It was Monday afternoon, and the closing keynote speaker was being introduced at the CHIME-HIMSS Forum in Las Vegas. I wasn’t prepared to take notes — I had just ducked out to have FaceTime with my kids, and by the time I came back into the room, there were few seats left. And so I figured I could hang back a bit and relax my hands, which were already cramped from a day of note-taking.
And then, Carey Lohrenz took the stage. I knew a little bit about her backstory — she’s a former Lieutenant in the US Navy who was the first woman to fly the F-14 Tomcat. What I didn’t know was how compelling her story was. And although I found value in much of what she said, the biggest impact came in these four words:
“Find a third way.”
It’s what Lohrenz had to do when, after completing an intense flight training program, she was told she couldn’t become a fighter pilot because women weren’t allowed in combat. She was given two options: leave the Navy, or find another job. She was understandably devastated, but after taking a beat to gather herself, Lohrenz went back to her commanding officer and said, “We need to find a third way.”
She and her officer found a loophole in which she could stay on as an instructor. And a month later, when Congress lifted the ban, Lohrenz was able to go back to doing what she loved — and she hasn’t stopped. After a successful Navy career, she began her second act as a motivational speaker, and is seeking an MBA in Business Administration and Strategic Leadership. And what made all the difference, she told the audience at the Forum, was her refusal to accept the status quo.
I thought a lot of about the concept of finding a third way, and I realized that it doesn’t have to be a groundbreaking act — in fact, it’s something that many of us are doing every day as we juggling the mammoth tasks of maintaining a successful career with taking care of children, parents, or both. I thought about a friend of mine who stepped away from a job that was cutting into family time at night and sought a more flexible arrangement. I thought about my sister Meg, who started a company that enables her to work her own hours while still being able to spend time with her 2-year-old daughter. I thought of my sister-in-law Olivia, whose love for fashion drove her to open up her own store, something she finds far more fulfilling than working for designers.
All of these women found the right formula for being able to advance in their careers without foregoing time with their families.
Unfortunately, it’s not always a happy ending. For every Carey Lohrenz who shatters the glass ceiling, there are many other women (and men, for that matter) who hit their heads on that same ceiling after realizing — or being told — that they needed to take a step back in their careers if they wanted to be around for their family.
If you don’t believe me, I have a glass bridge to sell you. Not only have I heard stories from close friends of workloads being “lightened” after they became parents, but I was actually asked in a job interview if I planned “to start a family any time soon” (and yes, I now realize that’s illegal, not to mention unethical). The ugly truth is that when it comes to facilitating work/life balance, many organizations are still in the dark ages.
This is where you come in. As leaders, you have a unique opportunity to create a healthier environment. It’s a topic that took center stage at the #healthITchicks meetup at HIMSS, where panelists Sue Schade (Interim CIO, University Hospitals of Cleveland), Dana Sellers (CEO of Encore) and Rebecca Freeman (CNO at ONC) talked about the balancing act that parents struggle with every day. Sellers and Freeman urged audience members to find a mentor and get engaged locally with professional women’s groups, and Schade talked about the need to “create a workplace environment that supports everyone.”
So how can leaders accomplish this?
“If you manage parents with young children, be patient and flexible,” Schade wrote in a blog piece. “Doctor appointments, sick kids, and unpredictable daycare situations are a reality that young parents deal with. Have reasonable expectations of when the work day starts and ends and that weekends really are weekends. Consider offering flexible schedule options.”
In other words, if leaders want to attract and retain top talent, perhaps it’s you who needs to find a third way.