Women in IT: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Ilyse Wagner, an analytics program managerin CSS, is a mother of three who balances her career and family with finesse. The shock of breast cancer shattered that sense of well-being. Thankfully Ilyse is now cancer-free. Ilyse talked with JobsBlog about how Microsoft’s benefits and people made an impact in her recovery.

When you found a lump in your breast, what was the response of your manager or team?

I found the lump on March 1, 2011, and received my diagnosis on April 4, but I waited until April 25 before sharing this information at work. I wanted to have a surgery plan, including dates, in place before telling my manager—and before telling my children. I had to orchestrate who to tell and when because in this age of social media I wanted to make sure that people could hear about this directly from me.

My manager was amazing! She let me know that the team was here to support me and I should do whatever I needed to do in order to take care of myself. My GM came by the next day to reiterate this message.

For your treatment, you must have needed to rely on a number of employee benefits. Which ones came into play, and which did you most appreciate?

The health care benefits were tremendous. The explanation of benefits (EOBs) arrived on an almost-daily basis. I was responsible for $0.00. That was huge. I also appreciated the short-term disability (STD), not only following surgeries but during chemotherapy. Each Monday when I went for treatment, the intermittent STD allowed me to take a day of leave and still earn 75 percent of that day’s pay. Continuing to work was important to me and it was great that I could while still taking time off for treatment.

Was there something about your experience that surprised you in how your team responded to your work/life needs?

I was constantly lifted by the encouragement I received from everyone at work. Many co-workers went above and beyond what you might expect in the workplace. One friend at work brought me a pair of PJs before surgery, another threw me a party, and one delivered a t-shirt to me after walking with it for over 10 miles in the 3-day breast-cancer walk. When I finished chemotherapy my manager arranged for what must have been 12 dozen flower arrangements to be set up on my desk. There were also many people who didn’t know what was going on, and even several who did, who treated me just as they always had and that was refreshing as well!

I always felt supported at work. Although I had fears about being considered less than optimal at work, there was never even a hint of that suggestion in my experience.

If there was something you would want job candidates or women in IT to consider about a career at Microsoft, what would it be?

As long as you set the proper expectations and meet or exceed those expectations, you can accommodate your personal life. Speak out. You are expected to be your own best advocate.

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