Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Is Jack Welch right? Can there be no balance for working mothers?

Not long ago, I had to explain to one of my company's principals that I needed more flexibility. My youngest son seems to have some developmental issues and, twice a month, I'd like to take him to a behavioural psychologist. The most convenient appointment is 9:00 AM on Fridays.

The man I reported to nodded with understanding, and agreed that priorities are priorities - kids come first. But even as he told me not to worry about it, to do what I had to do, I sensed and undercurrent of .... what can I call it? Patronization?

Somehow, even in the most seemingly liberal of work environments, I'd gotten the sense that I'd hit the ceiling. That, while my job was probably safe, this was as far as I was going to go. I would never see the letters "VP" after my name on a business card.

In a recent speech that's gotten a lot of press, Jack Welch of GE reportedly said, "There's no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences."

I'd hate to believe that's true...but in most companies, it probably is. However, his speech prompts other questions for me: Do I need to "have it all", in a traditional sense?

Honestly, no. Making VP would be great, but I've never been exceptionally competitive or title-oriented. I just want to love my job. If I'm leaving my kids for 8-10 hours a day to make a living, I'd damned well better be enjoying myself. I need to be challenged, for sure. And I also need to be proud of what I do. For me, that means working for an ethical company and having a title appropriate for my level experience and expertise. Mid-level management is fine...I don't need anything fancy.

What I don't want is stress. By stress, I don't mean too much work - I mean too much work without reasonable support or reasonable deadlines. Stress for me also comes from lack of trust and lack of flexibility. If I'm forced to use up my vacation time to care for sick children or made to punch in and out for medical appointments, I'm going to to be stressed.

I'm also going to be unhappy. And that's not beneficial to me OR my employer.

So that's what "having it all" means to me - have a job that I enjoy and that I'm proud of, and having ample, stress-free time with my family. And that can be after 5:00pm and on weekends. That works for me.

And believe me, (before my sleep was interrupted a minimum of twice nightly by my insomniac preschooler) I've been known to turn my laptop on after the kids have gone to bed. I've stayed up til 2:00am many, many times to finish projects. I've made many a conference call with the nebulizer running in the background. When I worked for a compassionate company, I did this happily.

I don't want my work judged through the filter of the "sacrifices" I make as working mother. I want my work judged solely on its quality, for better or for worse. Let my promotion to VP be judged on THAT basis, only.

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