Mentor Moms: Five Pieces of Advice on Making Work/Life Work for You

Businesswoman holding baby at deskBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

In a recent Forbes piece, Georgia Collins, managing director of North American business for strategic consulting agency DEGW, wrote about her decision to go back to work after her son was born. She wrote:

“It wasn’t easy going back to work in March – five months after my son was born – and I’m still conflicted on a daily basis by my choice. Luckily, I know an extraordinary group of women who’ve taken the same path as me. …So when it came to finding a way to balance being a mom and having a career, their starting point was not about compromising one for the sake of the other. Instead, it was about finding a way to make both work, and work well.”

Seeking smart advice from the women who’ve been there before is a terrific way to manage the challenges you face – whether personal or professional (or in this case, both). Here are five pieces of advice from senior professional women on how they made work and family work for them. While every work/life situation is different, hopefully their advice will inspire your own solutions!

1. Seek Personal Solutions, Not Perfection

“Work life balance is a very personal and bespoke issue,” said Alison Rose, Head of Corporate Coverage and Client Management for the EMEA region in the Global Banking & Markets division of RBS. “The way you manage work and home life is very individual to you.”

She continued, “One of the best pieces of advice given to me by my role model is not to feel guilty. There is great pressure for women to be perfect in all things. Life is about compromise and making priorities. These things are not static – being flexible and open is the right way to do it.”

2. Be Prepared to Make Trade-Offs

According to Viva Hammer, Principal at KPMG Washington National Tax, work/life balance is possible – but you have to decide what’s truly important, and what trade-offs you’re willing to make. She said, “It is possible to be a successful, working parent, but you have to make sacrifices that previous generations wouldn’t have imagined.”

She explained, “For example, I’m never going to have a perfect house. I was going to renovate my kitchen and when weighing the decision, I thought ‘it’s either the kitchen or my book.’ I decided the book was more important.”

3. Be Flexible

Sometimes life throws you a curve-ball, but that’s nothing to fear, said Denise Diallo, Partner in the Banking and Global Markets Practice at White & Case. In fact, on the day of our interview, Diallo’s young daughter was in her office as well. She explained, “My nanny wasn’t able to pick her up from school, so I did. It just illustrates that not everything goes the way you plan. But it doesn’t mean you don’t have work/life balance.”

“You just have to be adaptable,” she said.

4. Seek Out Companies that Support Flexibility

According to Augusta Sanfilippo, Managing Director of Cash Securities Operations IT at Citi, one key to making it work is to find a company that supports flexibility at every stage of your career. She said, “When women choose to start a family, they need support from their organization. This is the time these women suddenly disappear from the organizations.”

She continued, “We need to put in that support system. The women who need work/life balance help the most are the women in that [mid-management] layer. If you give them the flexibility during those years to figure out their support system, allow them to work from home, create more job-sharing opportunities, we would see fewer women leaving their corporate jobs.”

5. Set Boundaries

According to Sonia Thimmiah, Director in Accenture’s UKI Sustainability Practice, work/life fit means setting boundaries – ensuring that personal time stays personal – for example, she said, that means turning off her Blackberry during some evenings and most weekends.

“As far as work/life balance goes, I try to make sure I have enough energy and time for my husband and family. I do have rules I try to enforce as much as possible – as much as you can in consulting… Consulting does allow you to be flexible. If you set your own rules and boundaries, people will respect you for it.”