September 12, 2014 — I define my career by BC (Before Children) and AC (After Children).
BC I was a high-flying talent (so I was told). I burned through the rungs at Deloitte in the UK and quickly became a manager. I then moved to Sydney and joined Ernst & Young. I was put through my paces, and at 30 years old and pregnant I was promoted to Senior Manager—that’s the career moment I am most proud of.
I worked for an incredible boss who wasn't blinded by pregnancy and who steadfastly worked 80% in a senior position whilst raising her three sons. She was my role model and made me believe that I could do it if I desired it.
Then life began AC. And I was unprepared for how hard the balance would be. I felt like every move I made affected my growing child.
That was nine years and two countries ago. Since then, in my role as a consultant, I have lived and worked for two years or more in London, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Zurich, and am Mum to four children under eight, who I’m happy to report are all happy and healthy.
Since technological advances have not yet made it possible for me to clone myself, I face the same choices as all other working parents: play a very difficult juggling act, or sacrifice my career or my time with the children. Since I’m not willing to sacrifice either, juggling is my only option.
I have three small boys and a little girl, and believe passionately that they should witness equality between their working parents. Sadly, however, in many of the countries I have lived, the reality falls short of this ideal for cultural, historical, and personal reasons. My husband is the main breadwinner, and although he wants more work-life balance, he doesn't feel he can move up the career ladder if he requests more flexible work options.
I have coached and spoken to many executive men in different organisations who share the same desire for balance: the desire to have balanced executive boards, to stop travelling so much, to spend more time with their families; to be stimulated at work, challenged, developed, and cared about; and to not feel that having a home life will debilitate their career progression. The issue is universal—it is not just parents who strive for this balance. There are way too many stressed leaders in corporate life all over the world wanting more balance in their lives.
The organisation that can make this shift happen successfully may just be the most successful organisation on the planet. Talent will come out of the woodwork like ants, attracted by the services they desperately want but can’t get now.
Whilst those of us in D&I work towards making this a reality, my five tips for women in the current workplace would be:
1. Be bold. Identify and clearly state your unique selling point and what you can offer the workplace, and push for promotion if you believe you deserve it.
2. If you feel unconscious bias is playing out, address it. You are addressing it for yourself, but also for the next generation of women coming through.
3. Don't panic if you are in the “AC” category. You will gain your workplace confidence back AC, but you may have to fake it at first! I just met a woman who took 11 years out of work and has got herself a job. Don't believe all the hype about not getting a job if you stay out of the workplace for a while. That's your self-esteem talking. Your children do become more independent, and work-life balance becomes more manageable. AC women are a great long-term investment.
4. Keep your networks going. Bring your children along if you have to. Everyone is human and I've often had to wrench my babies back from my colleagues!
5. Set the boundaries. If the organisation can't adhere to those boundaries look elsewhere. There are supportive organisations and supportive pockets within less supportive organisations. Seek them out. They are great places to work.
One final tip for leaders:
If you are the leader of people, put your trust in those you lead. Ideas aren't always visible. Work can be done whilst doing the washing, whilst cooking dinner, whilst catching the bus or doing exercise.