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Work/Life Balance: Ask for what you need by Telle Whitney, President and CEO, Anita Borg Institute

Balancing work and life –how do you do it?  This is a common question from many technical women.   At times, it seems daunting, as we look at the demands from our many commitments.     Yes, it is really important to me to be making contributions to the innovation of my field, my organization, or my project.  And yes, my life partner, child and cause are also very important. How do I do it all?   

Balancing work and life –how
do you do it?  This is a common question
from many technical women.   At times, it
seems daunting, as we look at the demands from our many commitments.     Yes, it is really important to me to be
making contributions to the innovation of my field, my organization, or my
project.  And yes, my life partner, child
and cause are also very important. How do I do it all? 

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I believe that you can have it all….just not at the same
time.  The most important decision you
can make is what are the most important priorities today.   Here are a couple of stories of women who
have solutions, at least for the moment.

 

For many technical people, especially women with kids, they
create the second shift.  I have a friend
who works at a large high tech company in software development.    She has two children, and believes that it
is really important to spend time with them attending her daughter’s soccer
games and piano lesson, and her son’s cello lesson.  Her husband takes the kids to school in the
morning, allowing her to go in to work early.  
She leaves the office at 3:00 pm most days, but then logs on in the
evening after the kids are in bed.   In
her case, the early morning time is great interrupted thinking time, and her
evening hours allow her to respond to her international colleagues in a timely
fashion.  She also makes sure that her code
contributions are significant and address the specific needs of her project
leader.   What makes this approach work
is the commitment of her organizational leadership to schedule most meetings
between 9 am – 4pm daily.  One of
the consequences of her choices is that she has prioritized her technical contributions
and her family above her other social connections.  She rarely has time to have dinner with
friends during the week.  

 

What if your job isn’t this flexible?   Sometimes I think the answer is to change
jobs.  I find myself impatient with
companies that don’t realize that time flexibility for their employees, both
men and women, is extremely important.   But
I realize that leaving a particular job isn’t always an acceptable option.  However, many times there is more flexibility
than you realize – ask for what you want.   For some of the youngest high tech companies,
their workforce is very young.    It has
been a startling development for one company in particular when their young
technical workforce starting having babies. 
It is my experience that many of these young people – men and women –
are demanding flexibility, and getting it.  
I realize how scary it can be to ask your manager for a change in hours,
but a well constructed arguments that gets to the heart of their own
development goals, is often successful.  
For example, I recently met with a software manager who was completely
oblivious to the fact that his best developer (a woman) was deeply unhappy with
their weekly 5pm, 2 hour staff meeting.  
For him, it made sense because it was right before the dinner the
company brought in every Thursday, and allowed them to celebrate their
accomplishments for the week.  When she
gave her notice, she told him that the schedule didn’t work for her.  In fact, when he asked his team, it didn’t
work for 6 of the 8 team members.    He
was able to get her stay, but it would have been much better if she had brought
this issue up months before, especially since she knew that her team mates
weren’t happy with the weekly meeting.

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Balance is a challenge, if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be such a
common topic at every years Grace Hopper conference.  But I believe that there is many more choices
than most of us believe, if you consider what is most important to you, and
ask. 

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