International Women’s Day: #BeMore and the myth of having it all

#BeMore and the myth of having it all

Green Hasson Janks

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2017, we’ve collected a number of short blogs by the women of HLB USA, Geen Hassan Janks.

The parenting balancing act - Lauren Haverlock

I had been in the accounting industry for over a decade when I took on a new ‘entry level position’: Motherhood. This new role was brutal. I worked around the clock. Sure, there were great perks. I had a strong support group. I got to “dress for my day” and work anywhere, anytime. But the extreme nature of the gig was enough to make me wonder "is it all worth it?" This new job was draining, but so incredibly rewarding…

And then just as quick as it started, my maternity leave was over. I returned to work a different person, caught between two diametrically opposed worlds. I was changing nappies one minute and digging into the Internal Revenue Code the next. I was determined to prove that having a kid didn't change me or my work habits. And I resolved to not be defined as (gasp!) a working mother. I was certain there would be negative consequences to such a label. Maybe I would be scrutinised in a new light and expectations would be lowered and opportunities would be scarcer. Might my commitment to my career be questioned?

In this tough transition period, a supportive work environment can go a long way. New mothers are besieged with choices, and the opportunity costs of working (or not working) can feel overwhelming. Companies are starting to see beyond the legal requirements to make new mothers feel welcome and appreciated – and not all of it has to be financial, like paid leave. What non-financial support might create an important bond between a new mum and her employer?

  • Assistance when navigating through the often sticky bureaucratic world of family leave, medical benefits, etc. One wrong response on a form could impact timing and accessibility to benefits.
  • Providing space and time for nursing. While there are legal minimums that certain sized companies need to provide to mothers who pump and nurse, the entire process can be a time and energy drain. Providing mothers with creative solutions in how they can more easily access time and space to pump goes a long way.
  • Patience with schedules and appearances. Some babies sleep through the night and some wake every few hours. Some follow schedules and some do not. Try as we might, a new mom’s schedule is often not her own. Early mornings, late nights, and long blocks of meetings, while manageable, are tough in a first year for moms who nurse, pump or bottle feed. Heck, it’s hard for dads too!
  • Flex Schedule and Customised Work Plans. This isn’t about transitioning to part-time, because that can be a financial drain for a new family. This is more about a policy focused less on hours worked, and more on productivity. For me, it was important to create (and reassess often) a plan with of how I could be an impactful employee.

Becoming a mum changed me - and for the better. With the responsibility of caring for a new life, there was a greater demand and strain on my time. Without a way to produce more time, the value of my minutes inflated. This was a simple case of supply and demand.

“Quality over quantity” became my mantra. I worked on being more present, both at work and home. I was determined to squeeze every bit of deliciousness out of my moments with my children. I had to establish and respect my own boundaries. I also implemented tactics to be more efficient and impactful, while also learning to let things go. The most vital part of this was establishing and maintaining a support system at home and in the office.

Trusting others and investing in relationships gave me the confidence to be present, but more importantly, to be absent.

I managed to find some purpose in the chaos of being a new mum. If I was going to be away from my family, I should feel fulfilled. I found that “having it all” is impossible, but we can have what we want. I try to work on these things every day. It’s a messy process, full of trial and error, mistakes and stress. But after all is said and done, it is absolutely worth it. 

Less is more - Brianne Cannon

Since I can remember I’ve had a full plate of activities. I didn’t want to be defined as one dimensional. I wanted to be ‘girlie’ like a ballerina, strong like an athlete in basketball, smart like those in history club, and viewed as fun like those in yearbook club. Like many women, I wanted to be all and do it all.

I sustained a hectic, full schedule up through college, then eventually as a part-time graduate student working a 60 hour week. My addiction to do more eventually turned me into a full-time student and full-time employee at a stressful international bank in New York.

Looking back, I defined myself by my activities.  My ability to do it all made me different.  I saw myself as successful. It fuelled me to plan more, and sleep less.

When I was given an international assignment for two years in London, it was the first time I noticed how fast I was moving. I didn’t have to balance my family or friends, and could focus only on my work and myself. It was the first time I really focused on a few things, and felt accomplished while not feeling drained. I also got to fully appreciate things. I knew I wasn’t going to be there long, so I took time to savour the experience.

I’d love to tell you I took this observation and life lesson, and applied it consistently. Nope. Once back in New York I resumed the rat race (even after I moved to laidback Los Angeles).

I didn’t get back to focusing on a few things until two forces collided: working for a public accounting firm, traffic and life’s curveball of my parent’s failing health. Now I can’t physically, emotionally or mentally ‘do it all’, even with my expert planning skills. It isn’t possible, and I learned this the hard way.

But why, after I saw the difference in my life in London, didn’t I slow down and focus on only a few important things? Guilt. Guilt for not doing more, for saying ‘no’, for not living up to my expectations of myself.

It wasn’t until my choices impacted those I loved that I changed. And the first step was changing my own mindset. I switched from measuring my success by the quantity of things I did, to the quality.

Doing less takes discipline and constant reminding that you’re doing enough.

Mantra: Don’t define your worth or success by what you do.

The biggest advantage to doing less: it creates more space to enjoy things that matter most and be present.

I now keep one day a week sacred for a yoga class. I feel more refreshed, focused and centred than when I went five times a week and just went through the motions. Now I push myself harder and remain present, rather than plan dinner in my head.

I feel like I’m better able to find and appreciate simple joys. By packing less into the day, opportunities like a coffee and pastry with my mum after visiting her Parkinson’s doctor are possible.  Before, I was too distracted by everyday stresses to slow down and seize the moment.

My new definition of success has helped me to do less, and feel more.  I still might feel guilty at times, but I feel grateful more – plus sleep is amazing!

Self-care and the working girl - Mari-Anne Kehler

We’ve all heard the advice borrowed from flight attendants: “Put your own oxygen mask on first!” We cannot be of use to others, or ourselves, if we aren’t healthy enough to be effective. But putting that into action is one of the most difficult for those who are trying to have it all by doing it all.

I raised a son with a disability into adulthood, and typically slept only four hours a night – for 20 years. I got very good at working hard, playing hard, and juggling all the balls in the air. But after a health scare, I soon realised I wouldn’t be of much use to anyone for long if I didn’t slow down and put my own wellness first. Practising self-care is the best preventative medicine there is. And after turning 50, I discovered a few universal truths that are useful for all, especially driven professional women:

  • Self-care is not selfish; it’s the most responsible thing you can do
  • Treat yourself the way you would a dear friend, with gentle compassion and care
  • Saying ‘no’ to what isn’t a priority is saying ‘yes’ to what is
  • Set clear boundaries for yourself, and stick to them
  • Set realistic goals for yourself, and schedule them

And my favourite truth is from the great writer, Anne Lamott:

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes.

Including you.

Sponsorship and paying it forward - Anita Wu

In this client service profession, our ‘customers’ are all around us, and it is just as crucial that we anticipate the needs and exceed the expectations of the people within our organisation, as when we present ourselves to the outside world. Looking back at the early stage of my career, two particular situations were instrumental in accelerating my development:

Opportunity – I regularly attended client and settlement meetings. So much of what I know about my job was learned through observation. For the first couple of years, I was happy to play a non-speaking role. However with time, my thoughts started to align with the active dialogue, which built up my confidence and allowed me to find my voice in these meetings

Empowerment – My supervisors introduced me in these meetings as an integral member of our team, and I performed much of the follow-up work including circle backs with our clients. Not only did this pressure me into strengthening my technical skills and double-checking my workpapers, but also figuring out how to effectively communicate my message to others. As an added benefit, I gradually established my own individual relationships with our clients.

Had my supervisors not afforded me these situations, it is unlikely that I would have had the good sense to seek them for myself, at least not before losing interest in my job. Fortunately, this exposure sparked my passion in seeing what the results of my work could be. Moreover, having well-respected, strong-minded women as my supervisors shaped my ideal of who I could become.

Perhaps the best way I can express my gratitude to the generation before me is to be as generous to the newer members of our firm.

Sponsorships require trust and accountability by and between the persons involved. Gone are the days of a “one size fits most” career path. Everyone’s definition of success is different, and a sponsor can help those less familiar with an organisation to identify and explore the possibilities for career growth and satisfaction. Having a sponsor can help to set a realistic timeline for the achievement of one’s goals. It can also be uplifting simply by having a sponsor who actively listens and offers his or her support and encouragement.

Being a sponsor keeps us engaged and informed, and freshens our perspective of this ever-changing world faster and better than if we were to go about it on our own. And women need to have as many sponsored career opportunities as men to ensure the path to leadership is equitable.

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