struggle for balance extends into every aspect of our busy lives—most
especially in our work lives. Thanks in part to the voices of
executive women, corporations are beginning to see the value
of flexible work arrangements and “life-friendly” environments.
These corporate women are banding together through professional
organizations to harness their power and strengthen their numbers.
Through education, mentoring, and networking efforts, these
communities offer the promise of real cross-industry, organizational
change to keep the best and brightest women in corporate career
the past several years, I have been working with one such professional
organization, the Women’s
Vision Foundation (WVF) helping to develop educational programs
and build the organization and its membership. This foundation
grew from the inspiration of several senior executive women
who found it lonely at the top—and unfulfilling to keep playing
by the old rules. They realized that together they could change
the rules and pave the way for the women (and men!) behind them
to advance their careers while still maintaining a life outside
the corporation. They are dedicated to, as the Denver Business
Journal says, to “altering the workplace in a way that doesn’t
drive out talented men and women.”
women in the Women’s Vision Foundation want to succeed without
having to put in longer hours at the office. They want a strong
sense of community and purpose, opportunities for education
and leadership, and connections to other women experiencing
similar career challenges. Knowing that work is transitional,
they also want to maintain and grow their professional network
and to mentor and support those rising through the ranks. The
balance sought by these busy women involves not just time for
family but a different work environment—one that gives them
permission to develop their character and spirit as well as
their skills and competencies.
A New Voice
leaders of Women’s Vision Foundation are all successful, top-level
corporate women who have attained top status by playing the
old game—work first, family and life later (maybe)! The old
rules didn’t leave much time for balance, especially for women
trying to break through the glass ceiling. In the old model,
to acknowledge the need for time off for self or family was
essentially to take one’s self off the career track and on to
the “mommy track.” To protest the rules was to be told, “You
just don’t know how to play.”
women now have ascended to positions of power and are seeking
to change the rules—to institutionalize more “life friendly”
work environments. While they still represent only a very small
portion of top management (only 12.5% of the corporate officers
in Fortune 500 companies), these women are enlisting the growing
ranks of female middle managers who aspire to top-level positions.
They are equipping tomorrow’s leaders with the knowledge and
skills necessary to change the corporate world. They are coaching,
teaching, telling their stories, and sharing their wisdom. They
are growing a powerful network of women across all industry
they are evangelizing the benefits of a well-rounded workforce
and giving people permission to change the rules. They are organizing
a choir of voices and teaching them to sing a new song. Their
voices are being amplified by the war for talent. Study after
study reports that money isn’t everything –employees are increasingly
seeking “balance benefits.” Senior managers in IT companies
consider balancing their work and home lives to be their biggest
personal challenge. A study last year by executive recruiting
Stuart reported that 75% of the women polled were actively
trying to improve the balance between work and other elements
of their lives. Ernst & Young estimated that they saved
$17 million during fiscal years 1997 and 1998 by addressing
work-life balance issues and thereby improving their retention
of women professionals[  ].
result of this attention to balance is that women are learning
their value and beginning to focus their energies on redefining
career “success.” With help from the senior women, employees
are requesting new criteria for advancement and expanding competency
requirements to include skills that foster balance. Professional
organizations, like the Women’s Vision Foundation have always
offered women a channel for community. Now, with so many women
pursuing careers, these organizations are offering their members
more and better information and strategies for finding work-life
balance. They are providing a new kind of professional development
with mentoring and networking—channels that men have always
known how to access, both formally and informally.
educational offerings of professional women’s organizations
include a variety of seminars, workshops, and resources to help
members understand how culture, job paths, and advancement strategies
best fit their ambitions, aspirations, and lifestyle. For example,
during the current year, the Women’s Vision Foundations offerings
have covered everything from career management to spiritual
leadership, to handling transitions, to “how to become a corporate
board member.” The most popular events connect top executives
with mid-level managers for an exchange of best practices and
“lessons from the ladder.” During their annual Success Forum,
a daylong conference, WVF provided women with the insights of
keynoter Erin Brokovich as well as sessions on e-stress, living
your passion, and fearless living.
women’s organizations seem to be offering similar programs.
The 2001 Professional Women's Summit Series, sponsored by Women in Technology International
(WITI), offer a number of sessions on balance, ranging from
“Free to Succeed: Designing the Life You Want in the New Free
Agent Economy” to “Personal Stories of Successful Women,” which,
according to their brochure, is one of their most popular sessions!
Business Women’s Association offers entire tracks devoted
to “Workplace 2001,” lifestyles, and career builders. Business
and Professional Women USA offers a seminar called “Surviving
and Thriving at Work—Your Work-Life Plan” and the American
Woman's Society of Certified Public Accountants' is featuring
a session called “Creating Your Business Dreams.”
cumulative picture of these professional development offerings
indicates a trend towards more than just the traditional management
and leadership skills. Women want to learn ways to remake their
corporate environments so they can stay and advance successfully.
In doing so, corporate women are also finding ways to expand
their networks and spheres of influence.
most important thing membership in a professional organization
offers is a network of colleagues. Women have always had access
to these networks but now have begun using them to advance their
careers. These networks offer a place to share information,
gain and give support and counsel, and try new things. As Carol
Kleiman explained in her Chicago
Tribune article, they are a “new form of the buddy
system....an answer to the Old Boys’ network. They play an essential
role in helping women advance their careers and achieve balance
in their lives.”
bring people together who have common interests, goals, passions,
and/or lifestyles. Building women’s networks, according to the
Women’s market analysis organization Catalyst, requires
clearly defined roles and goals, organization and focus, membership
diversity, and sustained involvement. Work issues provide this
groundwork for corporate women and make it easier to sustain
the association—i.e., work is not going away for most women,
so they are motivated to find ways to be successful. Networks
help—and they provide access to mentors.
is a natural outgrowth of the networks that women are forming.
When the Women’s Vision Foundation calls on its senior executives
to share “lessons from the ladder” the narratives inevitably
include testimonials of allies who helped advance the storyteller’s
career. These leaders understand the value of “passing it on”
and willingly helping others seeking to advance their careers.
These interactions result in significant benefits to all participants.
“junior” women get great advice and wise counsel. They also
gain experience by interacting with top-level executives—which
gives them a definite advantage when they find themselves needing
to “manage up.” And, when they decide to make a career move,
they have a strong network to call upon to help identify their
time senior women spend mentoring offers a high return on investment.
While doing something worthwhile, they also get to market their
company and industry, seek out new talent, and grow the ranks
of women at the top. Finally, they get some encouragement that
things are getting better and that maybe the next wave of executive
women will have an easier time working and living in balance.
preparing this article, I asked several women executives for
their best advice on balance. Recommendations from the executive
director of the Women’s Vision Foundation, as reported in the
Business Journal, included “quit modeling the 90-hour work
week” and “recognize that your career has phases and each phase
requires a different kind of balance.” Overall there were several
themes. Here are the top five things I heard:
1. Work for
a company that values balance. If your current work environment
does not suit your needs, request a change or find another job.
your goals and intentions. Know what is most important to you,
both professionally and personally. If you know what you want
and can clearly articulate it, you will find it easier to achieve
happens. What works today may not work tomorrow. Learn to be
flexible and accept the tenuousness of life and work.
4. Get a
life. There is more to life than work, even as you are pushing
your way to the top. Develop other passions, make time for non-work
activities, have fun!
5. Join a
professional organization. Find the community that can help
you in your quest for balance.
Kelly, Ph.D. is an educational psychologist with a passion for
women’s issues. She works with various organizations to advance
women and girls’ career opportunities and serves on the board
of the Women’s Vision Foundation. On balance, professionally
Kathy is vice president of business development for Nforma Corporation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.