Sunday, September 30, 2007

Deciding to Have Children

I just read an article about making the decision to have children (see here). The article discussed several considerations including those that are financial, emotional and biological. The article also discussed the career-related considerations that particularly affect women.

While I know that women who want a career and a family obviously must think about how the responsibility of a child will mesh with their career progress, this article struck something with me. The article mentioned some women who didn’t have children because they didn’t see how it would fit in with their career. If women feel that they might have to forgo children in order to have a career, isn’t there something wrong in the world?

I know I did think about my career in deciding to have kids. I don’t think I thought seriously about kids until I was in graduate school. After I started my classes, I knew that I didn’t want to have kids until I made it through my classes. I knew that once I was working on my dissertation, I would have more flexibility to manage a baby.

However, I did not think about the long-term effects of children on my career. If I didn’t’ have children, I would likely be in a tenure track position at a university. Instead, I have pieced together a mish-mashed career of teaching, consulting and writing. However, instead of feeling like I gave up a career for kids, I feel that having kids motivated me to pursue a more interesting and fulfilling career path than I would have otherwise.

So while I in no way advocate jumping into parenthood without a thought, I do believe we think too much about finding the right time to have children. There is no right time. I think you should have kids when you want, and then figure out how to make your career work around them.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Virtual Conference

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I am speaking at an upcoming virtual conference. The Momference starts live on Monday and looks like an interesting venture. I have been impressed with the preparations to date and I am curious to see how it goes.
This idea of utilizing technology to provide more people access to learning opportunities seems like a unique approach to solving the problems some may face with keeping their skills sharp. If you can participate in a conference from the convenience of your home, I would think you would be more likely to do so.

This conference still has a cost ($127 to participate in the live version), but that seems pretty reasonable for a six day conference. Further, you don’t have to incur travel costs to participate. I doubt that there is anyone who will listen in on six full days of presentations, but I think that there should be enough available to make it worthwhile.

If you check it out, let me know what you think. I am involved on a panel that presents on Tuesday, October 2 at 4pm EST. I am going to try to listen in on some other sessions as well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Working Mother Magazine's Top 100

Working Mother Magazine has just released its’ Top 100 companies for working moms (see here). This annual list highlights companies who have policies, programs and benefits that support working moms. If you are searching for a family friendly company, this list is a good starting point for conducting your research.

Further, reading about what other companies are doing to make themselves more family friendly may give you some ideas of policies and programs that would be beneficial at your organization. For example, Wachovia offers women many networking opportunities so that women in the organization can connect and help support each other. Creating more networking opportunities such as luncheon meetings or a mentoring program is something that an organization can provide with little financial investment.

So the list and supporting information is worth a read. A reminder, however, on my earlier caution: the policies and benefits described for each of these companies are not necessarily available to all employees. If you pursue an opportunity with a company listed here, make sure you find out exactly what policies and benefits you will have access to in your particular job.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Kids Will Rule Your World

I can’t believe that my son Hank is turning 5 this week! On one hand, it seems that time has really just flown by; on the other hand, I don’t remember my life before children.

A friend of mine had her first child a few years after I did. When she was pregnant, she talked about trying to work out a flexible arrangement with her employer once her daughter was born. She mentioned that she might try to work from home a few days a week, at least while her daughter was an infant so she could spend some time with her. I cautioned her that she may not want to count on getting too much done in a day with the baby at home. She didn’t pay too much attention to my advice until the baby came along. She really thought that the baby would just sleep a lot and she really could get some work done.

And then reality hit. She had a particularly fussy baby and there would be no working, or doing anything else while the baby was there. She later asked, “why didn’t you tell me what it was really like?”

I told her that I had tried to tell her, but you just can’t comprehend how all-consuming children are until you have them. Your life shifts from being your life, to being your life that you are trying to work in around your kids’ needs.

I’ve tried to urge expecting parents that I know to really think about what they want in a work arrangement before the child comes along. But most don’t understand the challenge until they are buried in it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Family Friendly Myth

Every year when Working Mother magazine lists the top family friendly companies, you can usually find some follow-up commentary from employees of some of those companies that state that while their company does have family friendly policies, they are not encouraged to take advantage of them.

I spoke with a reporter recently who told me of a friend who worked in PR at a big company. The PR professional was assigned the task of getting the company on a list similar to Working Mother's and after some research and policy writing, was able to get the company on the list. While the PR professional was rewarded for the accomplishment, nothing changed at the company for working parents.

To further confirm the fact that companies with family friendly policies are not necessarily family friendly, I just read a press release about a study with similar findings on the real availability of family friendly work (see here). While I was unable to find any other information on the study, it seems to confirm these concerns.

If you work at a company that claims to be family friendly when they are not, it is time to ask your company to live up to its' promises. If employees demand the flexibility they need and demonstrate the value to their employer, family friendly work can become a reality.

If you are looking for a new company, you must go further than reading the company policy to find out if they are truly family friendly. Get a feel for the company culture and find out if the policies are actually used. Make sure you know if your potential new boss supports the family friendly policies and benefits that are available.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Corporate Success

I just came across an article in the Minnesota Women's Press (here) that highlights some of the challenges women face as they climb the corporate ladder. The article noted that while women have maintained their ground in corporate management due to family friendly benefits and flexible working options, a stigma still exists for women taking advantage of such options.

As a result, we have seen little progress in diversifying the top ranks of corporate America, with women only holding about 5% of the top spots in medium and large companies. Further, if we continue progressing at the same rate, it will be another 40 years before women achieve parity with men in these top spots.

So what is the answer here? Do women who want to have happy family lives have to drop out of corporate America? I did, and I am happy about my decision. I, like many other moms (and dads), have found that success by my own rules is much more satisfying and a lot less frustrating.

But, what about those that enjoy the corporate game? What will it take to give them the ability to work in more flexible arrangements and still have success at the office? Will it ever be possible?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Working with Baby

Many work-at-home moms and dads solve the childcare dilemma by attempting to work with a new infant in tow. Many have successfully managed to get through a workday stopping to feed the baby and change a diaper or two along the way.

I did it some. I was working on my doctoral dissertation when my son was born and spent many afternoons reading research papers to him in a sing-songy voice, or typing on my computer while he napped nearby.

This arrangement worked as long as I didn’t have a pressing deadline. It never failed, he would have a fussy spell while I was trying to get something done by a certain time. I also found that I couldn’t conduct any business over the phone with him around. Even if he was sleeping, a conversation could quickly come to an unprofessional end with a wail from the crib.

Interestingly, some workplaces have allowed new moms and dads to bring infants along with them to return to work with less turmoil. (see article from ABC news) Is this a good idea? Can a parent be productive while a baby is nearby? Could a crying infant in the background be disruptive to co-workers?

My belief is that it depends. While working with my infant around did work for me for a while, I found at some point it was just unproductive. I also found that I often felt guilty working when I could be paying more attention to him. As my babies turned into toddlers, I found it was virtually impossible to work while they were around. Now pre-schoolers, I can occasionally grade some papers while they are playing, but that is about it.

I do caution those that think they can work from home without childcare to make sure they carefully assess their ability to maintain a professional tone on the phone, and that they watch deadline commitments. I have dealt with work-at-home parents with crying kids and barking dogs in the background and I think it does jeopardize their ability to communicate professionally.

However, I am impressed that some companies have figured out the benefits of helping support families. Returning to work is challenging for a new parent, and some time transitioning could make the adjustment a great deal easier, which benefits both the company and the parent.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Doing Research

Some elect for a job or career change in search of a work arrangement more compatible with family. Often a new job that allows for more independent work can give you the flexibility that you need.

Somewhat surprisingly (at least to me), the government, specifically the Department of Labor has created a useful tool to help you conduct research to get you started in making such a change. O*Net Online is an occupational information network that provides detailed information about hundreds of jobs. Each job listed includes detailed information about typical responsibilities for the job and also what kind of knowledge, skills and abilities are required for the job. The site also provides salary expectations and information about the future demand for employees in the job.

You can use the database in several ways. You can explore and find careers/jobs that match your interests. You can do research on careers/jobs that use the same skill sets that your current job requires. You can also learn more about the skills you need to develop to move into a career or job you are interested in.

Changing jobs successfully requires conducting research in order to understand your options and get yourself prepared. I think O*Net provides a good starting point.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Today I had a conference call with the panel I will be working with to present “Spotlight on Careers” at the first Momference, which is an upcoming teleconference for moms.
The Momference will provide sessions on a wide range of mom-related topics including parenting, relationships and careers.

The Momference includes six days of teleconference presentations that you can listen to from home on your computer or telephone. You can listen live (October 1-6), or there is also an option to listen to the recorded sessions so you can spread it out over time. It looks like it is going to be packed with many great resources, and I think it is reasonably priced.

To give you an idea of what it is all about, the organizers are offering three FREE pre-conference workshops. They start tomorrow, 9/14, check them out here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Being Honest

Another important characteristic of a family friendly work environment is transparency. When I say transparency, I mean that employees and managers are honest and truthful with each other about everything. From business plans to personal concerns, being transparent means being truthful about what is going on.

Transparency is family friendly because it provides less stress and more stability at work. If management is honest with you, then you know where you stand with the company. You know if your job is stable and you know what you have to do to succeed.

Further, transparency means that you don’t have to hide the fact that you have a family. You will be less stressed if you know you don’t have to make up a lie to get out of work early to pick up a sick kid.

The head of talent at Deloitte promotes what she calls being “compulsively transparent.” After admitting that she missed an important meeting to attend a sale at Nordstrom’s (see article here), she challenged others to start being truthful at work as well. She suggests that we all make trade-offs between our personal life and work. Even those who don’t have children have things going on outside of work that could conflict with work responsibilities. Shouldn’t the workplace acknowledge that?

Therefore, when you are looking for family friendly work, you should check out how open communication is at a potential company. What are time-off policies? How does management communicate with employees? Finding out if a company promotes transparency will help you determine if it is truly family friendly.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Dash

This evening I attended the wake for a friend's father who died suddenly last week. Although he lived a full life, my friend said the week had been tragic and that they were of course all overwhelmed at their loss.

As I was driving home, I thought of something I read once somewhere. When you die, your name goes on a tombstone, followed by your date of birth, a dash and then your date of death. Your entire life, everything you accomplished, everyone you touched and the family you created; all represented by a short dash.

So before you get to that date of death, you must make the most of your dash. Your dash through life as it sometimes seems. It just goes so fast. You know that if you have kids.

So this is why you must make the effort to create the life you want. Beyond reducing the day-to-day stress of just getting by, finding a good balance between your work and the rest of your life can help you get the most out of your dash.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Avoiding Housework

This evening we took the kids and met some friends at a park. We had a cookout and the kids played while the adults talked. We had a great time and as we packed up to go home, my friend Jill mentioned that the best part of the night was that no one had to clean up their house, before or after the cookout.

Jill only works part-time, but she will tell you that she did not quit her full-time job so she could clean her house. She cut back on work so that she could enjoy her kids. I also have set my priorities. My kids and family first, and then my work. Home decorating, or even home cleaning, is not important to me.

Managing my time is the key to my family friendly work arrangement. Therefore, I don’t think time spent cleaning or doing other things around my house is the best way to spend my time. Surprisingly, I don’t think most of my friends realize the depth of my aversion to house cleaning. As far as I know (maybe I’m just clueless), most that visit our house think we do a decent job of keeping our house presentable.

So here are some tips if you too are looking to cut back on your housework:
· Have a quick clean plan. If someone calls and is coming by my house, I have a strategy to sweep through the first floor and pick-up/clean-up all visible areas in a few minutes.
· No one ever really looks in your closets. It is fine to jam and stuff things in your closets and then quickly shut the doors.
· Spend your time in the bathroom. If you only have a little time to clean, spend your time in the bathroom. It is what your guests will notice.
· Invest in a Swifter, or whatever other cleaning cheating devise that you can find. I can clean my floors with a Swifter in just five minutes.
· Decorate your home with easy cleaning in mind. Our last house had white linoleum in the kitchen and off-white carpeting throughout the house. It always looked dirty, even just hours after cleaning. We now have flooring with darker colors and lots of patterns. You can go weeks without sweeping and no one ever knows.

O.K., so maybe you think I am joking. I’m actually not. I work hard to not work hard around the house. I’ve found the best way to find time is to eliminate things that I just don’t find important.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Changing the Rules of the Game

I spoke with a reporter today who asked me if I thought there was truly a change going on in the workplace when it comes to family friendly work opportunities. She has been writing on the topic for more than 15 years and told me that every few years there seems to be serious change on the horizon, but it then fades away.

What is different now? Am I just another author in a stream of many proposing wild ideas that will never become truly acceptable? Or can a parent really find a fulfilling, successful career and actually spend time with his or her children?

I think they can. Parents (women in particular) are starting to reject the traditional model of career success. Those before us made many sacrifices to allow career opportunities for women. But, they had to make their progress on what is considered the traditional male terms.

Now that we have access to the c-suite, it is time to start rethinking the rules of success. Does it really matter if you work long, self-sacrificing hours? Or can you prove yourself through your creativity, productivity and bottom-line contribution to your company’s success? I think the latter makes sense for both you and your company.

Kimberly Palmer at U.S. News and World Report, along with other writers, call it the “New Mommy Track.” (See article here). I think we need to just call it the "New Rules of the Game."

Monday, September 3, 2007

Single Parents

I picked up a cold somewhere this weekend and have felt miserable all day. My son who typically is easy to put to bed of course picked tonight to have a melt down. I was so tired I know I just wasn’t handling it well and finally called for my husband to just take over.

As I walked away and let him deal with it, I thought again about the fact that I feel fortunate to have a partner in raising my children. Beyond raising our kids in a family environment that I feel good about, it just makes life easier on a daily basis to have someone to take on some of the responsibility.

So, my deepest respect goes to those who do it alone. Whether by choice or circumstance, I truly admire those parents that raise children on their own. But, I wonder often how they do it? I’ve talked to many single parents who tell me they “just do it.”

I know a good support system is helpful. I met a woman yesterday who moved back in with her parents so that she could afford to finish working on her nursing degree. She has been working on it for awhile, and moving home with her parents will allow her to finish up more quickly so she can move on to a career that she strongly desires, that will also help her better provide for her two daughters. I could tell that she wasn’t thrilled with the arrangement, after so many years of independence it must be difficult being back in your parent’s home. But, I could also tell that she felt fortunate to have their support.

I would love to hear other tips or guidance from single parents!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Cultivating a Contact

Networking is the key to finding a family friendly work arrangement because you can find out if a company really is family friendly through a network contact. Further, most employment opportunities aren’t advertised, they are filled through referrals.

There are many ways to network and meet new people, but then what? Network contacts are helpful when they think of you when they hear about a job, or when you can call them for advice. Just meeting someone briefly doesn’t build the relationship you need to make that person a valuable network contact.

After meeting someone, you must make an effort to build a relationship. Here are a few strategies to cultivate your next network contact:

· Follow-up with a “nice to meet you” note. Either via snail mail or e-mail, send a note to your new contact telling her that you enjoyed meeting her and look forward to getting to know her.
· Invite her to lunch or coffee. An informal talk over a quick lunch or coffee will allow you to get to know her better.
· Ask for an informational interview. If your new contact is in a job you are interested in, or works at a company you are targeting, ask her if she would have time to meet you for an informational interview. (Learn more about informational interviewing here).
· Keep your new contact in mind if you learn about something of interest to her. If you come across a good job opportunity, interesting conference or program, new babysitter or even just a recipe that she might enjoy, pass it along.

While meeting new people is what networking is all about, you must also remember that successful networking involves getting to know your new contact. Taking the time to cultivate a network contact can turn it into a valuable relationship that may at some point help you find the family friendly work opportunity that you want.