I am home today with my four-year-old son, who has a terrible hacking cough. Poor guy, every 10 seconds he’s coughing. He’s miserable and I am home with him, attending to his needs and sitting next to him as he struggles with the constant coughing. He’s fine, he’ll be fine, but today he doesn’t feel good and he needs his mommy by his side.
And because I am the CEO of my company, I can be. But also because I am the CEO of my company, I have to deal with the fact that this week is the last week of our fiscal year, and there are deadlines to be met and decisions to be made. Deadlines and decisions that only I can make and meet.
And I’m home today with my four-year-old.
Not because I have to be, but because I choose to be. And not just because I am the CEO.
I’m home with my son today because I want the women who work for me to do the exact same thing.
I want them to see my choice and make it for themselves. Because I believe that those of us women who can make these choices and decide not to only do our cohort a disservice: we speak about work/life balance but don’t take any action toward it.
And I think that nothing will change until we put action to our “Lean In” principles.
Nothing will change until we create companies where we don’t just say it’s OK to be with your kid but we actually do it.
Because there are a lot of companies that say they want to help their employees, men and women alike, achieve work/life balance. But when the boss stays until midnight and take two weeks of maternity leave, nothing will change.
I worked for such a company myself, years ago. A good-natured, quality company that honestly cared about its employees. But for this company, offering work/life balance for its female employees meant that “halftime” was 40 hours a week with no true path to promotion. The reality was the women who took that road were never going to get anywhere at the firm. Everyone knew that. It was unspoken but true. These women were earning a paycheck, but they’d been taken out of the true game. They were off the track. Or, worse, they were on the dreaded “Mommy Track”.
As a 21-year-old woman at the start of my career with a brand new baby at home, this terrified me.
That is not work/life balance, so just call it what it is: you either work your hours or you don’t get far.
At least be authentic about it.
It’s the fact that we haven’t picked a lane on this issue that has gotten us stuck. And gotten the women of my generation, and of my daughter’s, confused as to what they should do with their careers.
This situation is not going to change just by women deciding they either want a “career” to which they need to sacrifice every hour of every day, or, a “job” with little growth, but more flexibility. More “work/life balance”.
This will only change when women create companies where a person doesn’t have to make this false choice.
Where a woman can have both a thriving career and the real actionable flexibility of being there with her children when they need her. For a sick day, for a doctor’s appointment, for a parent-teacher conference. In the afternoon for the hours before bedtime when homework is done and the day is discussed. You know, being a mom in real life.
My team and I are committed to making our company and example of that. In real life, in real ways, every day.
It starts with ME making sure that, when a member of my staff has a kiddo with a fever and emails me early in the morning telling me that she’s not going to be able to work that day, on a big, busy day at our company, instead of giving her trouble, or a curt “fine” response, giving her some advice as to how to care for the sick baby and telling her I will check on her later just to see how the baby is.
And then actually checking.
It starts with me only hiring managers who believe strongly that being a mom is a fantastic pre-cursor to being a great employee. Who multitasks better than a mom? Who pays attention to detail better than a mom?
It starts with me frowning upon long hours worked, rather than rewarding or admiring them.
And by rewarding efficiency and skill and leaving by 5pm because badassed-ness gets her work done so she can leave on time, damn it.
It starts with me firing managers who do not truly, at their core, believe that supporting their people is the most important thing, rather than just hitting numbers.
It starts with me being excited at the chance to temporarily juggle workloads and assignments to cover a maternity leave, rather than being upset, stressed or irritated about it. Because if I really feel that in my gut, my staff will feel it too. And they will feel supported and safe and want to stay at our company.
And if they stay, then their work gets better and better and their efficiency and skill set goes through the roof. And then they have friends who decide they want to work with us too. And before long, we are more profitable than any of our competitors and and we are a sisterhood to boot. A place we all want to be every day to grow. In our careers.
It starts with all of us believing that choosing between all or nothing is a false choice and we don’t have to make it.
But, more than that, it starts with those of us who make the rules at our companies creating this culture of true work/life balance, for moms, dads and employees not raising children. Everyone deserves to have a job they love and a life they enjoy, too.
Until we create those companies, work/life balance is just some bullshit line we all throw around. Those of us who make the rules have to live them, too.
It starts with me, at home with my coughing four-year-old, closing out my fiscal year and deciding I don’t have to choose between being Mom or CEO. I can be both at the same time.