The Empowered Parent (Volume 2)

This edition of the empowered parent is brought to you by the phenomenal women in my digital neighborhood.  I mention a few here. 

Personal: Let me preface this recommendation by saying I am not a photographer, and I'm a novice at meditation but I am in awe of what Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick does. She helps parents refocus and become more mindful through photography. I love this post on her blog where she talks about leading from within. "Now, more than ever, we all need to step forward as leaders in our own lives." Couldn't. Agree. More. 

Practical: February was a big month for me on The Broad Experience podcast (two episodes in one month)! In this episode, I speak with host Ashley Milne Tyte about the importance of delegation and how hard it is for many of us to do it. (Myself included.) 

Professional: How to Close a Gender Gap: Let Employees Control Their Schedules. The title of this article almost says it all and I couldn't agree more. It also features a new platform for flex work called WERK. Co-founded by the phenomenal Annie Dean.  Werk is one of many companies finding and promoting opportunities for women to work on schedules that complement their lives. 

(Bonus: In last week's The Broad Experience mini-show I talk about the possible impact of caregiving on career. I talk about specifically about taking family leave, how to plan for a successful return and my work with the Center for Parental Leave Leadership. 

Partnership: Partnership refers to all the sources of support in your life. I feel fortunate to have friends who feel like family. They help me get through this working and parenting thing in one piece. My first mom friend ever is like family now. (xoJ) We are there for each other through the tantrums, the jobs losses and gains, and the daily grind.  This piece in this edition of Tue/Night showcases a number of close friendships and the many ways these women support each other. Tue/Night is edited by the brilliant Margit Detweiler

Parenting: Love the New Normal (Parenting in Hard Times) I never thought I'd be talking to my 7 and 4-year-old children about white nationalism, having to explain bans and swastikas.  I was so proud to take my daughter with me to the Women's March but was taken aback when she asked me to explain why some people were carrying pictures of hangers. I tried to do so in the most child-friendly way I knew how. This new normal has changed the game for me as a parent. My friend Magda does a wonderful job at finding the silver lining in this article. 

Political: There are so many ways to get involved politically right now and no better time to speak up for your values. It can feel overwhelming at times. The site 5 calls a day simplifies activism in a way that many busy parents can appreciate.

#truth

#truth

The Empowered Parent (Volume 1)

I have recently been contacted by dozens of clients, colleagues, and friends who share my passion for culture change and wanted to become more informed and involved in the fight to support working parents. My goal as a practitioner is to help you feel empowered and inspired to make personal, professional and political change. I have always used the 5Ps (Personal, Professional, Parenting, Partnership, and Practical) to help parent clients manage their overwhelm. Now I am adding one more P to the mix_ Political. Every two weeks, I'll post a series of interesting articles about each of these areas and a link to an article or organization that is fighting for the advancement of family-friendly policies and practices. 

ProfessionalHiding in the Bathroom Podcast, Leading as an Introvert. On this episode of her Forbes Podcast host (and one of my favorite people) Morra Aarons-Mele, talks to the Blogher CEO Lisa Stone about how to lead confidently as an introvert. 

PracticalThe Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down. "I'm the one who notices..." Research shows that more often than not it's working moms who think about what needs to be done at home. Author Lisa Wade, suggests that the burden of household responsibilities should be more evenly split between the sexes "and when they are," Wade says, "I expect to be inspired by what (women) put their minds to."

PartnershipHow the ‘Dining Dead’ Got Talking Again I'm not sure why this modern love piece about a marriage that was saved by a bird feeder appealed to me. It's a great reminder to find simple ways to reconnect with a partner.  

Parenting:  Living with Children: Your kids should not be the most important This was a hard article to get my head around. My children's happiness is typically top of mind but now, in light of the current political climate, I found this reframe helpful. "The most important thing about children is the need to prepare them properly for responsible citizenship...The primary objective is to raise a child such that community and culture are strengthened."

Political: I took the pic above when I attended the We Won't Wait 2016 Summit in September. Visit the site to find out more about the organizations behind it, all committed to elevating the voices of women from all racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. They are calling for a policy agenda that promotes economic security and communities that thrive. Add your name to the individual pledge, (written before the election)  and commit to it: "I will use my voice and my power to fight for a comprehensive economic agenda that spells real change on all the issues that are important to me and my family. I won’t wait for real change any longer." Amen to that. 

Work-life conflict: Finding a way to "breathe again"

After over eight years coaching senior executives through the transition to parenthood, I thought I heard it all. I’ve coached project managers, architects, accountants, creative directors, SVPs of finance and law firm partners.

My job as a coach was to help clients create their own solutions for work and life. Many seemed to feel the illusion of balance was key to their success. I could imagine them, perfectly polished and put together, stepping into a conference room or closing their office blinds to take our call. Admitting difficulty seemed unthinkable at first, and conversations often started out stilted. “Everything’s good....my baby is fine....work is busy.” Sometimes the first sound that would break the professional veneer would be the woosh-woosh of the breast pump. Then the flood of desperation.

“I feel like I can’t breathe,” said one.  

“I’m losing my hair from the stress,” said another.  

“I’m expected to give 150 % at home and 150% at work. I can’t do either.”

“I can’t do this. I don’t know how anyone else does.”

“I can’t keep up and everyone knows it.”

I thought I knew exactly how hard it was for even the most experienced professionals, to lead at work and to manage their lives at home. Until I joined a tech startup.

My coaching work has always been about helping parents find strength to move their careers forward while navigating a broken system. Several years ago, I felt policy change and corporate practice were moving too slowly, and I became impatient. Too many highly educated women were dropping out of the workforce because they lacked they support they needed at work AND at home. As one mom said, “I should be one of the lucky ones. I have a good education, I work in a field that is fulfilling and has high earning potential, my husband is willing and eager to participate in the parenting roles. And still, we find ourselves shaking our heads, thinking it shouldn't have to be this hard.”

I wanted to venture out.  I wanted to solve this for my daughter’s generation. I wanted to create a solution that would help all parents feel like they could breathe again. So, over three years ago, I combined forces with another local mom, a high-powered advertising executive with a seven-year-old, who shared my impatience.

We started out as a think tank and later designed an app to solve working parent conflict. Meanwhile, I continued to coach and consult to earn my living. I was working early mornings, nights, weekends, while acting as the default parent to my two kids then 3 and 6. My business partner was the primary breadwinner, and her spouse was the go-to parent in their dynamic.  We saw the app we were building as an individualized solution; a way for each working parent to get some support to manage life at home. It was the same support that I desperately needed without a full-time caregiver, family nearby or funds to afford a support staff.

We wanted to simulate what  economist Heather Boushey called the former pillar of the American business world “who was once integral to profitability, but now no longer exists in the American economy--the wife.” Current work culture is based on the idea that there is someone at home, a trusted provider who could take care of all that it takes to run a family, so the working person could focus on work and quality time with their kids. We helped one mom coordinate backup childcare for her sick daughter, so she wouldn’t have to miss work and put her three-week-old job in jeopardy. We helped one single mom of two research affordable summer camps for her twin teen sons, and another organize her family’s meals during a week packed with late meetings. In addition to the tangible help we provided, and perhaps just as significant, was the emotional support and feedback we offered. We became a cheering section for parents like one mom of two young kids who said she felt so stressed she didn’t think she could make it through her biggest professional week to date.

Creating 24/7 solutions came at a personal cost to me. I never believed the startup would mean that I’d soon have work-life imbalance stories to rival those of my clients in corporate America. But it happened. My hair started falling out. Coffee became my life force in a way that it hadn’t since early in my parenting days. New ailments starting coming up out of nowhere--one stomach issue landed me in the ER. The efforts of my cofounder and I were documented and made into a four-part series for the WNYC podcast Note to Self. So, there’s really no way to avoid revealing that everything I thought I knew about balancing work and life went out the window while fighting to create an app that was supposed to help restore work-life balance.

The experience of working to launch the app reinforced the message I have conveyed to clients for years: work-life integration is about making tough choices and advocating for yourself. I had to take a hard look at my own life and make the choice that best fulfilled my personal objectives, played to my strengths and didn’t drive me and my family insane. I made a chose to focus on the areas that I could have the most impact: work-life coaching and training while reinforcing systemic change with the Center for Parental Leave Leadership.

When it comes to managing work life boundaries, sometimes narrowing priorities and renewing focus on your unique areas of strength is an act of self-care. 

Work-Life Conflict & Women in the Workplace

Early in my career, I was invited to a women’s retreat that was meant to teach me how to be a leader. It was organized by prominent feminist writers and held in an upstate New York farmhouse. I sat in my pajamas alongside a diverse group of women. We drank wine, ate chocolate, and talked about how to our envision careers and dominate the workplace. I was one of the youngest women in the group, barely twenty-two. As I sipped my chardonnay, I checked myself to make sure I was holding the glass correctly. My tuition was subsidized by my first male boss, who thought I could benefit from coaching. I knew and respected these women and I remembered quoting them frequently in my papers on women’s psychology in college freshman year. I prepared for inspiration.

I got binders full of instructions and attended workshop after workshop on negotiation, financial management, and networking. While I can’t remember specifics, the message was clear: If you want to succeed as a woman at work, there is a recipe and we have it. At the end of the weekend, each participant was asked to formally present her professional goals to the group with pride, unbridled ambition and assuredness. At that age, I found the message unfamiliar, inauthentic and really uncomfortable. When it was my turn to stand in front of the nonworking fireplace and give my pitch, I froze and teared up. The organizers were not sympathetic. I saw the annoyance and impatience on their faces. Maybe it was just my insecurity, but it seemed that the elders had spoken and I was not yet poised to break the glass ceiling. One attempt to console me was most direct. “It’s ok. You’ll learn how to do it our way later on.” The reality was that their advice was not wrong, it just didn’t resonate with me at the time. It stung that they weren’t able to realize that while I wasn’t ready to act their way, I still had plenty to say. As much respect as I had for these women, they made it clear that I didn’t fit their mold of a women leader.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen new research about the obstacles faced by both olderand younger women in the workplace. What’s rarely talked about is the relationship between these two cohorts. While we’d hope that “ ‘women helping women”‘ would be a shared rallying cry, our own experiences with mothers or sisters remind us that’s not always the reality. So how do women of different generations relate to each other at work? And what can we do to prevent a generation gap, especially at such a crucial time in the cultural conversation? It’s time to explore how women of all ages are impacting the advancement of other women into leadership roles at work and in public life, and what we can do about it.

When Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright spoke disparagingly of young womencampaigning for Bernie, I remembered how I felt when one of those prominent feminists patted me on shoulder dismissively.

At the recent rally, iconic women with life experience and battle scars, wanted to tell the next generation what they should believe and why they were too naive to realize it. In contrast, younger women resented what they interpreted as condescension. In a recent NYT article, “Why Sexism at the Office Makes Women Love Hillary Clinton,” Jill Filipovic encapsulated the conflict well. “The mothers-versus-daughters narrative... is particularly pronounced now, and tinged with stereotypes on both sides. The idealistic but ungrateful naïfs who think sexism is a thing of the past... are seemingly battling the pantsuited old scolds prattling on about feminism.” Filipovic goes on to discuss how women’s experience in life and work can radicalize them and make them more open to feminism as an organizing principle.

I have been coaching executive women through the transition to parenthood for almost seven years. Filopovic is right. Experiences at work can transform women’s experience of womanhood. They are hardened by the harsh realities of inequality in the workplace, realities that are often improved or exacerbated by messages they get from more senior women. In my client base, nearly 70% of the women who have gotten negative feedback from their manager about career management post- kids get it from women who raised kids while building their career decades ago. On the flip side, I hear younger employees writing off their manager’s experiences as the harsh advice from an embittered woman who sacrificed the life she wanted in her efforts to get ahead.

When one client told her boss she was pregnant, her female boss (with grown children) put her head in her hands. She then told her that to succeed, she would need a chef, a nanny, and a maid. If the employee didn’t, her boss warned, she would endanger her future at the firm. On another occasion, I told a baby boomer head of HR that the flex policy she wanted me to recommend wasn’t being taken seriously by employees. “Right” she said, “because all of the women who take it are losers.”

As soon as another one of my clients came back from family leave, her boss doubled her workload. When she had trouble keeping up with the work and a newborn at home, she was put on probation. Her boss said she had given her an opportunity to prove her potential and she’d failed. The client told me that it seemed the only way to succeed was to live as unhappy a life as she believed her supervisor had.

There are some indisputable truths neither generation wants to acknowledge. Younger generations would not be where we are without women like Hillary and Madeline. On the other hand, many of the experiences of modern motherhood and pressures of a 24/7 work culture didn’t exist when their kids were young. By dismissing these differences as cosmetic or inconsequential we allow them to be divisive.

Women need to bridge the generational divides around leadership. Our experiences will never directly parallel the others’. Conflicting and unspoken assumptions put us all at risk. We risk losing top young talent in positions of leadership at work. We risk losing ground on the progress that previous generations of women have fought for and won.

If you have a story to share about your own workplace experience, I want to hear it.