Platform

 

I never thought I could do it. For years, I watched other women go to exercise class, get in great shape and enjoy the camaraderie of being with other women. Finding enough time for myself with two kids and a job that required regular travel made it an impossible feat. When a job transition occurred in December of 2015, I challenged myself to think differently to make this career phase include more of the things that were important to me.

Thanks to my sister-in-law Dawn, who is always onto the best ideas, I signed up for Pure Barre, a high intensity exercise class that uses a ballet bar, bands and isometric moves. I knew it was going to be a hard-like really hard. On the surface, this was not a good idea. The studio was twenty minutes away, I couldn’t touch my toes much less survive 55 minutes of torture, but it was now or never and I was determined.

The studio owner Brynn Hanson and instructors were positive and supportive, which made me feel like I was meant to be there. The classes were as hard as I expected, but in time, a funny thing happened. Torture turned to challenge and with each step that I made it became a little more bearable. I managed my time better to ensure I could go and my strength improved. I started to look forward to the stretch and deep breaths at the end, which gave such a great start to my day and made me feel better about myself.

When they introduced Platform classes, it was clear from the chatter at the classes that this was not something I could do. Pure Barre class meets cardio for an even higher intensity level and calorie burn. I avoided it like the plague for months on end until January came and I was in desperate need to shake off a few holiday pounds. I admitted to several women at the class that I was afraid to try it as it seemed too hard. They encouraged me and gave me the boost I needed to put myself out there. I gave myself permission to fail, as long as I tried. I could always leave, step in the bathroom for a fake restroom break or just leave early for an “appointment” mid class.

It turns out I loved it, even though it was hard. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone was exactly what I needed to shake up my game. The women alongside me in class were sweating and suffering just like I was, but we were all in it together and here to support each other.

As women, striving to be our best personally and professionally, the fear of the unknown can be crippling. Focusing on the limiting factors can take away from our ability to grow in ways we never knew we could. With the support of other women and admitting our vulnerabilities in a safe place, we can push and be pushed to try.

Platform became another platform for me to take my game to the next level. No, I haven’t shook those holiday pounds yet, but more importantly I am reminded of what I can do if I put myself out there and engage the support of others. A special thank you Dawn, Brynn, Kat, Pure Barre and many others in class. You’ve helped me more than you know.

Remembering Brenda Barnes

This week Brenda Barnes, legendary Fortune 500 CEO, mother and advocate for working women passed away at the age of 63. It was a sad day for many on multiple levels. She was known most recently for her role as CEO of Sara Lee and was named by Fortune Magazine as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. She was also a pioneer for finding new ways to keep women in the workforce through flexible work schedules so that companies didn’t lose their critical pipeline of female talent.

Her path to CEO of Sara Lee was not traditional. She worked her way up the corporate ladder to be the CEO and President of Pepsi’s North American business, but she later stepped down to care for her children who were 10, 8 and 7 at the time. This move sparked an international debate on the issue if women could “have it all.” Many looked at her move as a setback for working women, but what came next would surprise many, as her story didn’t end there.

She spent the next several years sitting on several public company boards, before returning to a CEO role at Sara Lee. It gave her unique experience and perspective that she never would have gotten if she had not made the bold move. A creative way to navigate her career path and work life balance.

In her role as CEO at Sara Lee, she created the first Returnship Program, allowing women to come back to meaningful roles after taking time off to be with their families. Born out of the need to solve a business problem, she changed the dynamics in corporate America and created instant advocacy for working women. This triggered many other companies to follow suit and find better ways for women to find balance while maintaining a career.

Back in 2013, I had an opportunity to meet Brenda for lunch and talk about the challenges that we face as working women and how we manage our balance. She agreed to meet with me after I had written her a letter, which was delivered to her through a common acquaintance. I knew this was not something that she did often. Her advice, which I am sharing with you now, was simple but impactful.

Do what’s right for you. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy to do. Brenda told me that her decision to step down was difficult, but at the time, she said that she wanted and needed more time with her kids. Her decision was for personal reasons, but it was part of a bigger plan to meet her balance needs and stay in the game in a different role. Know your needs, be courageous and plan your next moves with intention.

Create new paths to make change in the workplace. Be an advocate for change. Business problems get solved by voicing new ideas and charting new paths.   Do this in your work and your personal lives, because the two connect in many ways.

Confidence is critical to your success. As a working woman, confidence is something that your employer can’t give you, but you need. Building confidence is hard, even for the most successful women, but it’s like a muscle that builds as you exercise it. Don’t overlook the importance of this, especially in male dominated environments where asserting your needs can be challenging.

Navigate your career path in strategic ways. Know your areas of strength and position yourself in roles where you utilize these skills and solve complex problems for the business. Think out of the box on ways to make your next moves and know there are untraditional paths that can get you to the same place.

I took her advice to heart with several actions to further my own career. When I changed jobs, I took a remote role to manage my balance in a way that was better for me and my family. I hired a communication coach to build my presentation skills to feel more confident presenting at an executive level. I started the first working parent committee at our elementary school to advocate for working parents to participate in school events in new and more flexible ways. Most importantly, I realized that she’s one of us. Brenda and many other women of her stature have the same challenges that we do. Connecting with other women to get ideas on how to work through them is powerful.

I, on behalf of many women thank Brenda for all she did for us, both directly and indirectly. I’ll forever be thankful for her guidance.

The Power of Sleep

sleep

I am a huge believer in the power of sleep. As an advocate for work life balance, I talk and write about the importance of getting good sleep as part of my self-care model. In fact, I believe that getting good sleep goes beyond self-care, and is a key part of our success formula in our careers and our businesses.

The facts back this assertion. Study after study shows that good sleep leads to higher productivity, better decision-making and enables us to keep our emotions in control in the workplace. Arianna Huffington’s book “The Sleep Revolution” puts the sleep crisis on the front burner of businesses today, citing that worker productivity costs us an average of $2,280 annually per employee due to lost productivity from sleep deprivation. Companies are now taking sleep more seriously, educating employees on the importance of sleep and creating more flexible work hours for employees to manage their schedules in a healthier way.

As fate would have it, in 2016, I brought my commitment to sleep to a whole new level. I had the opportunity to take on the role of SVP of Human Resources at Elite Comfort Solutions, an innovative sleep products company that is changing the way we sleep, literally. Our company develops new technology in the design and comfort of mattresses and sleep products. We are growing wildly as a result of our innovative ideas to help make our customers’ beds and pillows feel comfortable and cool.

My role as a leader in our business is to create a culture where both our employees and our business thrive. Success is built on having productive employees who contribute every day and are engaged in growth. To be engaged, they must be well rested. I now create my messaging about sleep as a reminder to them of the importance of sleep, both to be more productive and to support their work life balance.

Here are three things that we can do as leaders to share the message of the power of sleep:

 

  1. Change the conversation about sleep in the work place. Stop talking about fewer hours of sleep as a badge of productivity and dedication to your job. Start bragging about getting a full 7 to 8 hours and how much better you feel as a result. Encourage your traveling coworkers to not take the earliest flight of the day at the expense of less sleep. We need strategic thinking and balanced emotions in every meeting. Getting good sleep helps to achieve this.
  2. Manage your technology to enable good rest. Technology and smart phones allow us to work 24-7 without barriers or work rules to enforce good practices. The blue light emitted from these devices can affect our melatonin levels that enable us to get good rest. Buy yourself an alarm clock to replace your phone on your nightstand. If that’s too radical, at least change your settings on your phone to avoid the phone from emitting blue light. Set technology limits to avoid checking email late at night when you should be focused on unwinding. Encourage coworkers to do the same.
  3. Learn to do a reset on sleep. We’re all human and changing habits is hard. I am challenged as well to practice the work life balance and sleep advice that I preach. Learn to reset when your sleep habits slip. Give yourself permission to take a 30 minute nap to recharge on the weekend. Track your sleep to monitor when you are getting a full night and when you are not. Make it a priority to get back on track when you miss multiple days of a full night sleep.

Join me to help lead the way to make a difference and support good sleep habits in the workplace.  We can make a difference.

Designing Your Time –A Work Life Balance Discussion with Cynthia Rowley

Last year, I had and incredibly exciting opportunity to meet fashion icon Cynthia Rowley and talk to her about one of my favorite topics, work life balance.

I  attended the William Blair Annual Woman’s Leadership Luncheon where Cynthia and designer Mario Pinto were on a panel to discuss how they found their success as designers and business women.  It was packed full of business women,  journalists and budding designers all trying to get a glimpse into world of fashion and pick up a few business tips along the way.

Cynthia emphasized the need to constantly be re-inventing, reimagining, rethinking and evolving to grow. This was not only with her brand, but with her business and how she operates as a leader.  Constantly challenging the status quo and thinking of new ways to work is not an easy task, but necessary to stay at the top.

While there were so many great points made about managing a business and how she expanded her brand, I was most intrigued by my one on one conversation with her after the session ended.

I waited patiently for a few moments to talk direct with Cynthia about another challenge I knew she faced, how she juggles it all with her family and business. It was without hesitation that she responded that she was surprised nobody asked about this in the Q&A, but it was a challenge for sure. She approached her work life balance like she approached her business, with progressive thinking to create an environment where both her business and family could thrive. In New York, she set up her offices close to her home so that she and her husband could manage the logistics of her demanding schedule. Beyond designing clothes and products, she works hard at designing her schedule to be there for the important things for her family, while meeting the business expectations as well. She was insightful, kind and genuine in her support to other women to inspire them to create their own success.

This conversation stuck with me as I faced my own challenges and decisions in how I design my balance and career decisions. This year, I faced a job change and I took her advice. I set up my new offices for my consulting business close to home and created a small workspace for my kids to come after school to do their homework on days that they don’t have activities. I changed how I flex my schedule so that I can finally enroll in that exercise class that I’ve been thinking about for years, but never thought I could fit in. I ditched the traditional office look and made the space inspiring and beautiful so that I looked forward to going to work and think creatively about my work. Most importantly, I realized that it’s easy to stay in the box of the traditional way of working, but when we open our mind to new ideas in how we can create our own success, the sky is the limit of what we can accomplish.

Check out Cynthia’s beautiful new line of dresses and accessories at www.CynthiaRowley.com.

The Dreaded Salary Negotiations: Three Things You Can Do to Up Your Game

Job applicants having interview

The September issue of Marie Claire magazine included a collection of helpful articles on what working women can do to close the wage gap.  Featuring input from the New York Times columnist Jessica Bennett’s newest book “Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual,” the article outlines some sobering statistics on the wage gap between men and women, but more interestingly, some things you can do to negotiate more effectively for yourself.
So let’s start with the facts.  According to the article, the Census Bureau still estimates that women still earn $0.79 for every dollar that men make.  A 2016 Survey Monkey report cited that 55% of women vs. 45% of men say they have never asked for a raise. Finally, a Carnegie Mellon University study found that when offered a job, 57% of the men asked for more money but only 7% of the women did.  Shocking, but what do we do about it?
We have to learn to advocate for ourselves and understand the right time to do it.  Bennett recommends that when negotiating, cite your specific accomplishments, but tie it back to the team to show a collaborative approach.  Don’t compromise quickly and take the first offer on the table and don’t relate your ask to your personal needs.
In my experience as a Human Resources Leader and learning to negotiate on my own behalf, I know how hard this can be on both sides.  In over 20 years of talking to hundreds of women about negotiating their salaries, from CEOs of large public companies to women entering the workforce, I have never talked to one who enjoyed advocating for themselves.  Companies have budgets they are charged with managing and we hate having to ask for something that should be so evident that we deserve. So how do we do it?
I encourage women to know the facts, be aware of the timing of when they should negotiate and practice their salary pitch.  Here are some tips to help with your salary negotiations:
Know the facts:  There are plenty of resources available to get salary data on what jobs pay.  Salary.com and Indeed are two easy to access free websites for job seekers and employers which provide salary data based on job title.  Use these resources as a baseline of what market pay for the role is.  Negotiating with the facts and your accomplishments can help to support your request and give you the confidence that your request is reasonable.
Timing:  I always recommend that the best time to negotiate salary is at the time of hire or promotion.  Communicate your ask by saying “this is my targeted salary that I am looking for in the new role.”  If the salary comes up short, don’t be afraid to ask if they can get closer to your desired amount, split the difference or as Bennet says be reviewed in six months for an increase.  If you are waiting for the next merit increases at work, set the stage early with your boss that given your accomplishments or added responsibilities you would like to have a discussion at your review about a higher salary. Tell your boss in advance that your salary goal is x and how can he/she help you to achieve this if your performance continues to excel?
Practice Your Pitch:  Lastly, don’t forget to practice your pitch before you ask.  Since these conversations are typically uncomfortable, it’s important to script out what you will say and how you will respond to the push back.  Avoid having these conversations on the fly (unless the timing is right and you are ceasing an opportunity) and don’t have them when you are emotionally run down.
The reality is just like anything else, you get better with practice, so learn to negotiate in small steps and use every opportunity to negotiate as an opportunity to not only achieve your goals, but to up your game.

Working Women Wardrobe Pieces Nordstroms Halogen Line

While shopping for my kids back to school outfits, I couldn’t help but wander to the women’s section to see what was new for fall.  Always looking for basics that I can use for work and transition to my life wardrobe, I fell for these great pieces from Nordstrom’s Halogen line!  Modern with a little edge, moderately priced and well made, these are easy pieces to say yes to.

Halogen Asymmetrical Zip Pencil Skirt:

http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/halogen-asymmetrical-zip-pencil-skirt-regular-petite/4218110?origin=keywordsearch-personalizedsort&fashioncolor=BURGUNDY%20STEM

Halogen Merino Blend Cardigan:

http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/halogen-merino-blend-long-cardigan/4258303?origin=keywordsearch-personalizedsort&fashioncolor=GREY%20DARK%20HEATHER

Halogen Belted Short Wool Blend Coat:

http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/halogen-belted-short-wool-blend-coat-regular-petite/4258042?origin=keywordsearch-personalizedsort&fashioncolor=BURGUNDY%20STEM

The 4 Best Lessons I Learned When I Made Myself Leave Work at 5PM

Earlier this week, I came across this article by Richard Moy about managing work schedules on http://www.workingmother.com and thought it was a great one to share:

http://www.workingmother.com/4-best-lessons-leaving-work-5-pm-daily#page-5

I, like many of us find it difficult to “leave the office at 5”, even though I know that I will be responding to emails in the evening and before I go back into the office in the morning.  Even on days where there are specific times that I have to pick up my kids, I still struggle with giving myself permission or feel ready to “leave” the office.

Here are 4 great take aways from the article to help manage your time:

1To get out of the office at a set time every day, you must be intentional about your schedule.

That means having enough structure around meetings, work time and email to get it all done in the day.  Take a step back and look at how and when you need to use your time.  I try to avoid conference calls in the first hour of my day to allow me to work on key deliverables. Schedule calls or appointments in blocks and when you can, ensure that the last call ends at least 30 minutes before you have to leave to be more efficient and avoid the stress of running late.

2.  To leave at 5, you have to get more done during the day.

Think strategically about when you are most productive and schedule your uninterrupted brain power for those times.  Avoid distractions like checking email constantly. A woman I met on a recent flight talked about how to be more efficient with email including checking email every hour vs. every five minutes or when they flash up on your screen. Ensure that you complete the action with the email once it’s opened (delete, store or respond). We lose a lot of time each day if we are constantly jumping from one thing to another and not finishing what we start. Set rules that you live by to maximize your time.

3.  The World Won’t Come Crashing Down if You Leave Something for Tomorrow

While we all know that work deadlines need to be met, it’s the self-imposed deadlines that add the extra pressure and drag us down. Few things are as urgent as we actually make them. Know when you really need to get it done today and avoid obsessing over the nice to haves that can really wait until tomorrow.

4.  Make the Best Out of the Time for You.

It’s amazing how much better we can feel when we have that extra time to get away from work. Thirty more minutes each day can make a big difference to be there for your family or to just detune and recharge for the next day. Setting limits around your schedule is not a sign of lack of dedication to your job, it’s a clear signal that you have commitments outside of the office too.

Accessorizing with Adorn 512

adorn-combo

I’m always looking for pretty little things that I can add to my jewelry and accessories collection. I especially love items that I can wear to work and in my casual wardrobe as well.  I discovered jewelry designer Dana Mitchell’s line Adorn 512 when I was shopping at a boutique in Geneva, Illinois and I purchased her initial necklaces.  It turns out Dana is from Chicago and has an online boutique where you can find many amazingly dainty and unique necklaces, earrings and charms to add to your collection.    I recently bought some pieces that I have been wearing non stop in many different ways.  Check out Dana’s collection and shop local!

Talking Balance at the Finish Line

I recently had the opportunity to present to the leadership team of The Finish Line on “5 Keys to Managing Your Work Life Balance & Create Career Success.” Melissa Greenwell, the Company’s progressive EVP & COO recognizes the need to support their employees not only in their role in the workplace, but also in their role outside of the workplace as a parent, spouse, and individuals who want to have a balanced life. The Finish Line believes that to invest in their employees, they must go beyond giving competitive pay and benefits and create an environment where employees can be successful.

They have done this by rolling out progressive PTO (paid time off) policies that shift the responsibility to the employee to manage their time off in a way that gives them more flexibility, but still requires them to meet their role expectations. They are training their leaders to develop skills to manage their balance more effectively, so that they can thrive both in their career and personal lives.

The “5 Keys to managing work life balance and create career success” is all about learning to develop a plan and using tools to manage our balance so that we can better integrate work with life. It’s about putting the control back in our hands to create what balance looks like for us. But how do we do this?

Here’s a look at the 5 keys things that can change the way you manage your balance:

Establish your goals: Start by setting clearly defined goals for your career and personal life togetherto ensure that they are aligned and will make you feel satisfied. Achieving that next career step or financial goal will only make you happy if you can do that and still have a life in the meanwhile. Balance goals can be as simple as being there for your child’s sports activities, three hours of workout time a week or time for your hobby. Defining these goals helps us to create a path to achieve them.

Develop a work life balance plan inside and outside of work: Your work life balance plan creates a road map of how you will achieve your balance goals. The plan should include what you are going to do, when, and how you are going to make it happen. Scheduling time for balance activities is one of the biggest challenges. I encourage people to schedule balance activities just like a work meeting. Know your most productive times at the office or outside of the office. Schedule your time to get your work done in those times to be out of the office when you need to. Hold yourself accountable to the plan just like you would at work and see how you need to adjust over time.

Establish Cardinal Rules: In today’s age of technology and working from anywhere, it’s especially hard to set boundaries around our personal time. Set rules to live by to ensure that you protect your time so that you can refresh, recharge and have time for what’s important to you.   Is it setting up a no iPhone zone during meal times? No email from 6-9 pm in the week or a “no cancel rule” for things that you will regret if you miss? Set rules that you need to live by and do your best to enforce them.

Practice Self Care: All too often I hear stories of people being burned out, worn out and stressed out. Practicing self-care is not only important for your well-being, it’s a huge part of your success formula personally and professionally. Example of self-care include getting good sleep and engaging in activities that recharge you and help to reduce stress. Sleep is at the top of the list as it creates energy, clarity of thought and actually restores your brain’s cells. Identify the care tools you need to stay on track physically and emotionally. Use these tools to help you recharge and be better both in and out of the office.

Build Your Team: Just like the best sports team or top organizations, I believe that we need a team around us to support our success. Who are those individuals you can tap into for career advice or that demonstrate good balance? What resources can you make part of your team to ensure that you get the time for you? Who are good role models that inspire you to achieve your goals personally and professionally? Put these people together and you have established a great support system for you.

Investing in yourself and feeling good about having a plan that works for you can be rewarding both professionally and personally. If you would like to learn more about these tools either for yourself or to share with your company, contact me at chicagoworkingowomen@gmail.com.

Moving Beyond Balance

 

This week I had the opportunity to join a panel discussion put on by Women Employed  about the state of balance in the workplace and the challenges women face meeting the demands of work and life. Women Employed www.womenemployed.com is a Chicago based not for profit foundation with a powerhouse board of directors and team focused on improving conditions for women to thrive in the workplace.

Moderated by Anne Ladky, Executive Director and Board Member of Women Employed, the conversation explored how we get beyond talking about “how tos” of balance and move to creating conditions for employees to thrive in the workplace and in their personal lives. While the panel discussed the harsh reality that we still don’t do enough for women in the workplace, I walked away inspired to think about how we as leaders invoke the conversation in our workplaces that we must do more.

This is a complex challenge. I know all too well as a business leader myself that remaining competitive is a number one priority to businesses in this economic environment. This task is so consuming that we oftentimes forget to continue the conversation of what we can do in the workplace to make it a better place to work for our employees. Human Resource Departments are facing double digit increases on their medical plans and pressures to find ways to reduce cost. Proposing more paid time off can be challenging, especially in environments where coverage is difficult to schedule.

I believe businesses and leadership teams don’t have all the answers. Women, oftentimes have the best and most creative ideas, but they struggle to propose them to their companies in fear that it will appear as though they will be shot down or viewed as if they can’t meet the commitments of their jobs. It’s hard enough to speak confidently about needing flex time or rescheduling a meeting because it’s too early in the morning, how will they change the way their companies operate?

Here’s how. Let’s open up the conversation at work. Leaders, let’s remind our employees that we need their ideas to make it a great workplace where working moms (and working parents) can thrive. Let’s treat this as a business problem, not a nice to have new benefit, because business problems get solved, but new benefits get put on hold when there’s pressure to hit numbers.

Human Resource Leaders, integrate work life balance needs into your strategy to attract and retain employees. Find best in class policies and practices from companies like yours to get ideas. Empower a committee of employees at your companies to come up with their recommendations in how we can accommodate work life balance needs. Take small steps that are not costly if the big steps can’t get approved yet and communicate the successes to the leadership team.

Women, let’s shift the conversation. Bring your recommendations to the workplace in how we can do things better. Your ideas matter. In this age of technology, our workdays are no longer 8-5, so stop feeling guilty about requesting adjustments to work schedules, or declining that 7:30 a.m. meeting because you are getting your kids ready for school. I would kindly remind you that men rarely give a reason why they can’t attend a meeting, so suggest a new time that works for you and move on to your next business issue.

Clearly, these are steps, not solutions, but it will take a lot of steps, effort and commitment from us all to get there. Thank you Women Employed and panelists, Iliana Mora, COO oat Erie Family Health Center and Women Employed Board member, Susan Lambert, University of Chicago Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration and Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune journalist and author of the column “I Just Work Here” for a thought provoking conversation in how we can do more to move beyond balance.