I can honestly say my career goals have never changed. Even as I’ve grown older, become a mom, and started a company, I’ve always wanted to be mostly all work, most of the time. My version of “work-life balance” is happily unbalanced. (The irony of being a Libra has never failed to escape me.)
Because of my line of work—I run InHerSight, a company where women rate how female-friendly their employers are—I know my comfortable lopsidedness represents just one approach women have to their careers. When I serve on panels or interact with women on our site, many women tell me they want to even out the scales, to find a way to get everything done at work and at home without burning out entirely.
I’d love to offer up a universal solution, some nugget of quote-worthy wisdom that would start trending on Pinterest, but I don’t believe there is one. Every woman, every person, has different priorities in life and work, and it’s up to each of us to figure out how to best divide up our time.
What I do believe is that successful work-life harmonizers have one thing in common: they’re experts at strategic self-assessment, and they do it long before everything starts spiraling, like when they’re taking new steps in their life or career.
When I started my company, I knew what I wanted at work wouldn’t change at all (clearly, I was just as driven as ever), but I also knew from looking at my workload that I needed more support from my spouse than before. That’s one kind of self-assessment.
The other kind involves weighing which workplace benefits and characteristics are most important to you at this stage to make sure you’re getting what you need to avoid burnout or plain old unhappiness. If you’re just starting out, I suggest following the method my company uses to match women to jobs: We ask our users to rank the importance of 16 factors that we believe are important to women—a mix of formal policies and “soft” ones. Think PTO versus relationships with coworkers. Then we use women’s personal “goals,” if you will, to match them to companies that score highly for the same factors. It’s a strategic way of ensuring that shifts in a woman’s career and life, like a new job or starting a family, continue to align with what her company has to offer.
Through all our data collecting, we see measurable trends among the female workforce that underline the continued need for self-assessment. Our research shows that early-career women most often place PTO, flexible work hours, management opportunities, and equal opportunities for women and men in their top four. Yet when we look at women overall, PTO, salary, coworkers, and flexible work hours are the leaders. It’s clear that as women progress in their careers, their needs shift. I would venture to guess that if we studied men, their priorities would change over time as well.
Self-assessment is a way of keeping your thumb on the pulse of happiness factors at work—burnout, toxicity, feeling “stuck,” wanting more money—and it’s valuable to everyone because work takes up such a huge chunk of our lives. Assess, then reassess, either using our method of your own, if only because you don’t want to eventually dread going to work Monday morning.
Ursula Mead is the CEO and cofounder of InHerSight.