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Every time International Women’s Day comes around, I have mixed emotions. Not about celebrating women of course, but about the complicated roles women have to balance throughout their lives. In our twenties we’re hustling just to make an impact, make ends meet, and find our path forward. In our thirties, we might be more established in our careers, but we’re trying to balance relationships, kids, community, and family. And this tension between the personal doesn’t end when your kids leave the house either.
So many women I speak to are now taking responsibility for their parents’ care or lending a hand with their grandchildren. Some of us are even part of the “sandwich generation” where our pull toward professional success is “sandwiched” between the desire to win mother of the year and be the good and caring daughter that looks after her parents as they age.
Women in every season of life are pulled in every direction and sometimes it seems more complicated as we mature. In this post, I want to focus on celebrating you wherever you are in that journey and sharing some insights I’ve picked up along the way.
It means a lot of different things to different people but, to me, work life balance looks something like this:
Do these things live in tension? Absolutely. Are there times when we have to choose one at the expense of the other? You bet. Have I made choices I later regret? Of course.
Strive for balance (but don’t beat yourself up about it!) When I first started my business, there were no boundaries between the professional and the personal. I was fresh out of college and wanted to be “all hands on deck” for my business. I had a pullout sofa bed in my office so I could work through the night when I needed to, and let me tell you, in order to get the business off the ground, I had to sleep there more than once!
As a single mom, travel for work was always a challenge (especially when my son Max was still a baby!). More than once, I remember boarding a plane only to walk right back up to the terminal thinking I couldn’t do it again and leave my kid behind. Usually, I was able to talk myself back into getting on the plane but sometimes it took so long I had to rebook myself on a later flight! Don’t kid yourself, mom guilt is real and powerful.
And vacations? How many times have you spent precious time and money on a getaway with your family only to end up working so much you might as well have stayed at home? Show of hands? One time, I went home in the middle of a vacation because I felt like my business required it.
These days, I’m a lot better at keeping things in balance. But I’ve also learned to recognize that the pendulum swings both ways: sometimes our work will require a lot more of us, other times our personal lives are where we need to focus. Right now, I’ll be honest, I’m focusing a lot on my business. I have to be available practically 24-7 for some big strategic initiatives we’re working on. But even still, I’m making an effort to have a little time with my family knowing that, soon enough, my pendulum will swing back to the middle.
I make time to binge watch shows on the couch with Max while Stefano cooks (that’s one of his happy places). Are there times when I cheat a little and bring my laptop to the couch to answer a few work emails? Of course! It’s always a temptation for work to creep into personal time.
I hesitate to tell any of the amazing women reading this post that my way to doing things is the “right” way or the only way, but here’s a few things I’ve picked up over the years that might be helpful for you too:
My aunt once told me, “Little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems.” I’ve found that quote holds true for kids and careers. As your business grows or you advance in your career, you’re going to have a lot more to manage and worry about, but you’re NOT going to get any more hours in a day than anyone else (doesn’t seem fair does it?).
And now, let’s talk about how leaders and organizations can do a better job supporting women. This is the missing piece for a lot of women out there. Leaders need to make sure women are supported throughout their careers and find ways to create the flexibility and space for them to find their right work life balance. And yet, we need to also make sure that revenue keeps coming in, work keeps getting done, and innovation keeps happening. How do leaders ensure this balance is present and available for all the amazing women working at their organizations?
Look for the signs someone is struggling. So many people suffer in silence or are afraid to ask for help. Helping someone going through a rough patch isn’t just the right thing to do as a leader, it also strengthens your culture.
Whether its employee survey data, direct feedback or an offhand comment, don’t overlook what your people are saying about the employee experience. The small details people bring up often say a lot about how supportive, inclusive, or family friendly your organization is. Embrace an open-door policy to keep your finger on the pulse at your organization and make sure you’re responding to real problems and finding solutions that work best for everyone.
Every leader knows you can’t please everyone. But when you approach decisions from a place of empathy, you are more likely to create policies that take into account the needs of all your people including women and minorities. Ask for input and seek understanding of the challenges women in your organization face. Avoid one-size-fits all solutions and look for flexibility. None of your people are in the same season of life and it takes a range of initiatives and policies to make sure all feel supported and celebrated.
This International Women’s Day, I want you to remember: you are more than your job, you are more than your relationships. This is a reminder to all of us, whatever season we’re living: find the right balance between work and life for you; there’s no perfect equation or recipe to follow for that. We need to support each other in this effort and create space for other women in our organizations to find their version of balance for themselves too.
I see you. We got this!
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