeated interviewer.

“Yea, so the rug has been pulled out from underneath me, but thankfully there’s nice floorboards underneath. Really bad analogy, but you know,” she laughs.

She realised she needed to go back to where this crazy 12 months started – LinkedIn.

Sitting on the networking site she realised how much had changed in the space of a year. What a difference a year makes.

Amongst the non-stop promotions of corona-webinars, Almedia could see a raft of heartfelt posts from her extensive network. Redundancies. Pay cuts. Stand downs. The offering of seemingly unwanted services. These were good people who deserved to be given a platform, she thought.

And, thanks to her show-stopping “rant” last year, she has that very platform.

She decided to use her platform and her network, built on the back of her own heartfelt post, to help those who were down and out as a result of the constant kick-in-the-guts year that is 2020.

She put out an offer to profile those who needed help getting back into work. Putting food on the table. Finding a connection to start again.

“Sadly, the response I got was huge. It got to the point where I had to put a note out saying ‘This can only be for people in Australia, because I don’t have the ability to do other countries. And only media and marketing and advertising’, because I had a couple of other people who worked in fields that I knew nothing about,” she says.

“And the response has been really positive, but it’s actually, it’s made me feel really good about doing something good in this really shitty time.”

To cut down the past 365 days into one lesson or shift, she says it all comes down to her priorities and perspective changing.

“2020’s success for Almeida Insights is not going in the direction that I thought it would, but it’s still going in a positive direction, and I’m definitely continuing on with the helping-out side of things that I mentioned with LinkedIn,” she says.

“So whilst it’s not what I predicted even two months ago, I do see that there is going to be a different kind of success for me this year.”


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