As soon as I heard my phone start buzzing, I just knew.
I didn’t even need to look at it to confirm it was the daycare center calling to say Austin didn’t feel well. My husband and I were on the fence about sending him in that morning— he was cranky and lethargic (likely a reaction to the flu vaccine he had the day before), and he had fallen down a few stairs, which had me worried. But if I kept him home every time something worried me, well, we wouldn’t leave the house.
Luckily he’s fine — he just needed a little rest. But because I have a flexible schedule (and a very understanding employer), I was able to leave our weekly meeting early to go tend to my little boy. To me, that’s no small thing.
As a working mom, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a constant challenge; something I often research for tips on how to walk that fine line. The good news is that the topic is covered quite a bit; the not-so-great news is it almost always focuses on the female perspective, and it often takes a negative spin.
In a recent interview, Today Show host Matt Lauer asked General Motors CEO Mary Barra if it was possible for her to run a major automaker and be a good mom at the same time. A few weeks later, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi was asked if “women can have it all.” The same questions have been directed at Sarah Palin, Marissa Mayer, and countless other successful women. And yet I can’t remember anyone questioning whether Ford Motors CEO Alan Mullaly can balance fatherhood with being the big cheese. I’ve never heard a reporter ask a male politician or athlete if he thinks men can have it all. Can you just picture ESPN asking Tom Brady if he spends enough time with his children?
Maybe they should, because this isn’t a women’s issue. It’s a family issue. Despite the fact that women are often the ones being questioned, “the challenges of parenthood and career exist for both genders,” according to a recent piece in Time Magazine, which put seven highly successful men on the hot seat. What it uncovered was fascinating — and frankly, refreshing. Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, said his biggest regret early in his career was leaving his wife and newborn daughters, now 17 and 19, the day after both of them were born for work trips. But until he spoke with Time, Smith said he had never been asked what it feels like to be a father and do his job.
Fortunately, Smith is now in a position where he’s able to alter his schedule to spend more time with his family. But when he was climbing the ranks, he found it very difficult to maintain a healthy balance, as did many other executives who spoke with Time.
This is what needs to change. Men and women at all levels need flexibility and support in order to succeed at both their personal and professional lives, and leaders need to make this happen — not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it can help improve work performance.
Some companies get it. Ogilvy & Mather offers flexible work schedules and emergency childcare for working mothers, along with a support network. “By standing up and asking for change, can we help one another achieve a better work-life balance, with the breathing room for both professional growth and fulfillment and happy home lives?” asked Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Donna Pedro.
It’s a viewpoint shared by Sue Schade, CIO at University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers. In a recent blog, she called for leaders who manage parents of young children to “be patient and flexible to the extent possible.” If a company wants to attract and retain young talent, they need to “establish a family friendly environment.”
She’s absolutely right. Implementing policies to help parents manage the demands of work and family helps build trust, which in turn leads to hard work and loyalty. I realize how fortunate I am to have flexibility, and because of that, I’m that much more motivated to do my best work. I see it as a privilege; as a vote of confidence from Anthony, and that’s not something I take lightly. Even though sometimes (like tonight) it means staying up late to finish my work, I can still rest easy knowing that, at least today, there is balance in my world.