Work-life balance is such a common issue for women (and men) in the workplace and often we hear that companies have reputations for “good for work-life balance” or are “bad for work-life balance.” While some of these generalities may be culturally true, we also worry they can be quite misleading. After all, what balance looks like to one woman may seem very unbalanced to another. That’s why we loved this story of two different women, Alexis Perez and Amanda Kaufman who work in the consulting industry, at the same company (Accenture) and how they have achieved their work-life balance on a day-to-day basis despite making very different career choices.
Alexis and Amanda:
We have known each other for the past five years. We met working for global professional services company Accenture on a project in Chicago and have remained colleagues and friends. We’ve both progressed in our careers. We’re similar in age, occupation and family status. We both have husbands who have demanding professional careers. And, within a year of each other, we each welcomed a child into our busy lives.
From a career standpoint, both of us chose different, but complimentary paths at the same company. Alexis first took a role focused on developing the Global Operating Model offering, then transitioned to be the Offering Development Manager for our Sourcing & Procurement practice–both roles without a day-to-day focus on external clients. Amanda stayed in the Strategy practice, continuing to travel and pursue client-focused projects. This article is written by both of us to highlight our motivations, our differences in career and life experience, and what we recommend women finding themselves at similar crossroads consider.
For almost nine years, I was your typical Monday through Thursday traveling consultant, and I loved it. I loved the challenging work, the clients I met, the adventure of seeing a new city and the great people on my teams. As my husband and I started thinking about growing our family, I often would think about how I would make it work. I grew up with involved parents who never missed a single ballet lesson, recital, choir concert or golf lesson. I always felt lucky to have my parents around when I needed them, and I wanted the same for my future child.
During my pregnancy, I did everything imaginable to prepare for the birth of my daughter, but there was one question that seemed to occupy my thoughts on a daily basis…“How am I going to make this work?” Throughout my pregnancy and maternity leave, I played out the scenarios in my head—whether to travel, work locally, work from home, take my daughter with me on the road (the thought of traveling with a toddler every week makes my blood pressure rise) or find a new job. Because my husband is a lawyer at a big law firm, who often works late hours and many weekends, we decided that my being a traveling parent would not work for us. After exploring my options and careful consideration, I decided to take an internal role in my company’s Offering Development group. Instead of a two-hour flight on Monday mornings, my commute now consists of a trip down two flights of stairs to my home office where I spend about 95 percent of my working time.
“The biggest perk of my role is complete flexibility…I have been able to set the hours I work, which is usually not ideal for a client-facing role.”
How I do it:
Because my role is truly global, meaning, my “internal clients” are all over the world, I can work from any location. Most of the time, I work from home. My typical day begins between 5:30 – 6:00 a.m., when I wake up, get dressed, feed my daughter breakfast and check the large quantity of e-mails I get while I’m sleeping from my colleagues in Europe and Asia. At 7 a.m., my nanny arrives, and my work day officially begins. My mornings are stacked with conference calls, then I spend the afternoon head down on the projects I’m working on. Since my daughter goes to bed early, and my husband gets home late, I try to carve out time in my schedule to sneak in a workout at the gym. My nanny leaves for the day at 4 p.m., so I shut down my computer (for a while) to spend time with my daughter until her bedtime around 6:30-7 p.m. Once my daughter is in bed, I cook and eat dinner and typically log back on my computer to finish my work for the day.
The biggest perk of my role is complete flexibility, which I would not have if I continued as a Strategy consultant. Now, if I have a sick kid, need to step away to throw in a load of laundry, or simply need to take care of a personal matter, I can do it. In addition, I have been able to set the hours I work, which is usually not ideal for a client-facing role. Finally, I have been able to eliminate the traditional time “sucks”–I no longer spend eight plus hours of my week commuting and can refocus this time on work and family.
I love consulting. I love the variety of projects, the ever-changing teams and challenges, the different clients and the travel. It is what I have done for my entire career so far, and I don’t see it changing! When I met my husband, and for the early part of our marriage, he was also a traveling consultant. We would commute to and from the airport together on Mondays and Thursdays. For a time, we would take off and fly to opposite corners of the country and reunite for the weekends.
During these early times, I was sorting a lot out. I had moved from Canada to the United States. I had become a stepmother and co-parent to my husband's young children. I was rebooting my network and striving to perform in a much larger and more competitive marketplace. I was reading a lot of books, and having many deep, quality conversations with my husband about how we were going to make all of this, and our future family plans, work.
I had a couple of defining realizations: I preferred a life that was over-full rather than under-utilized. I preferred a family financial situation that was flexible to deal with uncertainties such as corporate layoffs, serious and sudden illness, and other "life" moments. Both partners contributing significantly to family comfort levels was important to both of us and important to the power dynamics in our relationship. I love the thrill of the pursuit of excellence and self-improvement that my career offers me.
How I do it:
My husband and I arrived at this conclusion: I love consulting, he does not love consulting. He wanted to spend time in town to take full advantage of his evening with the kids. I wanted to see how far I could push myself in this career and have the flexibility to be fully present when I was in town.
When it came time for us to expand our family, we decided he would be "the parent in town," and we would set up childcare that would be nurturing but flexible for our schedules. We would make the investment in an au pair as well as in daycare, and we would have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D to make sure I could keep going with this career while still having quality relationships with my family. I would have to negotiate with my leaders to make sure they understood that I was here to pursue this career, and not because I felt I didn't have a choice.
“I wanted to see how far I could push myself in this career and have the flexibility to be fully present when I was in town.”
In my typical week, I travel Monday through Thursday. I’m up early Monday morning, before everyone else, and climb into a car to the airport. I manage all our home finances, schedules and administration mainly because I can take care of most of it wherever I happen to be. My husband tends to take care of the laundry and dishes, although we do share physical chores over the weekend. We’ve hired a maid service to take care of regular cleaning…don’t want to spend a second of my precious weekend time scrubbing a toilet! I fly home again Thursday evening and often work from home or the office on Fridays.
Friday nights are always date night. I transition to a weekend that is focused on my marriage, family, household and a little recharge for myself, too. I also take advantage of my flights to read, catch up on tasks, keep myself organized. I’m actually more consistent about exercising when I’m staying in a hotel, and I can roll out of bed into the gym.
What we realized
As we wrote this article, we realized that despite our different career trajectories and travel schedules, we really do share similar challenges and rewards. We both have flexibility; Alexis because she doesn’t hassle with airports, and Amanda because she has personal time Monday through Wednesday evening and during her commute. We both have constraints because our jobs have high expectations of us, and we both always have more on our minds to accomplish than can be realistically achieved by anyone. We both struggle with achieving balance and have to work hard to ensure that work doesn’t encroach too far on what is personally fulfilling and rewarding in life.
At first, Amanda thought, “An internal role must be easier than getting on a plane,” and Alexis thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a few evenings a week to myself?” But, we both now realize that perception isn’t necessarily reality. Alexis’s job is very challenging, and Amanda doesn’t have much free time because she tends to fill it with as much productivity as she can before she heads into another weekend. We are both happy with our choices, and we both make it work in our own ways.
This article was originally published by Accenture and is republished with permission.