Sheryl Sandberg's 2010 TedWomen talk entitled "Why we have too few women leaders" offers three pieces of advice to women who want to stay in the workforce:
1. Sit at the table.
2. Make your partner a real partner.
3. Don't leave before you leave.
I agree with all three, and thank Sandberg for accurately conveying the importance of these pieces of advice.
Sandberg's advice point #3 is particularly important. "Don't leave before you leave" urges women to avoid making premature career decisions regarding maternity leave. This is a key piece of advice, and I personally know many exceptionally smart and driven women, who have uttered "I'm thinking of having children in 10 years, so I need to find a career where I can choose my own hours."
How in the world is any human supposed to know what their life is going to be like 10 years down the road, let alone how they will react to parenthood, or even if they will have these children a decade from now? Can any adult, man or woman, reasonably tell me you know that in 10 years from now your life will be in such a way that you have to find a job today that allows you to work Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.? Come on now.
As valuable as it is, "Don't leave before you leave" isn't a complete piece of advice -- going on maternity leave doesn't mean you have to leave the workforce. You can do everything right, and follow "Don't leave before you leave," and still wind up leaving for good. What about us women that want to return to work after we have children and just don't know how? Or what about the women who return to work and find it a struggle to balance it all?
I think Sandberg missed one very valuable piece of advice that answers these questions. So Sheryl, I'm adding a 4th piece of advice to your 2010 TED talk. This is for women everywhere:
1. Choose to stay your way
I have two children, ages 7 and 9. I made the choice to stay in the workforce, specifically in technology. In the 90s, and 00s, before Sandberg's talk materialized, I dutifully followed all three pieces of advice. And then, I took maternity leave. And then I came back to work.
For me, I was able to do find a balance between work and motherhood because I chose to stay my way. Granted, this is WAY easier said than done. It's a struggle, always has been, always will be. But keeping this top of mind serves to make things just a bit easier for me.
Please note -- in now way I am saying being a working parent is better or worse than being a full time parent. Once you have kids, you are responsible for other humans, and that's simply hard, no matter what.
If you are a woman and choose to work after you have children, things like happiness and mental health will be a lot easier to achieve if you Choose to Stay Your Way.
The key to this, is that Your Way is just that -- your way.
For me, I knew that sustainable pace and work-life balance were critical AND I knew that I truly enjoyed working in tech.
Here's what "Choose to stay your way" looks like for me on a typical day -
It's 7:20 p.m. on Monday night right now. Here's what my day looked like today
• 7-7:30 a.m.: Wake up, respond to some high priority emails.
• 7:30-9:00 a.m.: Get the kids dressed and off to school, eat breakfast, get ready to for work.
• 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.: Work -- several meetings, emails, working lunch.
• 3:00-4:00 p.m.: Time with the kids, pick them up from school, homework with kids.
• 4:00-6:00 p.m.: Work
• 6:00-7:00 p.m.: Time with the kids, dinner.
• 7:00-8:00 p.m.: Work emails, planning for tomorrow's meetings.
• 8:00-9:00 p.m.: Put kids to bed
• 9:00-10:00 p.m.: Me time, watch TV, read
It's the perfect day for me. Every day is different, and I know that I put in a full work-week, typically anywhere from 35-60 hours, and also leave time for my family and for myself. It's specifically not 9-5, and it's specifically not a straight block of work. And if we want to get even more granular, "My Way" is Monday through Friday, with one working night per week max (two if there's a critical dinner/function I must attend), and 20 percent max travel. And, there will be times when my children have a field trip that I choose to attend, and that's ok. Life isn't perfect. Work/life balance isn't perfect. What's important is showing up to work with high integrity and getting the job done, and putting in an honest week's worth of work.
I believe that if you Choose to Stay Your Way, you'll enjoy a career that's more balanced and that works for you.
Thoughts? What's worked for you? What hasn't worked for you?