Sylwia Gulik about a family teamwork

photo: Marta Bras "Projekt SIS: Sylwia Gulik"

We met for a morning coffee in downtown Seattle.

The café was full of white- collar workers waiting for their morning cup of joe.

The meeting was scheduled to fit our calendars: the place, the hour and the length of the meeting were precisely planned.
Sylwia is really well organized and says that “scheduling is in her genes.”

Sylwia Gulik arrived in Seattle thirteen years ago.

She started her corporate career, alike many other foreigners, despite previous work experience as an intern on the American job market. I wanted to know how did her life change since she first arrived and how did her career develop. Is it possible to raise kids, run a house and be professionally active?

Has Sylwia Gulik ever thought she will be living in the USA?

"Project SIS: Sylwia Gulik"
photo: Marta Bras “Projekt SIS: Sylwia Gulik”

If someone told me 13 years ago that I would live in Seattle and work for one of the largest tech companies in the world, I would call them a lunatic. I just graduated from the university, and my big plan was to find a job securing European Funds for Polish institutions and eventually move to Brussels to become one of the Eurocrats….

And then – thanks to and because of many coincidences – I met Bartek who came to Poland to “discover” his Polish roots.

There was a big Polish wedding a year later, our first “baby” – Lilu, the Old English Sheepdog, and Bartek’s growing anxiety and unhappiness driven by – then normal for me – red tape, the antiquated hierarchy at work, and glass always- half empty Polish culture …
Finally, in April 2006, my husband of 8 months, left Poland to relocate back to Seattle. I followed 2 months later with a suitcase, the dog, and mixed feelings.

How long after your relocation to Seattle did you start looking for a job?

Because we came outside of typical Polish “Microsoft immigration channel”, I had no idea (and Bartek had none either) of just how many other Polish women in a similar situation there were here. For the first year I did not meet a single Polish person, but maybe thanks to this I was more open to forming strong friendships with Americans.

I admit that I was lucky because I came on the immigration visa – my green card (and work permit) arrived within a month, and I was able to start a serious job hunt. My resume was a strange mish-mash of work and internship experiences in private and government sector and must have raised a lot of eyebrows.

More often than not, the hunt led to dead-end insurance selling jobs.

But I kept on going applying to job postings, having coffees with whoever was open to talk to me, and attending networking events (and believe me this is not an easy feat for an introvert).

Through Bartek’s friends, I secured two informational meetings – one with a Director of HR at Microsoft, and another with a Partner at Mercer. One thing led to another, and since the two women knew each other privately (another luck!) they exchanged notes about me, and in September 2006 I started at the very bottom of the corporate ladder at Mercer (the biggest global HR consulting company)- as an intern responsible for data entry (sitting in a room the size of a closet with no windows). I was busy, I was needed and I was there to prove that they made the right decision hiring me.

How did you career change when you become a mom?

By the time our first son was born in May 2008, I was a Consulting Associate, living through a typical roller coaster of project sprints, travel and unpredictable hours and building my Mercer brand on dependability and creativity. I was fantasizing of a year-long maternity leave – picturing a family idyllic, with me as a born-to-be mother and housemaker (luckily Pinterest didn’t exist back then!). Since my work was project based, I used the 3 months leading to my due date to purposefully manage my work calendar, and either finalize projects before leaving (by accelerating delivery schedule) or transition them to other consultants in Seattle or San Francisco.

My employer provided standard 12 weeks of maternity leave, and my boss agreed to additional 2 months of unpaid leave, followed by 2 months at 50% schedule. After 7 months at home, during which time I read all Scandinavian serial- killer mystery books, and watched all episodes of all available seasons of Top Chef (all while breastfeeding my always hungry baby) I was more than ready to jump back to work.

What does a “teamwork” mean to you and how does it work at your house?

It will sound like a cliche, but my husband is my friend, partner in crime, therapist and a cheerleader.
He is the biggest feminist in our house, always stressing out the importance of having strong female role models for our two boys. The thing he cultivated in me was the sense of self-worth, awareness of the value I bring to teams I work with (although Polish mentality still wins from time to time) and the belief that our careers are equally important.  

I realized a long time ago, that work-life balance does not exist, but by prioritizing where to spend time and effort, and what to outsource (cleaning – check, shopping on Amazon- check, gardener- check), we’ve been able to manage our crazy family calendar without major mishaps.

One thing that works in our favor is the fact that I am an early bird and Bartek is a night owl (needing his beauty sleep in the morning)  – this allows us to divide up childcare responsibilities, with him responsible for getting kids ready in the morning, and me picking them up in the evening and “figuring out” the dinner situation.

As an “obsessive planner” (blame my genes), I have our family’s calendar in my head  at all times (and also in Outlook and Family app on my phone) – planning, organizing, scheduling and keeping track of various events and appointments, with one overarching rule: nothing can compete with the Sounders game schedule.

Is there any secret to this skillful management?

The key to our success is reliability. We try to plan ahead and adjust work schedule to accommodate doctor’s appointments and major school events. As my career progressed and I was averaging 70,000 miles of air travel a year, I was always able to count on Bartek to flex his work schedule and ensure that all “critical” family processes run “well enough”. No perfection required.

Early on in my career here I learned that to a great extent I am the master of my own schedule. Of course, there are official project deadlines, key deliverables, client meetings, but how you manage your own time leading up to these “big” things is up to you. If you deliver as promised, you will be granted not only more responsibility but also more flexibility in terms of how, when and where you work…(I know that this is not possible in every job, but it was true for me).

Did you have a female role model in your life?

I have always been surrounded by strong female role models (my grandmother, my mother, my mother-in-law, my sister and my girlfriends) each of them representing a different archetype of a strong woman, each being a proof that hard work coupled with resilience and tenacity makes cracks in existing “glass ceilings”, and paves the way for the next generation…

Do you have a life motto?

I deeply believe that happy mothers make happy children, and it is up to you to find and follow what makes you happy…

"Project SIS: Sylwia Gulik"
photo: Marta Bras “Projekt SIS: Sylwia Gulik”