At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as schools went virtual and childcare centers across the country shut down, an increased burden fell on mothers of school-age children forcing them to leave the workforce at a much steeper rate than men. However, as flexible and remote work options become more widespread it is becoming more feasible for mothers to work while caring for their children. Brunel’s Lauren Branch (Marketing Manager for the Americas region) joined the blog to discuss her career journey, leaving the workforce for 6 years, and her meteoric rise from Personal Assistant to Marketing Manager in just 2.5 years at Brunel.
Meet Lauren Branch
Lauren Branch’s path to becoming Brunel Americas’ Marketing Manager has never been straightforward. Her life has taken a lot of unexpected twists and turns including time spent as a financial planner, the owner of a catering company, and 4 years as a stay-at-home mom before joining Brunel in August of 2019 as a Personal Assistant. Over her 2.5 years with Brunel, she has quickly risen up the ranks through her tenacious work ethic, attention to detail, a creative mind, and her passion for people.
Lauren was born in the Houston area but spent time as a kid living in New Orleans, Denver, and Anchorage, Alaska before moving back to Houston to graduate from The Woodlands High School. She then attended Baylor University where she had goals of becoming a tax accountant, and she’s actually 1 class away from an Accounting degree at Baylor. However, she ultimately graduated with degrees in Financial Services & Planning and Commercial Real Estate because she discovered she “liked interacting and talking with people too much” to be a tax accountant.
Immediately upon graduation, Lauren moved to Dallas to take on a job as a Financial Planner, but the beginnings of her marketing career began to take shape. Her personality and passion combined with business necessity led her to take on email marketing, graphic design, and event coordination for her firm in addition to her financial planning. That led her to the realization that she hated financial planning and it wasn’t what she was meant to do with her life.
As a result, Lauren attended culinary school at night and earned a degree in Baking and Pastry from the Art Institute in Dallas, eventually leaving the financial planning industry to work in several wholesale bakeries. Eventually Lauren decided it would be best for her and her family for her to become a stay-at-home-mom to her daughter, Lyla. Always looking for ways to help others, she continued to run a small cooking and catering business independently out of her home because “other stay-at-home moms need a break from cooking too.”
Eventually, after 6 years away from the workforce, a dramatic change in her personal life forced Lauren to return to the corporate world. That moment in her life is where our interview about her journey picks up, as Lauren shares her story, advice, and encouragement to women who may be in a similar situation.
Lauren Branch on Motherhood and Work
What led you to get back into the workforce?
I think the workforce was always calling me back even though we had made the decision for me to stay at home. I just was always having a side gig or working on some new project because I needed more to do with myself. I always needed something to keep me busy. But what really spurred it was necessity after my divorce.
I didn’t know where to start because I hadn’t worked in so long. All my licenses in financial planning had expired and that really wasn’t where I wanted to be. I knew I just wasn’t going to be happy if I returned in that industry, but I had my business degrees, so I networked like hell.Lauren Branch | Marketing Manager - Americas
You said as a stay-at-home mom that you felt you needed more to do. I know some mothers can feel a bit guilty if they’re not necessarily happy with the more “traditional” role of staying home and raising children. Did you experience that at all?
Oh yeah, definitely. I think it was hard because my mom stayed at home with me growing up and I always saw the value in that. She taught me how to read at a really young age because she was home with us and was able to do those things. There’s so much value in staying at home. But I think I always knew that I was meant to be in the workforce.
It took me a while to be able to vocalize that, and my divorce sped up the process for me. There are so many moms out there who are fantastic at being a stay-at-home parent, but I’m just not that mom and that’s okay. It’s important to realize your strengths and running with what God made you to be.
You mentioned networking like hell. How did you build your network and then how did that help you get back into the workforce?
Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve volunteered for different charities and led different parts of the Junior League and things like that. So I networked with everyone I knew and eventually that’s how I got an interview with Beth [Beth Bowen – Brunel Americas President]. I had never met her, but one of our mutual friends recommended me to Beth and I interviewed for a job as Beth’s personal assistant here at Brunel.
How long was the period from “I need to get a job” to when you started working at Brunel?
Just a few weeks, but I have to say I’m a driver. Once I knew I had to get a job I was searching nonstop.
I think you have 2 choices when you’re going through a divorce and haven’t been working in a while. You can either sit in it or you move. You have to grab the bull by the horns and move forward. My child’s livelihood was depending on it, so obviously I was going to take care of us.
I will say through all of that, with anyone that’s coming back to the workforce just network, network, network.One of the hardest things for me was that I came back as a personal assistant. Hearing that with 2, technically 3 degrees…I had to take a big big ole slice of humble pie and be grateful for what I could get.
My dad always taught me this saying growing up which was “pour that coffee well.” So if someone asks you to change a lightbulb, if someone asks you to make the coffee in the morning, it doesn’t matter. All those little things add up and they help drive the ship as a whole and I think if you do every little thing to that you can do to the best of your ability, those things add up and people notice. So I had to be willing to start somewhere.Lauren Branch | Marketing Manager - Americas
So now you’re back in the workforce, obviously you’re still a mom. So how did you find the time to balance your new work responsibilities with being a newly single mother?
Fortunately, Brunel is really good with work-life balance and we have a really flexible working environment, which I really appreciate.
But it’s still very hard. I was a single working mom for about 2.5 years and it’s really difficult when you’re expected to be at all the school activities and to volunteer and to do all these things that you were doing as a stay-at-home mom on top of your work. And then you don’t have a partner so all the financial burden is completely on your back as well.
I think the most important things were setting priorities and time management. And reaching out for people and things that can make your life easier. It’s important to be okay with needing help. Realize where your strengths are and look for the help when you need it.
You started out as a Personal Assistant and in 2.5 years you’ve become the Marketing Manager for our region which is an incredible trajectory. You had been kind of working in marketing previously in your career but never had a marketing degree, how were you able to make that leap?
It goes back to what I said about pouring the coffee well. Showing your worth. I did all the small things and wherever I go I always try to do things that other people don’t want to do because that’s what gets noticed. All the little things add up. If you have to go get your boss a La Croix, go get her a La Croix. It doesn’t matter.
It’s also important to take the initiative on things that aren’t expected of you and then to do those things well. I just kind of inserted myself in things I think I can do well to show myself as a good leader. You can’t always follow the rules, sometimes you have to play along the gray line in there and insert yourself in places before even asking, just get involved.
So I created our Social Committee, something we didn’t have before but I knew that we needed. I took on more office management projects and eventually was moved from Personal Assistant to Office Manager, then from there I moved into marketing as our Special Projects Coordinator and now I’m the Marketing Manager for the region.
I don’t necessarily believe in luck, I think everything is a part of a larger plan, but I was definitely always looking to be in the right place at the right time.
When you started out 2.5 years ago did you expect to be where you are now?
I was definitely hoping to move up. Every time I would have meetings and reviews with Beth I would just say “hey, I’m ready for more! I’m ready for more! I’m ready for more!” So it just kind of naturally progressed that way, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be blessed with the job I have now when I started.
I’m blessed to have a boss like Beth that let me work on my natural talents. She saw a value in me as an employee and as a person and because of that gave me the opportunity to work my way up and through that I found what I was supposed to be when I grew up.
Your network was really important in helping you get back into the workforce, is there any other guidance/support you wish you would have had at that time? Or is there anything you’d like to go back and tell your former self?
I’d probably tell myself to update LinkedIn more. When I met Beth I had given her my resume thinking that’s what she would talk to me about but what she wanted to focus on was things she had seen in my LinkedIn profile.
I would also say that if you’re getting back into the workforce do something where your natural talents lie and that you’re interested in. Especially if this is your livelihood and, in a way, your second chance, you want to make it count right?
So go somewhere you know that you can use your talents even if you don’t know what exactly that is. Go somewhere where you have opportunity to grow and if that means starting as an assistant or whatever else, just get your foot in the door.
Do you consider this to have been a second chance for you?
100%. If you talk to our coworkers who knew me when I started a few years ago, I’m like a completely different person. I think I found value and worth in myself again that I had lost when I was staying at home. Not that there is not worth and value there.
Just for me personally as a stay-at-home mom I had lost who I was and my initiative and the potential I have because I was so focused on my daughter. Coming back to the workforce, it was important for me to take a moment to be selfish for a second and do something for me. And I don’t think anyone should feel anyone needs to be scared about it or that they’re less of a mom for doing something like that.Lauren Branch | Marketing Manager - Americas
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