NGA's Nazanin Brown on Being a Full-Time Working Mom
To say that Nazanin (Nazy) Brown and her family lead active lives is a bit of an understatement.
“We've got four young children and all of them are in multiple sports throughout the school year, as well as the summer,” she explains. “My husband and I are both coaches, so a lot of our time goes from work to home, out to the field to coach or watch games, and then back home for showers, dinner, and bed.”
With an always-on-the-go home life, it was important to Nazy to have a career that is stimulating but also allows her to be present in the lives of her children.
We sat down with Nazy to learn how she has mastered work-life balance as a Contracting Officer within the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency while she keeps her busy household running smoothly.
From Crime TV Fan to Special Agent
At a young age, Nazy loved crime TV shows, which influenced her choice to study forensic psychology. She went on to earn a master’s degree in the subject, where she got some exposure to federal government agencies.
“During my master's degree, we had a lot of recruiters come to our program,” she recounts. “One of the recruiters from an intelligence agency told us that they often hired people from our program as special agents.”
Nazy is also fluent in Farsi, and in addition to her choice of master's program, this made her an ideal candidate for many agencies.
“I began interviewing for special agent roles based on my Farsi skills,” she reveals. “I got a few job offers, and I landed a job as an entry-level contract specialist in the private sector.”
Working for a government contractor, Nazy quickly advanced in her career and eventually became a Senior Contracting Negotiator for Lockheed Martin — and she was loving it.
“I just really liked it and thought it was a great field to be in,” she says.
And while her career advanced, so did her personal life. She became a young mother with increasing responsibilities at home, which led her to be more mindful of where she was dedicating her time.
“At that point, I was putting in so many hours — it's not a 40-hour work week,” she admits. “It wasn't uncommon for me to sometimes work weekends, especially during proposal season.”
As Nazy continued to pile on the overtime, she saw that she wasn’t able to be the mom she wanted to be.
“I wanted to be able to cut work off when I'm at home,” she recalls. “I didn't want to be that mom that comes home and is on her laptop. This was when I realized that having a job that is strictly limited to just 40 hours a week would be best for our family.”
A Parent-Compatible Workplace
Through friends, Nazy learned more about working in the public service and realized that not only would she not have to work overtime, but it would also allow her to work close to her children.
“Many agencies have onsite daycares,” she notes. “I knew that would help so much with commuting and my stress level, as well as the cost. That was my number one reason to jump into the federal government.”
So, Nazy applied for a role that looked interesting and soon found herself working as a Contract Specialist in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The onsite daycare took in her oldest, who was then a toddler, and promised a spot to her second child, who was on the way.
“Having my children onsite with me instead of having to drop them off in another part of the city before work every day pretty much changed my entire life,” she reflects.
With her childcare issues solved and a manageable number of working hours, Nazy was able to focus more on her career development and explore her options. It was her husband, who works in the Intelligence Community (IC), who convinced her to consider switching to intelligence.
“My husband told me that the IC is just a different animal, and he was right. The contracting is different. The mission is amazing. So I decided to look into the IC,” she says.
Applying for roles in the IC required her to rework her entire application package, but her preparation paid off when she landed a role as a Contracting Officer at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
“Since I've come to the IC, I've been able to broaden my skills,'' remarks Nazy. “It's an entirely different contract writing system, and the IC’s mission and impact are far greater in size and scope, which has really expanded my knowledge. I've learned so much in the three years that I've been here,” she says.
The Secrets to Work-Life Balance for Working Parents
Over the past two and a half years, working from home became the norm for some parents. For Nazy, this was not an option because of the sensitive nature of the data she handles at NGA — and she actually prefers it this way.
“I like the fact that I can get my work done without interruptions from my kids. And when I go home, I take my lanyard off, hang it up, and I go right into mom mode,” she says.
For other parents looking to have this same work-life balance, Nazy offers the following tips:
- Look for jobs with short commutes. Commuting to work for an hour each way might not seem like a lot in the beginning, but over time it can take a toll”, Nazy warns. “Try to get everything set up in your local area as close as you can. In an online job search, set the parameters to five or ten miles from home, max.”
- Find an organization that offers practical support to working parents. “I don't think a lot of people realize that many government agencies offer onsite childcare,” she shares. “I've had four young children who all went through them and I have nothing but good things to say about them. So consider an employer that offers this, instead of the commercial child care centers, which are double the price.”
- Have food prep on point. Between work and her children’s sports activities, Nazy can’t cook something from scratch every night of the week. “I start the week on prepped meals. By Thursday, we're finishing everything that’s in the fridge, and then on Friday we order something or go out to eat,”
- Take advantage of employer wellness offerings. “You need to take care of yourself as a mom, '' she advises. “NGA gives us three hours a week for physical fitness training, pilates, or yoga classes, which are all provided at work. Taking advantage of that during the work day is so much easier than trying to work out at home.”