Balancing Career and Care

unfinished-businessAs a former executive of a fast-growing software company, I have a few opinions on the question of work/life balance. For many of my 16 years, I was the only member of the executive team who had children but did not have a stay-at-home spouse. I spent those years trying to be as flexible, as available, as “dedicated” as my male colleagues.

My state of stress was self-imposed, yet I thought if I routinely asked to leave early, start later, or stay in town more that I would be left out of important conversations that could hurt my career. And the truth is, I would have. Not intentionally, but just by virtue of not being there.

By the same token, many men in leadership positions have similar concerns about damaging their careers by taking time off to attend a child’s performance, to care for an aging parent, or be with a spouse for an important medical visit. Will they be perceived as less dedicated? Will they be less likely to be considered for a promotion if they frequently have to be the care-taker while their working wife is traveling?

I’d never really thought about the man’s side of the “career + care” balancing equation until I heard Dr. Anne Marie Slaughter deliver the keynote at Momentum’s conference in 2014. My top take-away’s from Dr. Slaughter’s speech:

1) Balancing career and care (work and family) is not a women’s issue, it’s a human issue.

2) Companies who support both men and women in their obligations to family and/or community will reap the benefits of a more diverse team who are less stressed, more likely to perform well, and less likely to leave.

3) There are critical conversations that every man and woman should have with A) their life partners and B) their boss, about their career aspirations, their approach to balancing career and care, and sharing the demands within the partnership. At times this may feel 80/20 or 50/50 or 20/80.  And that’s okay.

Recently my sister gave me a copy of Dr. Slaughter’s latest book, Unfinished Business for my birthday. I am reminded of why the Momentum conference, and Dr. Slaughter’s address in particular, made such a lasting impression. Balancing career and care is an important issue for our communities, for more competitive workplaces, and for our country’s economy. I am deeply appreciative to Momentum and to Dr. Anne Marie Slaughter for taking the conversation beyond “work/life balance” for women.

It’s “career + care = healthy living” for everyone.

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