I had my first baby 10 weeks ago, a little boy called Sebastian. Definitely one of the most wonderful things that's ever happened to me -- one of my proudest moments.
Those nine months of pregnancy really focused my mind on what we are trying to achieve with the WIE Symposium, the annual women's empowerment conference I co-founded in 2010. WIE was created to "empower the next generation of women leaders", but that can feel like a slightly abstract concept until you start thinking about the life you're bringing into the world and the world you're bringing that life into.
I'd actually assumed I was having a girl and I was excited about this incredibly strong, smart, empowered young woman I was going to raise. So it was somewhat of a curveball to be told my firstborn was a boy. I was equally delighted of course. And needless to say, my son needs educating too -- about the role he can play to support gender issues around the world.
Now that I'm a mother myself, I have a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by many working mothers. And I have an even more profound respect for my fellow life-jugglers. Pregnancy can be hard -- physically and emotionally. And, having a child and running a business is tougher still. Getting three hours of sleep a night is a luxury and you need an MBA in the art of mullti-tasking.
There's a huge disparity between the numbers of women entering the workplace and those who make it to leadership positions. Women make up half the labor force but just 3 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Some attribute a portion of this fall-off to the fact that many career-driven women leave the workforce to have children, and never return, or return only for a short period because the support isn't there.
Like many others I'm tired of talking about work/life balance only in relation to the mothers -- it's the system that needs to adjust. The office construct as we know it, was created by men at a time women weren't even allowed to work. But as women have filtered into the workplace, nothing much in corporate culture has changed.
The CEO of a major bank said something at an event recently that struck a chord -- that in this internet age, its not about being in an office nine to five but about productivity and flexibility. I'm an entrepreneur and I choose my own hours but many aren't as lucky. So it's time to think about how we change the current workplace model, and those of us lucky enough to own or run businesses should lead the charge.
We explored these issues and many more at the third annual WIE Symposium in New York last month. Anne-Marie Slaughter was refreshingly honest about her experiences as a career woman and mother of two, while in the panel No VP Left Behind speakers such as Jackie Zehner and Citigroup's Linda Descano used their own workplace experiences to suggest ideas on how to get more women into the C-suite. In Go Fund Yourself we brought together a panel of powerful investors such as Kleiner Perkins partner Megan Quinn to help women entrepreneurs better understand how to fund their businesses. I moderated a panel called MomPreneurs to get practical insights and advice from powerhouses such as Babble co-founder Alisa Volkman, fashion & beauty expert Mary Alice Stephenson and XO Group's Carley Roney.
Conferences like WIE that bring women together are just one place for these conversations to take place. But as we go about our busy lives, breaking barriers and striving to get ahead, lets ensure we're also taking the time to think about all the practical applications that need to be in put in place for the workplace of the future. It's more important than ever to keep brainstorming, lobbying and implementing ideas that adequately address our needs and ultimately, those of our daughters, the next generation of working mothers.
"Partial transcript from opening speech at WIE New York 2012'