5 things high-powered women need to know about work-life balance
At a leadership conference in a Chicago hotel last summer, high-powered female executives swapped stories about their parenting struggles. They recounted concerns about missing soccer games and feeling guilt when they worked late.
These women were attending a Women on Point conference, which offers leadership training aimed at female leaders.
Many of the women who participate have concerns about climbing the ladder in male-dominated fields. For one, being vocal about assigning time to anything but work in corporate America isn’t always lauded.
“Women opt out because they think the sacrifices are too great, and they’re not going to have work-life balance,” said Aimee Cohen, an Evanston native and Women on Point co-founder.
Cohen, who now lives in Denver, is a career coach who owns her own consulting company. The Tribune asked her what five things high-powered women need to know about achieving work-life balance.
1. Define it yourself. What balance looks like differs for everyone. A CEO with twin toddlers might want a different schedule than one with teens. So don’t assume that what works for someone else should be your aim. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” Cohen said. She suggests thinking through priorities and how time outside work can be attained. Do you prefer telecommuting, or coming in earlier and leaving after nine hours? “Everybody does it differently,” she said.
2. Think of work-life balance from a calendar-year view. If you work in the accounting or finance industry, before April 15 might be steadily busy. Consider balance in terms of not only the hour, day and week but also month and year. If you know June might be busy, build some buffer into July or August. Recognize needs might change as your family evolves. Employees with young children might prioritize being home for dinner, but with busy teenagers, schedules shift. Or perhaps a partner or spouse travels, and you want to align trips. “It really is a teeter-totter, you’re constantly trying to balance it out,” Cohen said.
3. Remember: You are not an emergency room doctor. Be careful how much urgency you allow every email and action. Cohen recalled a marketing director who told employees, “There is no such thing as a marketing emergency.” Because employees are now so accessible all the time, Cohen said, “There becomes this false sense of importance over everything, because everybody has constant access to you and to each other all the time, and everything is urgent. Is it really? Part of it is being able to have a healthy filter.” Let email slide until the morning.
4. Talk about your family. Cohen said that for years many high-powered execs did not discuss their children, fearing it would look weak to remind bosses of a personal life or needs outside the office. Their instinct was to not highlight the part of them that is anything but a business dynamo. “The way I describe it is this code of armor,” Cohen said. “You just have to be so tough and so vigilant and so on your game.” But they learned, she said, that speaking about a child or sibling allowed more of themselves to be at work. And keeping family photos on a desk, or mentioning a child’s recital, signals that a personal life is something to prize, not hide.
5. No one will provide work-life balance. You must seek it. Says Cohen, “You teach people how to treat you.” If you are responding to email 24 hours a day, for example, “That’s going to be the expectation.” So take responsibility for creating a work life that works for you. Use your vacation days. Set email boundaries. Execs she works with might say, “You can send me an email, but I’ll respond tomorrow morning.” And don’t be afraid to negotiate. In fact, during negotiation for a new job, Cohen says to fold in a discussion on office culture. Do they have flex time? Can you telecommute? Couple the conversation with your own achievements. Cohen suggests something like, “Here’s what I did for my last organization, and the key to that success was one day a week, I got to work from home. It saved me X hours of commuting.”
This article was originally posted in the Chicago Tribune.