Working Moms are Struggling — These 2 Business Leaders Have Advice for Women Who Feel Stretched Thin

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Photo Courtesy of Citigroup Inc.

Photo Courtesy of Citigroup Inc.

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May 30, 2024 at 3:35PM UTC

Being a working parent has never been easy, but COVID-19 has been particularly damaging to the careers of working mothers. 

In fact, the National Women’s Law Center found that women left the labor force at four times the rate of men in September, and Pew Research Center reported in October that the share of working-age moms who are not employed increased from 2.2% in September 2019 to 4.7% in September 2020. 

Although many moms are feeling left out by their environments — and leaving the workplace as a result — others feel supported by especially encouraging employers. One such employer? Citigroup. 

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In a recent interview with Fairygodboss, Deb Waters, Head of Operations and Technology for the Private Bank and Technology for the Commercial Bank at Citi, and her colleague Sandi Gerstein, Change Management Lead for Private Bank Operations, sat down to share how they’ve been adjusting their lives to manage during COVID-19. In our conversation, they also shared the ways Citi has been helping with the transition and provided advice for working moms no matter their place of work. Keep reading for their insights. 

Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities?  

DW: My current role is to run Operations and Technology for Citi Private Bank, as well as Technology for Citi’s Commercial Bank. In addition, I run the diversity initiatives in our Institutional Clients Group Operations and Technology division. 

Right now my focus is to make sure my teams are healthy, safe and productive given the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Traditionally, my priorities are to help the business and Citi meet their objectives. I am focused on digital strategy, as well as helping our sales force be more productive by keeping information at their fingertips. Beyond this, I’m always thinking about how to help my teams grow their careers.  

SG: I am responsible for driving operational and cultural change that results in risk reduction, process optimization and digital automation within Private Bank Investment Operations at Citi.

Paint a picture of a typical day for me. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to sleep?

DW: First thing I do in the morning is feed the cat, then I write down a list of what I think is important for me to do that day. I spend the day reviewing projects, working on strategic plans for the future, addressing issues, mentoring staff, meeting with different business units within Citi and sometimes with clients or working on our diversity programs. I don’t like to end the day until I have looked at all my emails. My real end of the day is reading a few pages of a good novel before bed.

SG: The first thing I do when I wake up is check the weather. I don’t like surprises and prefer to be prepared for what’s ahead! In normal times, I drop my kids off at school on my way to the train and catch up on the news during my commute. This is also when I would check my work emails and calendar, so I know what’s waiting for me when I get to the office.

After I get settled at work, the first thing I do is respond to my emails, then make a list of goals for the day. This list changes as the day goes on, but helps me focus and prioritize my time. 

After work, I do most of my preparations for the next day. I make sure the kids finish their homework. We eat dinner and spend quality time together as a family. We read or play games. Once the kids are in bed, I prepare lunch for the following day, throw in a load of laundry and tidy up the kitchen. Then I relax for a bit and go to bed before doing the same thing the next day.

What does “balance” mean to you, and in what ways do you feel like you’ve achieved it?

DW: Balance to me means doing what is most important that day. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was when I was pregnant. My mentor told me to take it one day at a time and I still live by that. When my son was little, if he had a baseball game and that was the most important thing for me to do, I would leave early to see it. If I had a big meeting the next day, that would be the most important that day. I think in our current situation, finding balance is harder than ever. Instead of working from home, some days I find myself living at work and cooking way too much! 

SG: Balance is about being in tune with the needs of my colleagues at work and my family at home. I try to approach managing my workload at home and at work in the same way so there is consistency and I can look at my day as a whole. I embrace that life and work can co-exist and that I can weave both into the day. It also means that in the same way I prioritize a deliverable at work, I need to prioritize certain time I spend with my family as immovable and urgent.

Attaining work-life balance can’t be done solo. What people, resources and tools do you rely on to get it all done?

DW: I am so lucky to have a wonderful husband who is truly a partner. He helps me in so many ways. I also had the most amazing babysitter for 12 years. I teased her that she was my wife!  She took amazing care of my son and allowed me flexibility when I needed it, including when I traveled or got stuck late at work. I also try to work out so that I can get some time to myself and it helps me mentally, too. Finally, I truly believe you have to have a boss you can talk to. There are times when you will need some extra help. Working for someone who knows you will get what needs to get done, done but gives you flexibility when needed is imperative. 

SG: My husband, babysitter, cleaning service, parents, in-laws and Google Calendar!  It takes a village.

As a working mom, what advice do you have for other women who are balancing work with parenting?

DW: The same advice I got. Take it one day at a time — especially when you have a new baby, as you are figuring so many things out for the first time.

SG: There are two pieces of advice I give. No. 1: You don’t have to do everything. Try to put systems in place, make technology work for you and enable your children to be independent so they can serve themselves. Number two: Don’t judge yourself based on what others are doing.  We’re all different. We have different talents, skills, needs, means and priorities. Learn from those around you, but don’t fall into the trap of making yourself feel bad because you’re not living up to others expectations that they set for themselves. Focus on what matters most in your own life.

What resources or support has Citi offered you as a working parent? 

DW: Citi has a really strong set of resources for working parents. We have seminars, trainings and mentors. We have programs for new parents, we have rooms where moms can nurse and we have programs for managers of new parents. Additionally, I had a great relationship with my boss and he was flexible with me, so certain days I could drop my son at school and start my work day a little later. Citi has been very open and understanding during COVID-19 and has provided tools and support given the new challenges working parents are currently facing.

SG: Since the beginning of the pandemic, Citi has been reminding employees of all the existing benefits we have that are helpful during this time while also introducing new benefits. Some new benefits that stand out were free pharmacy delivery, along with assistance for those who didn’t have the proper technology to work from home. There were also many forums where employees posted their tips and tricks. The best support I’ve had so far, though, was from my management team. They are understanding about working flex time, moving meeting times and accommodating unexpected interruptions due to lack of childcare.

How have you had to adjust your parenting during the COVID-19 crisis?

DW: My first challenge was deciding whether or not to bring my son home from college and then, when and how to since he was not within driving distance. Once he was home, I had to adjust to having much more food in the house, more noise and a constant request to go see friends. We had to make sure he truly understood the seriousness of this pandemic.  

SG: I am now a bit more easygoing when my kids ask to do certain activities on their own.  I realize that they are getting older and I cannot supervise everything, especially now that they have a lot more free time. They’ve been getting really good at baking cookies!

I’m also using this time to teach my kids responsibility and organization — they must be on time to their Zoom classes and help with chores. I worked with them to create organization systems for all of their school papers and taught them how to use Google Calendar to help plan our day.

What has been the biggest challenge for you as you are navigating this ‘new normal?’

DW: I think the biggest challenge from a work perspective is making sure my teams are OK. I have people all over the world and there were different situations in different countries that had to be considered. I also had to adjust how I worked, as I didn’t have a real home office (I now work in the kitchen with a full setup!). I miss being in Manhattan and walking everywhere instead of sitting in the same spot all day long. I also miss the social interactions the office provides.

SG: I find it challenging to be home with my children and not be able to spend the entire day with them.  Although we do spend time together each evening, I have to forego some fun activities they are doing in order to get my work done.

What is your favorite way to destress outside of work? 

DW: My favorite way to destress is gardening.  I absolutely love it. The one plus from this year is that I have been at our house outside NYC and have been able to watch my garden every day. Every morning I inspect to see what new plants have come up or opened. It is a real pleasure.

SG: I just started doing Diamond Painting and I love how relaxing it is! I bought sets for my kids to join me, although they aren’t loving it as much as I do. When the weather is nice, I also enjoy taking walks while listening to some of my favorite podcasts.


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