I have always been a work-outside-the-home mommy, and now I am a single mommy going to work everyday. This wasn't necessarily the plan, but it is where we are and trying to make the best of it. I have always thought about the struggles that women have in relation to career and since becoming a mom, those seem magnified. Growing up, I always planned to have a career and I had the Barbie with the briefcase to prove it. I slowly found my way through college and got a degree in accounting. As I started working in my field I quickly noticed how most of the departments I worked in had a male boss and a lot of female underlings. I started to feel the pull of wanting to be home baking and not sitting in a cubicle. I started to view my "career" as a necessary evil to get home to my real life. I started to wonder whomever came up with the idea of "balance" in work and life. It never seemed to tip in the direction I wanted. I started to feel bitter about it.
I think my lesson this year is about reframing, so I have tried to be more open to new ideas and ways of viewing the world. I recognize that a great way to do this is to be around people that are experiencing the world the way I would like to. People who are looking for the good, the positive and want to share it.
I am very lucky in that I work in a place that does try to help women share ideas and find mentors and I got an email about a workshop that would have panel discussions from women who had become leaders at the university. I have to be honest, my initial reaction was that it would be superficial and that I would leave feeling like the people on the panel were acting superior. I don't know why I thought this, because I honestly haven't had that experience, but there it was. Then I caught myself and decided that this was a perfect opportunity to learn something on my lunch break, so why not try it out?
I am so, so glad I did. Many of the ideas that were shared by other women are things I have heard before, but for some reason in that setting I could open to them. So, here I will share them!
First, I should add that men were welcome to attend and I wish more had, there were just a few. So it was not a sexist workshop. (disclaimer over.)
Some quotes from the panelists (paraphrased):
- "Networking is an area where women can have an advantage, but it isn't easy. Networking needs follow up, but it is worth the time and effort." I have seen this with successful people. When they meet someone they are interested in, they ask them to lunch. It seems so simple. The next part is key, though: offer to help that person, if you can. Don't just see your own opportunity.
- "Build relationships before dealing with issues. Know people's names and where they came from." I once worked for an elected official who always called me by the wrong name. It made his effort to be friendly and use my name make me feel even more unrecognized and unimportant.
- Be invested in the organization. I have to say this one really struck me because I have been so resistant to showing any loyalty to the university I work for. I blame it on the pep rallies in high school. I just never understood the "my school is best because I go there" attitude and I am not a big sports fan. But I realized that if I am honest, this place has been good to me and I have gotten a degree here now, so would it really hurt me to wear a polo with the mascot on it or feel some pride about the good things happening? I am not actually too cool for school. I love school, and that is ok. One of the panelists said "If you work at Ford you don't drive a Toyota." I get that now.
- "Know what you can do and make decisions based on what you feel is right."
- "I feel empathy for men because they are socialized that it is not acceptable to lead in a sympathetic manner." We have become so accustomed to ideas that managing (rather than leading) people has to be harsh and strict. I love the idea of trusting people first and allowing them to find their way a bit. I know I am a better employee when I feel like my boss understands my frustrations and lets me help solve them.
- "Mediocrity is not an option." Amen, sister.
- "Volunteer at work. Show what you can do." I really like that this is coming from a positive spirit, rather than the more common "That isn't my job, so I won't do it" attitude. Sometimes the things I end up enjoying are those that are not in my job description and if I take it for that I won't be so invested in whether or not anyone notices or rewards me for it.
- "Be the best at what is worst about the job. If you have to let people go, be the most compassionate and transparent."
- "Your intentions are not always others' perceptions." I think this is really about another of my lessons for this year, listening. I am really trying to listen to what people are saying and this is the only way to know how they are interpreting what I am saying.
- "Women are given tremendous responsibility but not given authority." So many heads were nodding when she said this. Her solution was to recognize that you need to negotiate that authority.
- On balance they recommended multi tasking. "Don't let balance be one more thing to have to accomplish, it is a day to day decision. Answer emails while you watch the T-Ball game, then know when it is time to turn off the phone."
- On feeling like we are perceived as too "pushy" or "arrogant" when we speak up, they said
'Know that what you have to say is important." If you don't believe it you can't expect anyone else to.
The most striking thing to me was how often the word "relationship" came up. When asked for the most important advice they wanted to share, one said "I value relationships above all." I do believe this is the most important aspect of life, and work is part of life. Even if we think we have to "balance" the two, they coexist. This may not work for everybody, but it feels right to me.