employee stories

An olympic effort in IT

An olympic effort in IT

WORK180
WORK180Nov 9, 2020

Antoinette Caldwell is an actual Olympian. She competed in badminton in the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece and built her career in IT while travelling the world competing. She has retired from the badminton court now, but the lessons went with her into her career and she pursues new hobbies that help her think creatively.

She joined Woolworths four years ago, and although she left her last two jobs right on five years, Antoinette has no reason to look elsewhere. “I thrive on challenges, and there are so many opportunities at Woolworths. Time has just flown by and it’s scary to think it’s been four years already. I’ve had different roles at Woolworths and I’m thoroughly enjoying my current role.

From the court to the office

Playing professional sport taught Antoinette about perseverance, dedication, being focused and hard work. She shares, “Especially in a sport where you might be down on a couple of points, you don’t give up. You stay calm, focused and keep fighting your way through it. That translates to work. When there’s a challenge, you don’t freak out. You take it in your stride and manage it”.

Her favourite expression is, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and it applies at work as much as on the badminton court. Alongside the drive and resilience, Antoinette loved the teamwork aspect of professional sport, saying, “I enjoy the social interaction and sportsmanship of it. It’s not all about winning; Communicating effectively and complementing your partner’s strengths with yours on court is teamwork”.

Using hobbies to broaden your view

Now that she’s retired from professional sport, Antoinette’s hobbies build additional skills that she brings to work.

She loves reading a range of books, saying, “Besides being relaxing it keeps you focused and allows you to be creative with your imagination. In the workspace you have to think outside the box. You have to use your imagination to think more broadly”. She also spends time mosaicking and quilting. She prefers to teach herself through trial and error, and has become accustomed to watching YouTube to learn new methods. “I get excited to see the finished product and have great fun doing it.”

I prefer things with straight lines and perfect placement. Mosaicking is the complete opposite, so I did it to challenge my creativity by working with different shapes and techniques. You appreciate the time and effort that has been spent on making your own wonderful masterpiece.

With her career, she says, “I’ve enjoyed a variety of different tech roles and do enjoy challenging myself as well as try different things. I prefer to take myself out of my comfort zone and learn new skills. It’s important to me that I’m challenged by the work that I do and I’m forever growing both personally and professionally. Her hobbies also highlight that, “You should have fun and enjoy what you do. I definitely enjoy being in tech as every day is different.

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For someone trying to think more broadly in their own career, Antoinette suggests:

  • Understand the context. “In everything we do, there’s a bigger picture. We should not work in isolation. It’s important that you understand how your work contributes to the strategic goals of your organisation.”
  • Know your customer. “Our outputs and work will always be impacting people either upstream or downstream. Understanding who your consumers are and the full end-to-end is important. Having that complete view will add clarity and gives you a better perspective, visibility and understanding of the end result.”
  • Ask lots of questions. “Always reach out and ask questions. Be curious and eager to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re not sure.”

A career of growth

Antoinette joined Woolworths as a Systems Manager, changing to an Applications Manager when Woolworth’s IT went through a reorganisation. Initially, she didn’t have the in depth retail experience and had to learn new applications, but confidently said, “I knew it was just a matter of time until I would pick up that understanding”. She was, “given the opportunity to challenge and change the way things are done, looking at processes, ways of working and the applications”.

A lot of her role was about collaboration, and she says, “you succeed when you bring people together, tackle the task at hand, and are always looking at ways to improve”.

In tech, she admits,

Sometimes people underplay soft skills like relationship building, but they’re actually critical. Those relationships also challenge you to think more broadly than your own workspace.

In January 2019 Antoinette was promoted to the Head of IT for Product & Planning. “I haven’t stopped learning. My key stakeholders know what they want for their business. I want to build a long standing partnership with them to better understand their roadmap, and to ensure that the supporting technology is fit for purpose.” She loves what she does, but says, “It’s not just the work, it’s the company itself”.

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Who would even hire a pregnant lady?

When Antoinette applied for her current Head of IT role, she was fifteen weeks pregnant with her now 19-month-old daughter. No one knew she was pregnant, and she did the first interview thinking, “Let’s just see how far I go”. When she got shortlisted she spoke to the Head of Culture & People, because, “My mindset at the time was, ‘Why would they hire a pregnant woman who’s going to go on maternity leave?’”

As a WORK180 Endorsed Employer, Woolworths had the right attitude! The Head of C&P said it was fantastic news, and assured Antoinette that pregnancy would have nothing to do with whether she was successful in getting the role.

With such a positive response, Antoinette told the General Manager who was recruiting for the role, sharing, “He gave me a hug and said, “Congratulations! This is fantastic news”! I then told my line manager who was also thrilled. My perception was to question, ‘Why would they appoint someone who’s pregnant?’ But I was taken aback with the level of support. My boss said, ‘Take 12 months maternity leave, when you come back the role will still be here’”.

Antoinette ended up returning to work after six months. “I love being a mum but I was also keen to get back into work. I had great support, and the fact that it wasn’t an issue reconfirmed why I’m at Woolworths. It comes back to their values and flexibility”.

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Woolworths has a focus on Diversity and Inclusion, with a number of programs. Antoinette mentioned the Mentoring Moments program for women, the way Woolworths celebrates different cultural groups, the increased awareness and support for LGBTQI+ employees, and the focus on mental health.

“The culture and values are amazing. The way I’m treated as a team member says a lot. I never feel like I’m just a number.”

Woolworths is a great place to work. You’re always faced with opportunities, and I can understand why some of my peers have stayed within the Woolworths Group for 30 years. I’m proud to say I work at Woolworths.

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About the author

WORK180

WORK180

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