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Nforma

Women’s Vision Foundation

Business Women's Network Interactive

Girl’s Count

Women’s Work

Women of Colorado

Webgrrls International

Women of the West Virtual Museum

Fearless Living: Live Without Excuses and Love Without Regret. R. Britten (Penguin Putnam, 2001)

The Little Book of Letting Go: A Revolutionary 30-Day Program to Cleanse Your Mind, Lift Your Spirit and Replenish Your Soul. H. Prather. (2000, Conari Press, 2000)

Living an Extraordinary Life. R. White. (ARC Worldwide, 2000)

Doing It All Isn't Everything: A Woman's Guide for Living in Harmony and Empowerment C. A. Zeiger, S. Allen (New Perspectives Press, 1993)

Holding a Job, Having a Life: Strategies for Change J. Casner-Lotto. (Work in America Institute, 2000)

 


The 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 channels.

Over 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.”

The 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 of Leadership

The 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.”

These 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 sectors.

Together 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 firm Spenser 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[ [1] ].

The 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.

Education and Resources

The 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.

Other 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! The American 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.”

The 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.

Networks

The 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.”

Networks 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.

Mentors

Mentoring 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.

The “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 best prospects.

The 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.

Best Advice

In 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 Denver 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.

2.   Communicate 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 some balance.

3.   Change 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.

Kathy 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 kathykelly@nforma.com.

 

 


[1] Jill Casner-Lotto. Holding a Job, Having a Life: Strategies for Change (Work in America Institute, 2000).

 

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