In the past week I’ve had reason to hear from and read about many successful women in business. I’ve attended events and been inspired. I’ve heard people resolve problems in the workplace and been motivated. One thing that I keep hearing is the difficulty of work-life balance. Some say it doesn’t exist, others say it’s something to strive for. I tend to be in the latter camp, determined to ensure I get professional fulfilment while also having time to spend with my beautiful girl. And that balance extends to my husband too. I don’t believe that one person in a relationship should get balance, but not the other. What I do believe is that balance looks different to each and every individual, and we need to respect that. Anyway, I’m not here to write only about workplace flexibility, or to talk about gender pay gaps, or workplace equality (though they are all worthy topics that I’ll tackle at another point in time). I wanted to share with you the best pieces of advice and information I heard in the week of international women’s day.
This advice came from the CFO of a huge global corporation. She has two young children. She told her audience how she often finds herself on conference calls from 8pm to 3am, speaking with various senior executives around the world. While that may sound onerous, she acknowledges that it means she can pick her kids up from school each day. Each night her kids go to bed at 8.30pm, she continues. So, on the first instance where she had a video conference at 8.30pm, she stopped and said to the meeting attendees, “I need to say goodnight to my kids now”. Everyone paused so that she could do this. In the meantime, her son begged to say goodnight to those people his mother was chatting to. She tells us how she felt this could be a career-limiting move, but then said to herself, “Well, what’s the worse they can do? Fire me?!”. So her son said goodnight to the computer screen, and went on his way. “Now,” she said, “The staff at the meeting ask what time it is, looking forward to saying goodnight to my son. The point is, don’t apologise for who you are.” This woman had many good points to make, but this was the one that stuck with me. I know people who hide the fact that they are parents, thinking that displaying it will work against them. I disagree with that approach. If our employer doesn’t like who we are, what is important to us, and respect our values, then they’re not worth working for.
Related: I’m a better mum because I work
All roles should be able to be flexible
A c-level executive spoke of workplace flexibility. “Every role should be flexible,” she said. And, she added, this was not just for parents, but for each individual employed. If the job cannot be flexible, then the line manager needs to meet with a panel and go through, thoroughly, the reasonings behind this inflexibility. The message really being that if you’re restricting your employees, you better have a damn good reason for doing it. This stuck with me. I have seen so many employers who “talk the talk” when it comes to workplace flexibility, but it’s not filtered down to a management level. If your workplace policies only extend to “manager’s discretion” then how can you truly create a culture of change? The idea that each manager needs to buy the message or be accountable for the refusal is a great one. I argue that all companies should get on board with this method of true workplace flexibility – it’s time to educate the old guard on what is possible.
Look for three things in a new role
At the risk of my boss reading this, I’m going to delve into some work talk here. For me, being a working parent, I want to get a lot out of my job. Yes, I work for the money, but I mostly work for fulfilment. I’m not looking for a clock-in, clock-out job. I’m looking for a job that will stretch me, that will help me grow. Not every role is like this, and sometimes you simply outgrow your job, so it’s fair to say we all, at some point, will be looking for a new role. The best advice I heard this week was this: When you look for a new role, it needs to have three things – it needs to have a portion that you can do, that you can nail; it needs to have a portion that you’re not quite sure you can do; and it needs to have a portion that scares the shit out of you. Why? Because in six months you will nail the part you’re not sure of and, if you haven’t got portion three, you’re left in a job that doesn’t stretch you. Challenge yourself. Unfortunately, it seems, women are more inclined to apply for something that ticks the “can do” box. The advice here was don’t be afraid to stretch yourself outside your comfort zone. That is how you move up.
I want to close with an acknowledgement that I find it difficult being a career woman who is also a mother. Not because the two can’t co-exist, I think they can, but because so many companies out there are still unwilling to take a risk. They don’t want a four-day-a-week leader. They subscribe to the traditional method of working. They want you to tick all the boxes, they are inflexible, they make you feel like you need to apologise. But I will continue to fight the fight, continue to strive for better, and refuse to work for an employer who can’t understand that my life as a mum does not diminish my ambition, it drives it, and a little flexibility only makes me a more productive, valuable, loyal employee. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for a company that seems to get this, but we are not all so lucky. I’m hoping that acceptance is just around the corner.