Creating Work/Life Balance

How does She Do It? Creating Work/Life Balance

I am many things, there is not one thing that defines me. I am a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter, a friend and an executive.  I have chosen to throw in the mix working mom because I enjoy my career. This is where I excel. But like with all choices, there are challenges. My largest challenge is  struggling everyday to be fully present with my family and friends and creating a work/life balance. There always seems to be multi-tasking happening in my head: did I sign the permission slip, I need to return that email, Oh I have a great idea to implement at work, what we are having for dinner tomorrow, the girls outgrew their shoes again. The competing demands for things I want to do and things that just need to happen are always creating tension and stress. Five strategies I have learned to use manage these as best I can are: Amazon Prime. No sooner have I realized that the girls are out of toothpaste, that I am able to have it shipped to the house by the next day, for free. Hire others. I am good at a lot of things, cleaning the house and yard work are not my strong points. I learned to delegate at work, I do the same at home. Double batch cooking.  I love to cook, but trying to get a healthy dinner on the table within 30 minutes of getting home from work is a challenge. When I cook, I try and make enough that will provide a couple of nights of leftovers or freeze portions for another time.  Conference calls.  Managing certain conference calls while doing the laundry or emptying the dishwasher. Mindless tasks with our hands that can be done while being brilliant on the phone. Multi-purpose lunches. I schedule lunch meetings in places that are convenient for other errands that need to be done. Need to pick up a prescription? I have lunch near the drugstore. Have dry cleaning to be dropped off? There is a great restaurant to meet a colleague next door. Everyday at work I look for ways to create efficiencies. How to do things smarter, faster, more cheaply. What can I stop doing because it isn’t adding value? What can I delegate to other team members? Bringing those valuable lessons home has helped to create some sanity and more time to spend in the areas I love. I am still learning everyday how to be fully present, but each of these strategies has helped me to get closer to my goal.

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How to Create Gender Diversity

There has been a lot of discussion around the lack of gender diversity in companies, while this is truly an issue across all industries, it is particularly evident in technology and even more so in the management ranks of software firms. Diving into the reasons for this dichotomy, you have to go as far back as elementary school because that is when many young girls opt out of science and math related subjects.  31% of girls in elementary school say they are good at math; but by middle school that number drops to 18%.  Yet, based on  a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released in 2013,  15-year-old girls around the world, outperform boys in science and math. Girls interest lowers in science and math related subjects for multiple reasons: girls learn these subjects differently than boys and classes are taught to the boy’s learning traits; and a larger reason, which appears later in their professional careers as well, is girls may lack the confidence in subjects that  require testing, and dare I say, mistakes as of the learning process. Girls, as a generalization, have a tendency to prefer possessing the right answer each time and may choose not to take on a challenge unless they know they will do it perfectly.

The gender diversity takes on another twist when you consider women earn less than men across the board in any industry. In 2013, female full-time workers made only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 22 percent ( Some of this delta can be explained by the larger proportion of males in leadership positions than females when looking at the average salaries across the genders. The decreasing interest rate in the science and math classes during formative school years combined with family and societal demands during childbearing years when women tend to take on less challenging and complex assignments particularly if they require after-hour time commitments or travel in order to focus more time with their families, the rate of women in the management ranks will naturally be lower than the men’s.  This is evident the S&P 500 the labor force which is made up of  45% women at the entry level, while at the mid management it drops to 37% and further drops to 25% at the  senior management level (see 2013 EEO-1 Survey Data as displayed by Catalyst. org ) .

In my career as a female technology company executive,  I have found there are three key ways that women can excel in technology management roles.   By developing these skills, women are able to take on new challenges and rise to higher levels within an organization.

Confident: Women have a tendency to not make the ‘ask’ , women assume they will be recognized for their work and opportunities will follow.  A man will straight up ask for the raise, ask for the promotion, ask for the job, ask for the more challenging assignment. This is an area where women need to act more like a man.  Show the confidence in their own skills and be willing to stand up for them.  Women’s desire for perfection also appears here when looking at new assignments or new positions. Internal research at HP showed that women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements. Women need to be more willing to take chances and use past experiences to demonstrate their ability to take on new roles. And frankly, there is nothing wrong with a little ‘faking it until you make” when you have the confidence to try until you are successful. (see McKinsey Quarterly “ A Business Case for Women” Capable: Women need to continue to build their skills, learn new technologies and take on challenges and complex assignments that may be outside their comfort zone. Women need to be comfortable with the process of trying and learning.  It is difficult to demonstrate the ability to advance to the next level until they have continuously gone  above what is expected of them in order to establish they have the desire, skills and expertise to take on larger roles. Contribute: Women must be present to be considered. Given the larger demands on time that leadership roles present, as well as the timing in women’s career when she is likely to start a family, women drop out of the workforce or decline to take on larger roles within an organization  in order to create a work/life balance that is appropriate for their families.  Balancing a family and a leadership role is time challenging. You have to want it to make it work. It’s about finding a support system to help you create your own sense of balance and achievement as well as a willingness to make choices on the priorities that are important and a willingness to not feel guilty about the areas you choose not to focus upon.  This is most definitely an evolving art that changes as your family grows up and your work role iterates.

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Having it All

Many working parents are trying to figure out how to manage their work/life balance. Everyone is trying to figure out how to have it all. I remember after working a hard day at the office, prior to having kids, collapsing into bed and stating to my husband “I don’t know how people with kids can do, we don’t have kids and this is hard”.  After having kids, I thought I figured it out. You smash more into a day by sleeping less. After a few years of pure exhaustion, I realized that wasn’t the way to a happy life. I started to see the light when a friend told me, “You can have it all, you just have to define what all means to you”. It took awhile for the meaning of this statement to sink in but once I realized that I have the power and the right to define what I wanted, life got a lot easier.

Permission to Say “No”

I discovered I could give myself permission to say “no” to things. That those evenings out with acquaintances that I felt I had to accept because I might upset someone, when sleep was so much more important, I had the ability not to accept the invitation. That saying “yes” every time someone asked me to contribute to a committee, to donate time to this objective or to help out at the kid’s school, was not a requirement. I had the power to choose. I could choose the things that were important to me and fit into my schedule. I could say, this is important to me but not this year. I could say, I would love to but I just don’t feel like I could give it my all because I would be overextended. I had a choice. I could prioritize what was most important and I could define what “all” looked like to me. We have choices, some choices have consequences that are difficult, but we all have choices. We need to empower ourselves to make those choices, accept them as our choices and create the life that makes us happy.

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