Work-life balance sounds great, in theory, but is it realistic? Kanyatta Walker, a working mother and VP at ADP, doesn’t think so — and for a very good reason.
“Personally, I do not believe that work-life balance is 100% achievable or realistic,” she says. “As a leader, mother and wife, I believe each day is like conducting an orchestra. Each day is a new song and all the different instruments of the orchestra must be in tune and in synch to create harmony for the day.”
Of course, some days the tune of the orchestra will be a little off — and that’s okay. Walker recalls one such day in which she wound up missing her daughter’s school event because she worked through it. Since then, though, Walker has learned not only to go easier on herself, but to set boundaries between work and life that help her show up for both.
And in working for an organization that believes in respecting those boundaries, she’s had some help from ADP, too: “I make it my priority to leave work on time to attend my daughter’s softball, cross country meets and basketball games. No one gives me a hard time for not being available after 5 p.m. on game day.”
Walker recently shared her insights with us on balancing leadership responsibilities with motherhood, as well as her No. 1 piece of advice for women who want to excel professionally and personally. Check out her responses below.
Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities?
As Vice President of Client Product Support at ADP, I lead the organization that provides expert-level product and technical support to our business units and clients. Additionally, as part of ADP’s digital transformation, I am responsible for identifying and driving reliability, automation and service enablement initiatives to improve our client and associate experiences with ADP’s products and internal applications.
Paint a picture of a typical day. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to sleep?
A typical day for me varies due to work travel, but all days start between 5-6 a.m. with coffee, prayer, a morning devotional and thirty minutes of cardio, in that order. I learned early on in my career that the best time for self-care is first thing in the morning. I make it a priority to ensure I have time to connect with myself. Rising early also allows me to get a load or two of laundry completed before dropping my daughter off to school.
What does “balance” mean to you, and in what ways do you feel like you’ve achieved it?
Personally, I do not believe that work-life balance is 100% achievable or realistic. As a leader, mother and wife, I believe each day is like conducting an orchestra. Each day is a new song and all the different instruments of the orchestra must be in tune and in synch to create harmony for the day. Some days, I’m not that great of a conductor and there is just noise and clatter. A good day for me is when all the components of my life work together in perfect harmony. That doesn’t mean I have to be superwoman and do everything.
Attaining work-life balance can’t be done solo. What people, resources and tools do you rely on to get it all done?
Work-life harmony as I call it takes a village. I depend on my husband, sister and housekeeper to build a strong family unit. My husband is a great life-partner, amazing cook and my daughter’s softball coach. Most days I do not have to worry about shuffling her off to practice because he takes care of that. My sister lives nearby and most of the time our work travel schedules do not conflict. Therefore, if my husband has to work late, my daughter can catch a bus to my sister’s house so she’s not home alone. I used to try and clean my own house and realized I was creating needless stress trying to maintain our family’s busy schedule. I quickly made the decision to prioritize what was most important for me to do personally (attending 90% of the softball games) and what can someone else do to help our family.
What’s one misconception you think exists around work-life balance today?
“Mommy guilt” …if you are not able to bake cupcakes and show up at every school party or school event, that makes you a “BAD MOM” or incapable of running a company or large organization.
Let’s talk about your company’s culture. What’s your favorite aspect of it, and how does your employer aid you in achieving balance?
The corporate culture at ADP is extremely diverse and really gives me an opportunity to be my authentic self. We work hard, play hard and extend support to one another so that perceived failures are mere lessons learned.
What’s something you think most people (perhaps even current employees) don’t know about your company that you think they should?
ADP is the leader in HR Technology software. We may have been around a long time, but we are leading the way for HR Innovation and designing a better world at work for people.
What’s been your favorite career mistake?
My favorite career mistake, or lesson learned, especially as a parent, is not setting, sharing and being clearer about my personal values and boundaries …then having the audacity to be upset at previous leaders for not respecting undisclosed boundaries. I have found throughout my career that if you make people aware of what’s important to you, then they will often honor and respect that.
For example, earlier in my career, I worked in an organization where it was typical to work late hours. I made the mistake of just working, missing a school event and then being upset that someone invited me to a meeting after 5 p.m. For me, attending as many of my daughter’s events as possible is important. Therefore, I make it my priority to leave work on time to attend my daughter’s softball, cross country meets and basketball games. I don't explain it — I just do it! No one gives me a hard time for not being available after 5 p.m. on game day.
What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to other women who want to excel professionally and personally?
Give yourself room to make mistakes. It’s hard work being a mother, wife and great employee. Don’t worry if you aren’t great at everything — capitalize on your strengths and be open to learning. Talk to your kids and spouse/life partner. Don’t assume your kids are too young to understand your day and how your work impacts people. My daughter understands that her mom helps to ensure that the systems that impact the livelihood of millions of employees continue operating and she’s very proud to know her mother plays a role in achieving that success.
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