Pregnancy Week 63: How 4 Different Women Think About Balancing Big Jobs And Growing Families

balancing career and family

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April 15, 2024 at 6:18AM UTC
No two women are alike. But many ambitious women face the same challenge of pursuing big jobs and career ambitions while being responsible for growing families. 

You may be familiar with the question, ”How does she do it?” This week we focus on that question, but with a bit of a twist. The mental component of balance can be just as important as the tactics, so we explore how four different women also think about how they balance their work and families.

Poppy MacDonald, President of Politico:

When asked what advice she would give other women about pursuing a demanding career while still having a family, she told Verily Magazine
"You hear that women are still nervous about, 'Can I have children and have a driven job — can I balance those two?' The one piece of advice I would say is, use your kids to motivate you. I made the choice to come back to work, and I now am very conscious of what I’m giving up being in an office so long every day. I think, 'Hey, I’m making this sacrifice of being away from my kids during the day, what is that sacrifice for, and what am I building here?' It makes me think: How do I do something that feels significant and worthy of that sacrifice? So I would say, rather than thinking about children as an impediment to a driven career, actually use your children to motivate you to have a significant impact, because otherwise it’s not worth the sacrifice of being away from them."

Lisa Lacasse, Deputy President of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network:

She talked to time management expert Laura Vanderkam about how she manages balancing four teenagers and her job:
“I just do everything all the time,” she says. “I’ll go to work and spend 20 minutes during downtime finalizing logistics for summer camp.” She works the hours that work for her, coming in a little later if she’s got a school event, and then making up the time elsewhere. “I’ve never asked permission for the flexibility of my job,” she says. In life, it’s sometimes better to ask for forgiveness, which may not be necessary if you do good work. “I think women in particular need to feel more empowered to do that,” she says. “No one ever told me to do it, I just did.”

Samantha Ettus, Work-Life Expert and Author of “The Pie Life”:

Samantha Ettus has written a few gems that she elaborates on more deeply in her book. In particular, we loved what she told "The Guardian":
"It is pivotal to have a great partner. I have never seen a woman reach her potential who isn’t either single, or with a partner who is truly supportive of her. Remember they are not doing you a favour when they help with the school run or the washing-up – you are a team together.
She also shared her basic theory that women are most satisfied have something in common: 
"I have worked with thousands of women and the happiest and most fulfilled among them have one thing in common: They spend time in six or seven slices of their life’s pie rather than just two or three. I realized that a happy and fulfilling life involves health, a relationship, kids, a career, friends, hobbies, and your community. And from there, The Pie Life was born. There is no room in that pie for guilt. You have all of the ingredients you need today but you just need to shake up the recipe a bit. When you think about the most delicious pies, they are not the ones that are store-bought and perfect but they are the gooey, yummy, messy ones."

Brenda Barnes, former CEO of PepsiCo and Sara-Lee:

Recently, the former (and first female) CEO of PepsiCo, Brenda Barnes passed away. She famously quit her job to become a stay-at-home mother 18 months into her role, igniting public scrutiny and commentary about whether this signalled that women couldn’t, in fact, “have it all.” At the time she had 3 school-aged children and told the New York Times:
"I’m not leaving because they need more of me, but because I need more of them...I suppose a lot of chief executives can find a way to balance work and family, but I couldn't figure out how to do it with 100 percent commitment to the company — in a way that would give me a role in my children's life... I hope it doesn't tell people that women can't stay in a big job because they have kids. I hope people will focus on the fact that I've been with the company 22 years, and I hope that people might say, 'Isn't it great that she could work so hard and make such a contribution to her company.'"
What made her story more remarkable was that she chose to come back to become a successful CEO of Sara-Lee seven years later. Her children were teenagers at the time.
There are many reasons to love Brenda Barnes’ story. One of the things that strikes us about it is that she goes out of her way to describe her choice as personal to her (rather than as applicable to all working moms). And that, of course, is what we hope you take away from these perspectives from strong individuals, each with their own points of view. 
Your thinking about work-life balance may evolve as your family grows, but ultimately it’s the only perspective that matters on a topic where everyone seems to have an opinion to share.

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