4 Things You Need For Work/Life Integration from Mom’s Who Hustle

Notes From Attending ‘Moms Who Hustle’ A Practical Work/Life Discussion hosted by General Assembly Boston May 19th.

After rushing in to grab a front row seat, I took a few deep breaths to center myself just as the moderator began introductions.   A surprisingly diverse group looked expectantly at the panelists.

I later learned the eclectic mix of Moms, Pre-moms, Grandmothers and Dads braved the rainy commute and early start, eager to discuss the Mom work-life juggle, for different reasons.

Women feel more empowered (and compelled) than ever to hustle and Moms are no exception.

The artful choreography, to reduce clashes between the work and life schedules, becomes its own demanding project.  Last month, on the sidelines of my son’s soccer match, I watched a Mom spend the better part of an hour crouched over her computer color coding and reconciling activities for her two kids, husband and herself into a ‘master’ Google calendar.  I had to ask and she explained apologetically…”This is the only chance I have to do this…”

Young women at the event wanted to plan ahead to fit career and future families together. The Dads in attendance were taking notes for adult daughters and one asked for ideas to support his wife’s return to work. Grandmothers with new ventures, sought guidance on matters of entrepreneurship and extended family commitments. Several Moms were on maternity leave, returning to work shortly and hungry for best practices… Can flexibility be negotiated with an existing employer? How early is too early to discuss ‘family friendly’ policies while interviewing? Others desired camaraderie and a chance to learn new tips.

Despite the known challenges of working motherhood, the mood in the room was optimistic and the advice, hopeful.

The panelists, accomplished leaders from diverse sectors, openly shared their stories. Shannon O’Halloran, a new mom herself from General Assembly, moderated the lively conversation.

Speakers:

Ayele Shakur is the Regional Executive Director for non-profit college preparatory program, BUILD Greater Boston

Annissa Essaibi-George Boston City Councilor At Large and Owner of a local business

Susan Blinn Co-founder & Chief Technology Officer of Tinyhood, a platform matching parenting experts with families

As the panelists answered countless questions, four themes emerged as critical to make the ‘hustle’ work.

1. Choose your priorities!

Ayele: “Take care of yourself first! I love the analogy about putting on your own oxygen mask before you can help someone else. Carve out space at the start of your day….practice meditation, gratitude or pray. Even ten minutes per day gives you a strong start!”

Annissa: “….Pick priorities that are meaningful to your kids and then say it out loud! I make time to attend my children’s (sports) games because I know it’s important to them.” She shares this with her staff and highlights the commitments on her work calendar. “If you say it out loud, it allows others to hold you accountable and as a leader, you show other’s it’s okay.”

Susan: “….Remind yourself that your company will be okay, that your child is the most important.”

2. Create a network of support

Susan built her own ‘Mom posse’ with a group of neighborhood friends that have her back. “I forgot my laptop charger, was running late and another mom brought one to the train station for me.”  This group of friends, functions like her extended family.   “I had to travel for a high stakes meeting when my nanny called in sick. Another mom (from this group) asked her nanny to take care of my daughter along with her child that day.”

Having local infrastructure, including back up childcare, is powerful and can make all the difference when reaching for the brass ring.

3. Opt into (or build) a performance driven work culture

What work benefits do you really need?  Flexibility! This came up repeatedly. The panelists, admittedly are all in senior leadership and write the rules for their respective organizations.  However, tips were shared that apply to many situations.

A Mom to a newborn, raised the sensitive topic of how and when to ask about flexibility during the interview process.  Opinions differed on this quite a bit. Some women felt she should ask up front to avoid wasting time, others cautioned her to wait until she’s in a stronger negotiating position before discussing flex arrangements or other benefits.  “Wait until they’ve fallen in love with you!” It’s tricky to ask about accommodations, especially to address childcare schedules. No Mom wants to appear more needy or less dedicated than the rest of the team, but at the same time flexibility is what allows many working Moms to thrive.

The panelists suggested “…You can learn a lot about what the company culture is like, and how people manage their schedules without overtly asking during the interviewing process.”

A few Moms with new babies worried the inability to stay late at the office would harm their careers. Instead of focusing on perceptions or trying to ‘match’ other people’s face-time, Susan suggested a direct approach. “Ask your boss about expectations and how your performance is being evaluated.” Alignment on clear performance measures can eliminate vexing guesswork.

Shannon shared that she’s completely transparent about her calendar. Instead of marking certain appointments private, her personal and professional commitments are visible to all. “…Let those things (what other people think) go.”

4. Maintain a winning attitude!

When asked about the best hacks to achieve work/life balance Annissa responded, “Saying no. Practice it! Most women like to say yes….we feel we should be able to do everything.”

Susan added, “…don’t apologize for being a mom ever! Apologize if you forget something, or if there’s a need to correct performance, but not for being a mom.”

Didn’t someone say balance? 

Although many questions were framed within the ‘work/life balance’ context, work/life integration has become the preferred (ahem realistic) goal.  Whether the ambition to ‘do more’ lies within the job, our hearts or someplace in-between, balance is hard to imagine in most roles. The rules about how much support of an employee’s personal needs becomes ‘too much’ for employers remain largely unwritten and organizational styles are as varied as professional options.

The conversation with ‘Moms who hustle’, although candid, did not devolve into hand wringing.  It remained positive and we left feeling GREAT!  We felt ‘heard’ and the guidance, focused on personal action and choice, was empowering.

In our heart of hearts, we know we ‘own’ our careers and work/life strategies.  Easing the juggle while remaining engaged in challenging positions requires access to smart, ‘road tested’ techniques, that keep us moving forward.

What do you think?  Do these tips ring true for you?  Please leave a comment!

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