It’s the eternal career conundrum: how to juggle a high-powered job with raising a family. Over the course of the past year, Fast Company reached out to creative, successful executives to learn how they managed to "have it all"—to the extent that they did. Their strategies for weaving together work and life were as varied as their careers. Here are seven methods that stood out.
In 1974, when she was 12 years old, Stacy DeBroff lost her parents in a plane crash, a tragedy that gave DeBroff urgency to succeed both in the workplace and as a parent. In the ‘90s, DeBroff founded and led Harvard Law School’s Public Interest Advising Office. She also had two children. DeBroff wanted to drop to part-time work, but didn’t want to lose her position. So she came at her bosses with an idea: Why not split her job between herself and another person? She went in "with bravado, confidence, and a very detailed plan," and her bosses signed off. She hired a co-director for the office, splitting her salary, and dropped down to about 25 hours a week, freeing up precious time for raising her kids.
Caryl Stern of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF takes motherhood seriously, in all its forms. She was a devoted mother to her own children. She has become an advocate for mothers around the world in her current position. And she has branded herself a kind of mother-like figure to her own employees and colleagues. One example: She recently held a high-level retreat at her home in New York. Her colleagues wanted to hire a caterer—but Stern insisted they cook together. Some of her colleagues had never cooked in their lives; one tried to peel an avocado like a potato.
When Julia Kurnia’s nonprofit was admitted into Y Combinator, she faced a gut-wrenching decision. Should she take up the opportunity—separating her toddler from his father (who couldn’t get time off to cross the country with her)? Or should she pass it up, keeping the family together? She seized the opportunity, living in a dorm-like space with young Adam, and bringing him along to Y Combinator meetings. She "had dinner" each night with her husband—over Skype. The Y Combinator stint was crucial to her growing nonprofit, and she doesn’t regret it—but when she landed back in Washington Dulles Airport, she swore to herself it was a one-time thing.
A recurring strategy for many an entrepreneur is to make the workplace more friendly for kids to tag along. Clay Clark of Thrive15 will take at least one of his five children to work every week. The kids might support the office in any number of ways—delivering coffee or setting up a camera, for instance. "I try to teach work ethic," says Clark, whose eldest at the time I interviewed him was 10, his youngest 4. Brian Levin of Perky Jerky likewise has found ways to involve the kids in his work, though that may be easier when promoting your company entails kid-friendly activities like hanging out at Nascar events or piloting a blimp over a beach.
Douglas Merrill had seen firsthand how his former employer, Google, had slowly climbed a learning curve on work-life balance. So when he founded ZestFinance, he decided he wanted it to be parent-friendly from the outset. Rather than instituting a work-from-home culture, though, he opted for something simpler, yet weirder. Employees are simply encouraged to go home to play with their kids whenever they want, even in the middle of a day in the middle of the week. "It’s a big part of the culture here. People go home to play with their kids," he says. "Not just me or the executives. Everybody."
Raising toddlers is different from raising middle schoolers is different from raising high schoolers—and your work-life balance strategy might vary accordingly. This was the insight of Lisa Zandee, a hotel executive and consultant, over various stages of her career—and her the childhood of her kids. In the years after giving birth, Zandee focused on learning to deputize her workers, and let go of the small stuff. Through the next phase, Zandee began consulting, and was selective about her projects. Now that the kids are older, Zandee has made sure to choose work for an employer—Denihan Hospitality, owner of the James Hotels brand—that she knew from her consulting years to be family-owned, and family-friendly.
Many a young parent finds a way to live near their own parents, so grandma and grandpa can pitch in on the childcare. Renée Israel of Doc Popcorn took it a step or two further. She and her husband purchased a house and installed Renée’s mother, Maureen, in it, with Maureen soon serving as go-to back-up on the kid-rearing. One day, Maureen learned how much a babysitter could make, and she voiced an interest in picking up some outside nannying work. Renée panicked. So Renée and her husband offered to actually pay Maureen for her help with the kids. Maureen protested, "I can’t accept money from my own daughter." But Renée insisted, and everyone now concurs it’s a win-win: Maureen makes some spending cash, and the kids have a consummately trustworthy nanny.