Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I can't think of a female athlete or celebrity with nearly as much endorsement power, but look at Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams or Danica Patrick. Would their endorsements survive "transgressions" like Tiger's?
When Serena made her infamous outburst at the U.S. Open, people were clamoring for Nike to drop her. When college soccer player Elizabeth Lambert pulled the hair of an opponent during a game, she was crushed in the news and suspended from her team.
What would happen if any of these female athletes behaved as badly as their male counterparts? What if they were accused of having nearly a dozen extra-marital affairs, all while maintaining—actually peddling—a perfect and squeaky-clean image?
So, what if Tiger were a Cougar? Would the companies who pay those endorsements take this same “wait-and-see” attitude? I doubt it.
In the meantime, I can't wait to see the marketing fall-out from the fall of this formerly perfect pitchman.
Friday, July 24, 2009
What impressed me most, though, was the president of the group. Actually, I was a bit more than impressed--I'm actually a little jealous of her. She's younger than I am--she's probably younger than many of the people who were in the room--but she has a self-awareness and confidence that I'm not sure I'll ever have. She's leading a professional group and working full-time. And she's doing a bang-up job at both.
But it's not her leadership position with the organization that I envy, nor is it her full-time job. I could have both--in fact, I'm in a leadership position with the same group and have been offered a full-time job. Rather, I admire the fact that she has gone for an element of work-life balance early in her career--and it wasn't prompted by parenthood.
A year ago, as a newlywed, she was working for a cool, high-tech, high pressure company. The pace was breakneck and the hours were back breaking. When I was in a similar situation, I went for it: I worked the long hours and kept trying to climb the ladder. Not my friend. She realized that her marriage, her health, her own interests and development were more important than just work and sought to bring balance to her life. She stepped off the super-fast track and took a role at a company renowned for it's steady pace and employee-friendly atmosphere. Yes, she took a pay cut, but she gained so much more.
I love to hear stories of people without kids who seek a balance between work and life outside it. Too often "work-life balance" is a euphemism for "finding time to parent." This isn't always the case--for all the non-parent colleagues I have who spend way too many hours at work, I have others, like this board president, who are finding fulfillment outside of work. Another friend, who has a busy career as a marketing professional, has also gone to hairdressing school, is a landlord, and travels extensively. So what if she has no kids--she has a life than any of us would envy! Another friend is in a competitive sales role. She's successful, smart and attractive, so she's been asked time and again to mentor younger women and climb the ladder. While she tentatively agrees to be a mentor, she also politely declines the promotions. She's content with her current role and happy with her life--she has a lake house, a boat, a busy vacation schedule, and a good marriage. In her spare time she trains for triathlons. (Point to note: none of these people are Gen Y, who are so often credited with pioneering the work/life thing.)
Maybe we need to stop looking to Jack Welch and folks in the corner office for advice about work/life balance and start looking at all the regular people who go to work each day--and then come home to even more fulfilling pursuits.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Thing Two is five years old and heading to Kindergarten in the fall. She's been at the same daycare for the past four years, starting as a toddler, spending two years in pre-school and this past year in a pre-kindergarten program. The school promoted academics heavily and she's already reading at an early first-grade level. We're proud of her, although we haven't pushed it.
She's a bit less advanced on the social side, tending to be shy and clingy. This summer, to give her a leg up socially, we pulled her from daycare and put her into the same Park & Recreation day camp program as Thing One. She had a fantastic first day.
The second day, though, she went on a field trip. She and 60 other little campers boarded a bus for an hour-long ride to an historical site. It was her first time on a bus and I was nervous. (Thing One was also on the field trip, but having been on buses before and being a really social animal, I wasn't worried at all about him.) I suggested that my daughter bring a stuffed animal to cuddle with on the way home in case she fell asleep. Was I nuts? Thing One thought so--he told her no way, so she put the big pink pig back on her bed. We compromised on a little puppy that could fit into the pocket of her backpack. I sent them both skipping off to their teenage counselors.
Later that afternoon, the skies opened up and lightning bolts crashed down. I was barely able to type because I was too busy chewing off my fingernails. You see, Thing Two is petrified of thunderstorms and I felt the immediate need to rush to her side. How could a stranger--one of the wonderfully energetic, but incredibly young, teenage camp counselors--comfort her? She needed her mommy, but I couldn't be there for her. Had I failed her?
The rest of the afternoon was fairly unproductive from a work perspective. Instead, I watched the clock until 2:55--pick up time is 3:00. I raced the quarter mile to camp, and when I got there I half expected Thing Two to be sitting on one of the counselor's laps, crying. Instead, I couldn't find her. That sent me into even more of a panic, although I was trying to appear calm. I scoured the high school cafeteria, looking in corners and under chairs. No Thing Two.
Finally I heard her froggy voice call "Mommy!" There she was, all big eyes and wet shirt. It turns out that she had gone to the bathroom straight from the bus. She seemed okay.
Then she hugged me and wouldn't let go. She wrapped her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. I staggered a bit--her backpack threw me off balance--but I didn't let go either. As we headed outside, there was another boom of thunder and then Thing Two's very own waterworks started. She bawled into my shoulder. Her whole body shook. The camp director looked at me with worried eyes and told me that she had been fine all day. I nodded at him. I knew that she held it together until I got there.
So, yeah, I think sending her out into the world is making her grow up faster than her peers who have not spent as much time in daycare. But maybe that's okay. Maybe she'll learn some coping skills. And, for now at least, she still knows she's safe with me.
Monday, July 6, 2009
The article has some uplifting examples of people not only keeping a hand in it, as I like to say I do, but actually getting promoted while working part-time. My favorite line in the story is this one: "Being part-time does not conflict with being an excellent performer capable of career growth." (from Susan Gordon, the director of career development at the American University, Washington, D.C.)
Love this quote. I've been saying this for a long time, and I think that moms bring an efficiency and a perspective to work that non-parents might not.
I was thrilled to see this article after a week away from the office and on the first day of my new "summer hours" (five days a week, ending at 3 p.m.). And while I'd love to read more about employers embracing part-time workers and jobshares--and I'd especially like to see more men using this option--I'll take any press I can get on it. The more press these flexible work options get, the more mainstream they will become. That will truly be progress.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
As a business communicator, I’m responsible for sending all sorts of information to employees and customers about events, new tools, and actions they need to take to keep things running smoothly. The messages can run the gamut from tactical (remember to take training) to strategic (here’s how the actions you take affect the company’s bottom line). While the strategic work is more fun for me, I fully understand the need to send out operational/tactical notes. I mean, a business has gotta run, right? And often, I’m paid to just shut up and do what I’m told.
Today, though, I was asked to send a message that’s been sent a dozen different ways already. It’s a “nice to have” message and really doesn’t require a stand-alone email. So, thinking that I was a trusted advisor, I pushed back. One of the things I hear all the time is that people have information overload and that we need to cut down on the email clutter. I feel it’s my job to look at all this from the recipient’s point of view, and he doesn’t need another memo telling him something he’s been told five times before.
But that’s not my real complaint here (and, for the record, I am complaining!) My issue is that these people—highly paid, professional adults—are behaving just like my five year old.
When my five year old asks for a lollipop right before bed, I calmly say no, tell her that it’s not the time for it because she’s already had dessert and brushed her teeth, and send her away. It’s been decided, no? Well, no. Being a five year old, she turns and asks her father for a lollipop. When he says no, she tells him that all the other kids get lollipops before bed: “Rachel gets one. Madison gets one. Tyler gets one. Why can’t I have one?” And the two of us stand together and tell her no, no, no, she will not get the lollipop and we are not Rachel’s or Madison’s or Tyler’s parents. Usually, we win the fight.
However, if she asks me for something when I have a million other things going on—like when I’m cooking dinner and trying to finish up a work memo and talking on the phone to my mother—I say yes just to get her off my back. And then I’ve lost all my credibility so the next time she asks me for the lollipop before bed, she’s not going to accept “no” as an answer. She’s a smartie, that Thing Two.
In this particular work situation, I feel like I’m the mom again, but this time it’s not helping me. Even though I said no to the email, the requestor asked my boss. She said no. The requestor then went to the person who used to do this job before I came on board. She said no. Requestor said, “Well, I’ve been told to send this out by my boss.” So, we had a conference call with requestor, my boss, and her boss. We still said no. Then we got an email from the requestor, saying “all of these other groups have sent out the note, and everyone who got it thinks it’s great.” Still, no. Today, we got a note from requestor asking when we were sending the email.
I know what will happen: the note will go out. Requestor will keep asking and keep asking and keep asking and eventually, the phone will ring, someone else will want something and we’ll need to shut the requestor up. So we’ll send it. And we’ll set a precedent for sending these things again and again. The business will have wasted too many hours of productivity debating a stupid note that means nothing to the employees, but the requestor will get to cross something off her list. And we’ll keep the cycle going.
It’s not the end of the world. Even though it’s my opinion that the note is silly and doesn’t help the company, it won’t hurt the company any more than the occasional lollipop before bed will rot my daughter’s teeth. And, even though it's a bad precedent to set, I have to look at this the way I look at parenting. Sometimes I just have to pick my battles.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Tomorrow, at 1:50, school ends. And that's when the scramble begins. I’m doing my best to keep it low key and fun for the kids, but I’ve also made a commitment to a client to work through the summer. So I need childcare.
Here’s what I’ve patched together:
- three days at Park and Recreation camp
- a week of family vacation at the coast
- a few more weeks at Park and Recreation camp
- another week at the coast
- another week at Park and Recreation camp
- two weeks at sports camp for Thing One and two weeks back at daycare for Thing Two
- ten days with me
For this, I have changed my schedule so that I end at 3 p.m. I’m taking a total of 18 days off from work and spending 20—yes 20!—days with my in-laws.
Actually, I’m looking forward to it (well, most of it anyway). I’m really excited to pick the kids up from camp at three o’clock and head to the lake for relaxing afternoons of swimming and dinner picnics (PB&J and popsicles, anyone?)
Summers and the school schedule are part of the reason that I quit the corporate gig and went freelance. But what would I do if I were still stuck with an office job? What if I only got two weeks' vacation?
I'd probably do what all the other working parents out there are doing. Some are sending the kids away to the grandparents for a good chunk of the summer. Others are hiring a nanny. Many are putting their kids in all-day YMCA camps. All are taking lots and lots of days off to cover the gaps.
Summer, the time of year that kids dream about, is the stuff of nightmares for working parents.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Much to my surprise, Thing Three's feedback was very insightful. When I wrote that being a mother has helped me see what's important in my work, he agreed. But he said it so much better: he told me that it's given me perspective.
He's so right! (Are you reading, Thing Three? Print this out--it might be the last time I tell you you're right.) That's exactly what being a mother has done--it's given me perspective. I have more context, more life experience, a frame of reference by which I can judge what's important in work and what, really, won't matter if I let it slide a bit. And that makes me a much better worker.
This is what is missing when we talk about the generational divides at work, and how the future is all about Gen Y and we Gen Xers (and Boomers) are so out of it.
While I'm an avid reader of Penelope Trunk's blog and I admire her dedication to the Millennials on her Brazen Careerist website, I'm not totally bought in. I really don't think that the younger generation is going to completely change the world of work. Technology will, the recession will, globalization will, but not this generation. They may benefit from all of the changes in work, but to say that they will cause it is short-sighted. Just because they're demanding more work/life balance doesn't mean companies will change--take a look at how the recession has halted flexible work arrangement. To say that they are working out of their parents basements because they really, truly want to do meaningful work is hogwash--they're doing it because they can! They're young, they're not used to the freedom--and responsibility--that comes from living on their own. Their standard of living is fairly low--mom and dad's basement (and fridge) is pretty attractive compared to communal dorm living. This will change--they'll want more privacy, mom and dad will want their house back.
What I'd like to do is fast forward a dozen years or so and see how unique and idealistic this generation turns out to be. Tell me, when they're in their 30s and 40s, with kids who need good schools and a mortgage that needs to be paid and parents who need help getting to the doctor, will they still be this idealistic? Will they still put meaningful work at the the top of the priority list, or will they need to choose--the way that many of us have--a job with benefits and a 401(k) and--eek!--a commute?
Or, when they get a bit more life experience, will they finally be able to put work in perspective? Maybe time is all that's needed to bridge the so-called workplace generational divide. Maybe Gen Y just needs to grow up.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
But I am also back in corporate America. This time as a contractor, but I'm an integral part of the team I'm on. I'm even on the org chart! I joke that I took the same job I had three years ago, only for less money and no benefits. But, then again, I do have flexibility. And that's the price that I, and many other working parents, pay when we choose to step off the corporate ladder. I'm okay with my choice, primarily because I had the opportunity to make it. But what if someone else made the choice for me? You can bet I'd be mad as hell.
Apparently it happens all the time. A new study, Getting a Job, Is There a Motherhood Penalty?, highlights the pay gap between working women who have children and those who do not. The study is getting some press (BusinessWeek article here) and of course, it's also getting some people riled up.
As part of the research, equally qualified mothers and non-mothers submitted resumes for a job (the only indication that an applicant was a mother was the inclusion of a Parent-Teacher Association activity). In every category, the "mother" was judged more harshly than the non-mother. She was expected to be less committed and competent, would be allowed fewer days of arriving late and needed to score higher on tests to be considered for employment. All this because of one line on a resume! So for all those moms thinking about re-entering the workforce, beware the advice to highlight your volunteer work!!
(However, the part in the study that really got me is this: "Men were not penalized for, and sometimes benefited from, being a parent." Another topic for another time, this annoying double standard)
I could sit here and gripe about how unfair life is, but I won't. I've been riding on the see-saw of family and work for years now. There are times when I give more time to work and times when I give more time to family, but overall it's been okay so I don't have much to complain about.
But here's something that the study doesn't show: Being a mother makes me a better worker. Yep, it's true. Because I am a mother, I am:
Better prepared to deal with people. I have two children, Thing One and Thing Two. They are twenty months apart in age and a world apart in personality. Although they are being raised in the same house, with the same parents and the same values, rules, and other control factors, they are very different people with different temperaments and approaches to life. What works for Thing One does not work for Thing Two. Thing One is easygoing, happy to be around, easily amused. Thing Two is serious, stubborn, intensely focused, hard to smile. So, I've had to change my parenting approach when dealing with them. But the benefit is that if I'm managing someone--a subordinate or a supervisor--I'm much more in tune with his or her personality and can tailor my approach to fit the situation. And while I'd read plenty of management books before I became a parent, none of Steven Covey's principles made the impact as my real-life parenting experience.
More efficient. Many people say that multi-tasking was invented by moms. And I can see why. Just as when I'm "Mom" I can cook dinner, talk on the phone and help Thing Two with an arts and crafts project, when I'm "worker" I really can have a few IM windows open, listen to a conference call and send out a business note. The difference is, I know when I can give some tasks my half-attention and when I need to focus on just one task. I attribute this to being a parent because there are times--when you need to suss out the truth, calm a fear, or listen to a problem--when you need to give a kid some undivided attention. Likewise, there are times at work when you need to ignore the phone, shut down the instant message and just get the work done.
More effective. Another well-worn cliche is "if you want something done, give it to a busy person." But in my case, it's true. I'm much more efficient when I have a lot to do, and I'm effective because I get it done. Because I have a limited amount of time that I can spend at my desk, I don't really think about it. I don't get overwhelmed, I just chunk things into tasks and I do it. And this has extended beyond my work into other areas of my life, such as working out: even though I work from home and could take time out during the hours of 9 and 3 to run, history shows that I won't do it. So that's why the alarm goes off at 5:30 every day. That's my workout time, and I have just one hour to get it done. And, most days I do.
Able to see what's important. Before kids, I'd stay late to get the one last thing done. I'd send notes at midnight. I'd respond to every single mail that hit the inbox. I was quick and responsive. Now, though, I'm not always the first to respond. And that's okay, because I've found that sometimes things work themselves out. Or other people want to add input and I'm not needed. I also don't feel the need to turn every single thing at work into something urgent and important. Because it can't all be urgent and important. And it's true: having kids does help you figure out what matters in life.
So, back to the study. Am I surprised by the findings? No, not really. I'm a bit jealous that men get a better deal on this whole parenting thing.
To use a phrase dreaded by most kids, I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed that corporate America can't see the benefits that working mothers bring to the table. I'm disappointed that there aren't better childcare options or more companies offering flexible work arrangements. But the fact that we can all talk about this and draw attention to it makes me think that we can work to change it.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Well, it was a really great trip!
What made it so great is that I wasn’t stressed. Attending this conference as an independent was so much easier than when I attended training as a full-time employee, because I wasn’t being pulled in a dozen different directions.
When I was employed full-time, attending a training session was really difficult. Despite all the professional development and training that my company touted in its recruitment literature, I never felt completely free to participate. That’s because it was expected that even when I was out of the office at a conference (or for any other reason) I would complete my work and hit all my deadlines. It was the unwritten rule: I’ll fund the course, but go at your own expense. And we all knew—whether we were out on vacation, at a conference, or down with the flu—we’d pay for it. The running joke was that you worked so many hours before, during and after your time out of the office that you should have charged the company overtime rather than taking vacation time!
What I remember about going to training sessions when I was employed was that I’d always come home exhausted, and often sick as well. That’s because I’d burn out. I’d go to the seminars for eight hours, and try to squeeze another eight hours of work in during breaks, before breakfast and in the evenings. I certainly didn’t get what I really needed at the time—the exchange of ideas, the networking, the energy to bring a fresh perspective to my work.
While it was hard for me–correction, it is hard for me—to divorce my professional self from the company I spent more than 10 years with, I loved attending this conference as an independent contractor. I was finally present—there in mind as well as body—at all the sessions. I didn’t return calls during breaks; rather I reviewed my notes from the sessions. I wasn’t trying to simultaneously clear out my inbox and keep projects going; instead, I stayed behind to talk to the other attendees and network. I didn’t put out fires; I brought a calm and open mind to each session.
And I finally realized that yes, professional development can be inspiring and refreshing—not just another energy drain. When I needed the training the most—when I had a full-time, fast-paced job—I didn’t have the time or the energy to really invest in myself. What I learned this weekend is that professional development is much like anything in this world—you get out of it what you put into it. And, also much like anything in this world, it took me quite a long time to learn this lesson.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Except when there's a blabberer near you. The place was nearly empty except for one other customer. I couldn't see her because my back was to her, but boy could I hear her. And boy was she boring. All she talked about was her kids. It went something like this:
"and Thomas loves blueberries"
"and Isabella will only eat them if they're mashed up"
"Isabella wants to sleep in Thomas's bed"
"Thomas said the cutest thing"
And so on. This is my what I feared when I left my job to spend more time with my family. I never wanted to be the stay-at-home mom who could only talk about her children. It's draining! That's why stay-at-home moms are ignored when they go to dinner parties--they're not interesting.
There's no need for this. Just because you're up to your elbows in dirty diapers an mashed peas doesn't mean you get to bow out of society. It's January 2009--have an opinion! What do you think of Obama signing the fair pay act? What about those Wall Street bonuses? Or the octuplets? Or, if all that is too deep, who do you think will win the Superbowl or the Oscar for best picture?
I'm not nearly as informed as I'd like to be, despite my online news habit. However, it's not that hard to talk about something other than your children. Not that your children aren't fascinating, wonderful, amazing beings--they are. But do yourself, and everyone else, a favor and go to Discussion Divas and sign up for a weekly email that is designed to keep women informed. Make an effort--show your children and the rest of the world that even though you may be out of the workforce, you're not completely out of touch.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Many think this is the ideal gig for moms. You get to flex your creative muscles, cover any gaps in your resume, and still be there for your kids. Oh yeah, and you can make money!
But I'd like to bust that last myth. Freedom and flexibility have a cost--one that can easily be measured in dollars. The writing I've been doing, whether commercial or corporate, comes pretty cheap. I know by speaking with some other "independents" I'm not making as much as I could. Some are making three or four times my hourly rate, which amounts to a heck of a lot more when you tally up your invoices at the end of the year.
But this is what I get in exchange for my freedom. I couldn't pretend to provide for a family on what I'm making right now. I'm lucky I don't have to, but being type A, it's hard for me to admit this. If I wanted to make that kind of money, I could, but then I'd need to put in a lot more hours than I'm willing to give right now.
I spent quite a bit of time in a previous life documenting the HR "total rewards" packages that companies put together when they stop handing out raises. Given this, I'm looking at what else I'm getting as a freelancer rather than, well, actual money. I found a great example Friday when I got the call from daycare to pick up my daughter because of a mysterious rash. I wasn't upset when I got the call. This reaction was so much different from how I'd reacted in the past, when I was in corporateland. I told my husband honestly that it was okay--I had no deadlines looming so I could look at it as a little extra girl time. I felt no guilt. And, later, after the doctor's diagnosis of Fifth Disease, which is no longer contagious after the rash presents itself, I felt no anger at a day wasted. Because the day wasn't really wasted--I took my girl grocery shopping, we met the new doctor, we took a nap.
Since leaving the corporate world, my currency has changed. I'm starting to look not just at how much I'm making an hour, but rather how I'm spending my days. I don't always do this, and I still think far too much about my dwindling 401(k) and bank account, but I really am trying to see the total rewards of being free.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
However, the study doesn't tell you how to make a part-time schedule really work. As a mom who has worked part-time, full-time, no time and now (as a contractor) any time I can, here is what I learned.
First, ask yourself if you can afford to work part-time. In additon to the salary, you need to think about benefits and vacation.
Salary - When it came to my salary, I was pretty lucky. I worked for a large company with established policies for part time work, so my pay was calculated on a percentile. For example, when I worked 3 days/week, I made 60% of my full-time salary. All raises were also calculated based on full time salary.
Benefits - If you get them, great. But realize how much they'll reduce your paycheck and think about how much you want to contribute to things like 401(k), FSAs, etc. When I went part-time, I had to reduce my contributions to my 401(k) and drop the ESPP altogether so I would actually take home money!! So, I have lost out on future retirement income (maybe not a bad think with the current state of the stock market!)
Vacation - My vacation time was also reduced, but with all the days off, I didn't have to use vacation to go to doctor's appointments or anything else, so I had plenty of vacation time. One trick if I learned was to have Monday be my “non-work” days since it seems that many holidays fall on Mondays (labor day and memorial day, at least)—this way I didn’t burn up any vacation days unnecessarily.
Once you've figured out the nuts and bolts, you need to figure out how to make it work--for real.
In my opinion, and experience, you need to have flexibility as well as boundaries. Of course, flexibility is a two-way street. If the person you really need to meet with can only meet on your “non-work” day, you might have to take the meeting (or call). However, I found that once I started allowing conference calls to sneak into my “non-work” day, it was a slippery slope. And I slid down that slope a lot. I think that there were times when the company got more out of me than I was paid for.
Really, you have to ask yourself a hard question and give yourself an honest answer. Do you have a job that can really be done part-time? If you have responsibility for an entire area or for managing people, I'd say that you can't do this part-time. Maybe you could look for a job share option, but while it sounds great in theory, there are very few instances of this actually working. (if you know of a successful job share, let me know). The role I was in when I was part-time should have been a full-time position. I owned the marketing and communications for a 2,500 person organization. However, as much as I loved my job I wasn't ready to come back five days a week and give up the extra time with my kids. So I made a big mistake--I kept the job with a lot of responsibility and tried to squeeze it into three days. It didn't work. My performance was sub-par and I was completely stressed out.
The bottom line for me is that working part-time is not a cakewalk. It is hard socially, as I felt like I didn’t really fit into the stay-at-home mom world or fully into the work world. It was hard on my home life, as I found myself doing a lot of work while the kids napped or watched television. It was hard on work, as I felt that I was never giving it my all. When I worked full-time, in some ways it was easier because we all got into a rhythm and the boundaries are more clearly marked.
This is a very personal, very individual decision and I think that my work status (part-time, full-time, no-time) will continue to morph as the needs of my family change.