As a woman, being of advanced age and at the end of your career don’t always mean marginalisation or a revolving door! At nearly 60, with over twenty years at Afnic, I had a fascinating, brand-new professional experience a few years from retirement by going to work at ANSSI (the French Cybersecurity Agency) for two years.
When you’re approaching sixty in the world of employment, there’s a lot of self-questioning. For me, the trigger was a letter sent automatically by the pension fund. It made me realise that I had less time left on ‘on the job market’ than the time spent on my last three projects put together!
In 2015, when I was working on Afnic’s ISMS (information security management system), I happened to meet someone through work who understood me when I talked about processes, systemics and organisation in a security context!
This person joined ANSSI and we stayed in contact. Wanting to be part of an ongoing continuous improvement process resonated with the experience I had acquired across my career, as well as Afnic’s maturity when it comes to these issues. In short, I had a skill that could be of use to them. Then I met my future manager, and we got on immediately!
A wonderful opportunity that echoed my desire to pass on my knowledge and expertise...
How could I respond to another employer’s need for skills and my own desire to broaden my horizons and learn even more from professional opportunities at this stage in my career? At the time I was Security and Communication Excellence director at Afnic, and out of occupational habit, I applied Quality tools and methods, and continuous improvement principles to my own case: project mode on, risk analysis (stay? change job? why? how?), scenario analysis (advantages/disadvantages, personal/professional, etc.).
After examining the different possibilities (sabbatical leave, unpaid leave), I spoke with my employer about the idea of a change. They listened to me, and HRD proposed a scheme I hadn’t heard of before: MVS.
The solution: secure voluntary mobility
Secure voluntary mobility (Mobilité Volontaire Sécurisée, MVS) is a suspension of labour contract scheme that enables employees to work at another company while keeping the option, for a certain period of time, to return to their original company. And not necessarily at the end of their career.
This scheme is generally ‘reserved’ for organisations with over 300 employees. But that didn’t stop Afnic, a non-profit organisation with 90 employees. It was happy to explore this scheme with me even though it had never yet been used by the organisation. And for my part I appreciated the chance to open up a new path which could benefit other colleagues.
The fact that the various stakeholders (management and HRD in the two organisations, Afnic and ANSSI, the host agency) were receptive and listened enabled me to pursue this opportunity. My colleagues on the Management Committee, my team members, my future managers at ANSSI and the staff at Afnic more broadly also played a part in helping me succeed in this transition.
Leaving my comfort zone
As things started to become more tangible, I experienced somewhat of an emotional roller coaster. I went from a state of excitement: “I’m doing it”, to wanting to stay in a familiar environment that was still motivating. Then came the feeling of frustration, “I’ll never know if I don’t go”. Followed the next day by anxiety again: “What if I go for it and it doesn’t work out? …I’m 59 years old … Why take such a risk?”
Because while MVS offers a certain amount of security, it doesn’t protect you from everything. The option to return to my initial organisation was there, but I did know that I wouldn’t go back to the same position or my place on the Management Committee, and potentially not even the same occupation. So this meant making a real choice and being mentally prepared for the consequences in order to best accept them. And above all, I had to think of the practical considerations and social conditioning surrounding ‘senior citizens’.
In the end, the desire to be bold and show that there’s another path and that quality of life at work is not just a concept won out, and I went for it.
ANSSI here I come!
A departure like this requires anticipation and meticulous preparation. The switchover date for me was 15 March 2021. ANSSI gave me the time to tell others, arrange the transition, and file away a twenty-year career!
So I joined the Agency in spring 2021. ANSSI is the French Cybersecurity Agency, the national authority for cyberdefence and network and information security.
I arrived in the middle of the COVID crisis and opened a new chapter in my life: working from home, new people, new occupations and new practices, with the feeling that I was continuing to serve France and be one of the little cogs in its mechanism.
To return or not to return?
The role that ANSSI entrusted me with was as promised, and I came away with the feeling that I had made my contribution. Although returning to Afnic was possible through the MVS scheme, it was not written in stone. I could have chosen to leave Afnic permanently after a positive experience at ANSSI and envisage spending the end of my career there instead, having found people, occupations and topics that were really interesting, motivating and rewarding.
But wanting to bring things full circle at Afnic and the content of the role I was offered tipped the scales. The topic was one close to my heart: since January 2023, I’ve been working on IMS/KM (integrated management system and knowledge management).
After nearly two years at ANSSI, I returned to Afnic in January 2023. My reintegration went very smoothly and I was warmly welcomed. I was elated at seeing my desk covered in welcome back post-it notes and messages. Nine months later, by the way, they’re still there!
I definitely had the chance to benefit from favourable factors and encouragement, but I was also the architect of this success because I had ‘unrestricted’ time to reflect, prepare and anticipate. It was an immense pleasure to be able to put my experience and knowledge to best use over two years and I even enjoyed cycling across Paris to get to work!