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.

The Art of Traveling Fashionably Light

Over the years traveling in an international HR role, I’ve always been on the lookout for those great tips to lighten my load, organize my travel gear and look good on the road. Always observant at airports on the latest gear, I’m never afraid to ask another fellow traveler how she does it.

On a recent trip with my fashionista and organizer extraordinaire sister-in-law Dawn, I learned a few tips on the art of traveling fashionably light that were too good not to share. We teamed up to give our best ideas to all of you:

Lighten your Load:

Investing in the right carry on can make the world of difference in getting around. Dawn recommends the Tumi International Carry on for the lightweight and ability to expand. If you travel at large airports, consider a 4 roller so you can push or pull and make sure you don’t exceed the 21” travel size when you buy one. Tumi outlets (yes they exist!) are a great place to maximize your dollars and buy the best quality available.

Choose the right briefcase or tote that works for you. I like a bag that is big enough to let me insert my handbag to meet the 2 bag max, fits under an airline seat, but is light enough so it doesn’t give me an instant travel headache from the strain in my shoulders when it’s full. I have the Tory Burch York Buckle tote in camel which fits the bill. I always carry a charger in my tote and an extra set in my luggage for back up.

TBTote

 

 Maximize Space:

Roll your non-hanging clothing items to maximize space and prevent wrinkles. Wear your bulkier pieces like blazers or sweaters you need to pack on the plane to free up space in your bag.

Travel light

Accessorize your Travel: 

Invest in an oversized wrap that you can wear on your travels and doubles as a wrap to keep you warm in the drafty plane. Dawn’s favorite is her Louis Vuitton Monaco Square shown below. Timeless and elegant. I like anything 100% two ply cashmere as it won’t wrinkle. Nordstroms has a great selection of wraps in their accessories department and for those willing to bargain hunt, check out TJ Maxx.

LVMonaco

Pick a color scheme for your outfits on your trips and let your accessories add the pop of color interest. Build your outfits around neutrals – black, white, beige, navy or gray. Pack versatile pieces that you can combine into multiple outfits. I always bring an additional black cardigan in case I get stuck an extra day.

Organize your Toiletries:

Ditch the Ziplocs and invest in the Sephora Travel on the Go 3 oz. toiletry pouch. More sturdy, see through and holds a bit more. For $4.95 these are well worth it. I now keep an extra on hand.  Bring your favorite scent along without dragging the large bottles. Atomizers fit perfectly in your pouch and are easy to fill instead of taking the whole bottle along. This affordable atomizer from Nordstroms for $6 and was part of my holiday gift for my girlfriends who are on the go.

Sephorabag.jpg

atomizer

For international travel, I always bring an extra medical pouch in case I get sick on the road, which includes cough drops, a decongestant, Dramamine, Advil, band aids, and a packet of chicken soup. Dawn makes sure she takes Emergen-C Vitamin C packs regularly before and while traveling.

Traveling can be grueling but when you take off prepared it’s always an easier trip.

Ditching Perfection

“You are a perfectionist.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. The coach that I had been working with identified this new title on my resume that I didn’t even realize I had been working towards. Why is it that she saw it right away, but all of these years, I was blind to it? Always striving to be better, detail oriented and driven to get it right. Being a perfectionist helped me to get this far, but I didn’t know the value that it would bring me to ditch perfection in the next phase in my career and personal life.

As I sat back to reflect, I saw it everywhere. The very things that made me good were the very things that would hold me back if I didn’t figure out how to let it go. As women, we have a tendency to think that we have to do it all and be it all. Thrive in our careers, be the perfect mother, age gracefully and look good all the time. How much time had I wasted on perfection all these years and what would I gain back if I used that time to focus on how much more I could fit in if I let perfection go?

I know I’m not alone. Our society feeds this dynamic, but somehow, women tend to succumb more than men. A recent article by Jessica Bennett, contributing columnist at the New York Times and contributing editor of the Lean In Foundation states that “research shows that women are more likely than men to be perfectionists. The perfectionist behavior can hold women back from answering a question, applying for a new job, asking for a raise until they’re absolutely 100 percent sure we can predict the outcome.”  Sound familiar?

I set out on a secret mission to figure out how to balance perfection to a more manageable state. At work, I started setting limits to ensure I wasn’t spending too much time to make it exactly right and letting it go when things didn’t come out perfect. I moved on quicker when mistakes happened because even the best business leaders make mistakes, but they get smarter from it. I started delegating more to the team and empowered them to own the final result.

On a personal level, I accepted that my house wasn’t going to be as organized as the Jones’ and that that pile on the kitchen counter may get smaller or larger, but it may not go away. I limited my intake on magazines and articles that featured that perfect unattainable image of the women I would never be and I took on new personal mantras like “I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got.” Very quickly, it felt liberating and exciting to see the potential of an imperfect future, as I realized how much more I could accomplish and how much better it felt.

As working women juggling it all, we owe it to ourselves to strive to be our best, but redefining our best and how we achieve it without the pressure of perfection may be the perfect solution to a better you. Send me your strategies to ditch perfection at chicagoworkingwomen@gmail.com and I’ll share them on my blog.

5 Tips to Manage Workload Stress During the Holidays

We’ve all experienced it, the holidays sneak up on us before we know it. Many times, that’s also crunch time to get year-end projects done and rush to the finish line to close out the year strong. Add to this our holiday “to do” list of presents, cards, parties and more. It starts out fun, but can wind up stressful in a hurry. Here are 5 tips to manage your way through to lower stress in the holidays:

Reset your priorities: Now is a good time to take a look at your top deliverables to get done at work and at home before year end. Write out your list for both to see the whole picture, so that you can be realistic with your time management for both. Sometimes everything can seem like a priority. Now’s the time to pare it down and take it off the list until January if you can, or simplify the task where possible to ensure you get it done.

Flex your schedule: Modify your schedule to fit in the time you need to be extra productive at work and buy back time to get the holiday list done. Can you start an hour earlier at the office or stay an hour late to push project to close quicker? Schedule an hour of targeted holiday shopping online at lunch or hit the mall before the holiday parties or work meetings with a specific list that you can knock off each week. Find strategies that work for you and put them into action.

Power shop: Multi-tasking with gifts wherever possible can be a huge time saver. Find one great gift for friends that you can give to everyone and write a personal note to make it unique for each. Gift cards can be the right solution to cut out time. Who doesn’t love a gift card to Amazon, Sephora or ITunes? Make a list before you spend precious shopping time to so that you use your time and money wisely.

Find time for you: Instead of cutting out the things for you because you have no time, now is the time to do more to care for you and keep you going strong. Work in an extra power nap on the weekend to recharge, take a bath, fit in an extra workout to destress, or even a lunch by yourself to regroup. A little bit of recharge time can go a long way.

Ditch perfection: Give yourself permission that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Your best means you get it done right and on time, which isn’t always the best you have ever done. For those perfectionists out there (like me), this can be hard, but helpful to let it go so you can feel the satisfaction of getting it off the list.

Wishing all of you the best holiday season ever!

Women on the Fence

Four years ago, Erica Diamond, an entrepreneur, working mom and certified coach founded Women on the Fence, a women’s lifestyle blog that explores what we can do as women to live our lives fully.  Her message resonated quickly and powerfully with women around the world and today her business is growing in more ways than I can count. Why? Because as women trying to do it all, we get it. It’s hard and we need help. Help from others who have done it, help from our family, friends and others to figure it out.

I love her message and I love her spirit to help others. I submitted a guest blog to her site about the “Power of What If” and I’m excited to share with you that it was just published on her site on Friday! Exciting for sure, but more importantly, I hope that I can touch others with how if we all use the power of what if as one of our working women tools, we can do great things and not miss out on what we can become.

Thanks to Erica for sharing my message! Please check out her website at www.womenonthefence.comand you will see my blog.

A Working Mother’s Carry-On Luggage

carry-on-luggage

It was a Sunday afternoon and I was rushing around gathering the final items for my business trip. This  was going to be a long one. My girls were already dreading me being gone, scheming up ways to change my plans, crying tears of anticipatory sadness of those nights I wouldn’t be there to read with them and tuck them in to sleep, clinging to me for one more hug.

Although I’ve traveled my kids’ entire lives, and they are used to the routine, it hasn’t gotten a heck of a lot easier for them because any way you cut it, Mom’s gone. Skype, Facetime and cell phones help, but you can’t hug over a phone or computer. Despite my best routines and planning, it’s not always easy for me either. Mom-guilt is real and it can sneak up on you at your weakest moments. But like many Moms, I march on, try to stay positive, and work to make the best of our circumstances.

I lost track of the kids as I gathered my final items together and went out to the car. I looked around to find them to say good bye and they were nowhere in sight. I open the car door and suddenly there they were, tucked away on the floor, ready to come along. We laughed at the silliness of it all, and I did a quick good bye, which is always better for everyone, because I knew it would be a tough week.

This is the real story of career mothers like myself, who travel or work long hours, leaving behind the raw emotions of our kids, while wondering if we are doing the right thing. When we walk through the door at the office or join that meeting, we put our game face on, we redirect our energy and emotions and become great contributors and problem solvers at our companies.

Statistics show that companies need more women like us. Our instincts, attention to detail and empathy, combined with solid business skills, can help businesses thrive in the most difficult of times. We love what we do; and we love being parents.

I wish there was a pill we could take for Mom-guilt or a vitamin we could give our kids to make it better when we’re gone. The reality is, there is no magic solution. Over time, I have learned ways to manage through separation. I’ve become creative in talking about the adventure of the things I will see and the problems I will solve when I am gone. I focus on quality time before I leave or take on a big project; and I try to enjoy special times with them when things ease up. Most importantly, I try not to shut down my kids’ emotions when they are frustrated or sad, because this is real life for them.

Every time I pack for a trip, I realize it’s more than just my clothes that I bring along in my luggage. I also carry with me the plan to manage it all when I am gone. Sometimes the load is heavier and sometimes it’s lighter, but part of being a working mom is figuring it out. The best ideas that help me balance it all come from other working women like me who open up, share their vulnerabilities and realize that we’re all in this together. I’m glad I’m not traveling alone.

Making it Real- Jewelry Designer Dina Mackney

mackney

It was an unlikely Saturday. I was on my way to Neiman Marcus on a mission to exchange a gift I was given.  Unlikely, because I don’t shop at Neman’s frequently, but I love to see high fashion, in real life beyond my magazine pages to get ideas for my own style and wardrobe.

After I exchanged my handbag, I strolled on over to the jewelry department to check it out.  There was a small crowd near a counter with curious women checking out a trunk show for jewelry designer Dina Mackney.  I followed suit and quickly became entranced with the beautiful unique pieces of interchangeable pendants and necklaces-each one of them with their own story I would quickly learn.

Dina herself came to help me, as she saw my curiosity with a jade green glass pendant that I was trying on.  Her story of how she found the Italian glass she used on a trip to Italy led us to a conversation about traveling for work.  Although my global travels aren’t nearly as creative and inspiring, we instantly connected on a topic that we had in common-traveling for work with young children at home.

It turns out she’s just like us, trying to figure it out and balance the needs of her business with the needs of her family. She’s got to be where the action is to get the job done and build her brand globally, but it’s not easy.  While I couldn’t give her any design ideas, I could share my strategies and ideas to manage the challenges that travel has with kids at home.

I bought that necklace as a treat for myself, but it now has an even more interesting story behind it, the story of two working women navigating their careers, helping each other figure it out. Check out Dina’s amazing pieces at www.DinaMackney.com

Presence

Have you ever seen that woman at work who captures everyone’s attention?  She has that air of confidence when she talks and she commands a room when she’s in it. In meetings, she’s respected by both men and women, even if they don’t agree with her, because she has a way of delivering her message as business input, not opinions. She’s put together and she sits at the table in meetings.  She has presence.

There’s another woman that you see at the playground with her kids or the sports field at a game.  She’s engaged in their actions, she’s not on her phone checking her emails. She may not be on the swings or coaching, but she has a smile on her face watching her kids.  She has the same emails piling up and list of things that need to get done as the women next to her on her phone, but she knows that these windows of time are her chance to be there for her kids.  She has presence too.

There are very few words that can define something so critical to both your career and your work life balance, but presence is one of them. Presence is not something that we think a lot about, but we should. It’s a powerful skill and a key part of being an effective leader, but also can be used to make your work life balance successful and fulfilling.

For over twenty years as a Human Resources and business leader I have watched women with presence become successful.  Whether it’s in a job interview, delivering a sales pitch or participating in a meeting, they know that presence is part of their success and a skill that they must possess. I have been on the other side of conversations behind closed doors, where capable women have been overlooked because they don’t have it. Missed opportunities, dismissed for bigger jobs and not seen as capable as they truly are.  Lack of presence can stall your career.

Women who struggle to have balance in their personal lives lose precious time if they aren’t able to be present in the time that they do have for themselves and their family.  Being present can make one hour of time as meaningful as ten and can make you feel great about the time you do have in your personal life, not the time you don’t.

Presence is hard to create and takes constant work to keep, but interestingly, you have time to practice it every week in your job and personal life.  Here are three tips to develop your presence and make it a skill that you can put in your working women tool box:

  1. Tell a boss or trusted mentor that you are working on developing your presence.  What are some things that you can do to improve this skill?
  2. Look for women that demonstrate presence both inside and outside the workplace.  Ask them how they do it. Are there any mantras they use, rules they live by, classes they have taken or tips they can share?
  3. Practice presence.  With any skill, it gets better with repetition.  Work at it and you will see this skill develop.

Thank you to all of the women who show us what presence is all about.  You continue to pave the way and inspire working women like us to be the best we can be.

The Story of Ms. Ana- Passion, Purses, and the Pursuit of Balance

anaphoto-e1429670616111 hobophoto-e1429670780261I met Ms. Ana four years ago. It was a fluke that I found her. For years we lived in the same town; two women with a shared passion for making purses and accessories right down the street from each other. We probably crossed paths at Joanne’s Fabrics or the grocery store plenty of times over the years, but it was one fateful day that we finally met. I tracked her down after I saw her purses at a store where I was hosting my daughter’s birthday party. There they were on display, handmade like Vera Bradley with attention to detail that only an artisan could do. The storeowner told me that she was a local designer and she gave me her number.

The next day I called her and we set up a time to get together to talk about my “purse project.” Little did she know that this “project” had been on hold for years. I developed a passion for fashion and handbags back in high school when my best friend and I would study fashion magazines and spend our hard earned babysitting money on the latest clothes and accessories. I learned how to sew and eventually started creating my own accessories. I dreamed of having a second career in fashion with my own line of purses.

Then came marriage, career and two kids. My hobbies came to a screeching halt and dreams of handbags faded into the abyss. I, like many women couldn’t justify time away from the kids and family after working all day, so I put my hobbies and part of me on hold.

Sometimes along the way we get off track, we lose part of ourselves in the pursuit of family, career goals and not enough time in the day. As women, we tend to give these things up for our families and our careers at times when we need it the most.

However, I subscribe to never giving up, just like we tell our kids and friends. I think that every working woman should have a passion they pursue. Whether it’s a cause to support, a hobby, sport or a creative outlet. We all deserve something that breaks up the intensity of career and family demands. Something that feeds our soul and is just for us.

Most importantly, I encourage women to not only find things that feed their creative side, but be creative in how you find time to be creative. Never give up on things that you need for you.

It turns out that fateful day ignited my passion again. While I knew that my career would not be in the fashion world, I needed to do something that fulfilled me. Ms. Ana was the perfect find. My handbag sketches soon became reality and she helped me to bring my designs to life under a line I named Livelle.

Today, I design handbags and accessories for friends, charity events and as gifts for those around me. Ana is Ms. Ana to my kids, and they are often with me when I meet with her on my handbag projects. She even gives them sewing lessons so they too can learn to have hobbies they enjoy.

People often ask me how I have time be a mom, have a career and design handbags on top of it. It doesn’t feel like much of a feat to me, it feels like a necessity. How can I not?

Balancing When There Is No Balance

It’s been weeks since I have written a blog entry.  Aside from the holidays, life quickly got out of balance with work demands that blew up any chance of free time, much less an opportunity to sit in front of my computer with a clear and creative mind to write.

It’s happened before. We all get times where balance feels impossible, because there is nothing to balance when you are working all the time and spending whatever time is left caring for your family. If you are anything like me, you find yourself fighting it, feeling defeated that there is no time for me or the things I cherish the most.  That’s where we get stuck and I got stuck in December, until I realized one thing.  Maybe when there is no balance, I need to look for balance more than ever.

I need to recalibrate what balance looks like in the crazy times and accept that for a temporary period of time, less will have to be more and I will have to appreciate the small amounts of time that I can make for myself.  I need to reach out to get help and support because I can’t do it alone.  I need to decide what I can do and have during this temporary time until things settle down.

So, I did just that.  I moved into acceptance and put together a plan. I mapped out the coming weeks on a calendar so my husband and mother in law (who cares for our kids) knew realistically what my schedule was going to look like.  I settled on one small plan a day with my kids over the holiday break, as that was all that I could swing, and I tried to make it good and be present. Despite my guilt, I needed workout time more than ever to manage my stress and detune, so I went to the gym.  I took my dear friend’s advice and scheduled a hair appointment instead of canceling any time for me.  I put some commitments and hobbies on hold until I could get back on my feet.  It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

As my friend Cathy Adams, parenting coach, author and therapist says, this is self care. It’s what we tend to give up first when things get busy, but it’s what we need the most to get through the busiest of times. We deserve to be cared for and we have to care for ourselves.  For working women, self care is a key part of “working the work life balance”.

I know that I am not alone in this journey.  Sometimes, managing balance in the busiest of times is part of the work gig for all of us, but there is a solution and a plan out there that only we can put together for ourselves to get us through.   Instead of blowing up balance, balance more and don’t forget about you.  After all, you are worth it.