“I hate to call it a work/life balance. Women are doing a life balance”
That was the phrase that inspired the second article, as a result of my conversations with Michele Robert, CEO of GE Power Conversion in Latin America. Last week, I wrote about the work her business does to help empower women in GE through communication. You can read that article in full here.
However, for many women the biggest obstacle to career progression is navigating what they see as a balance between their work and home lives. Feelings of guilt and responsibility can be a big inhibitor for a woman’s career as it stops many from raising their hand to take on more responsibility.
As a woman in the C Suite with a family, Michele spoke about how she’s maintained this balance. In fact, as in the quote above, it’s Michele’s belief that there shouldn’t be a balance or compromise – both should be held as equally important and be seen as necessary and complimentary to each other.
No More Superwoman
Michele said that, for many women, ‘we want to be Super Woman’ which means being on top of everything at home, at work and maintaining an impenetrable aura. However, that’s not always possible. In a world where gender roles are no longer set at home or at work, a woman isn’t expected to be full time mother and executive. It’s about managing the split.
“You’ve got to be okay to say – today I am one hundred percent switched on at work because what we’re working on is so important. But, at home I won’t be at one hundred percent. That means that you have to lean on some support at home, which could be grandma, husband or other help.”
It’s important to establish your network of support and, more importantly, to use it when needed.
Delegating is OK
In the same way it’s important to share responsibilities at home, it’s also important to be able to delegate at work.
Michele spoke of a situation where she was called away due to a family emergency just before an important meeting. Rather than compromise either situation, she delegated. She called a strong member of her team to represent her and the meeting was a success. The situation allowed her to address something important outside of work and it actually turned into an opportunity for someone else.
For any leader, delegation is crucial. If you aren’t able to delegate effectively then it raises questions about your team and the strength of your organisation. If there is absolutely no one that can fill in for you, even in one meeting, that’s a pretty significant issue.
People learn from people and, as I covered in the first article, communication is a massively important tool for women in any organisation. Listening to other’s experiences can also give you tips to take into your own life.
Michele said she makes a point of talking to others, saying “hey, show me. Talk to me about your life, cause you’re a person like me”. She says the results and subsequent lessons learned can be astonishing both at work and at home.
Pay it Forward
In the same way you have to listen to others to learn, there’s also a responsibility to pass on advice to others, and when giving advice – tailor it and take that person’s circumstances into account.
In her work, Michele asks people what barriers they’re facing at work or at home and figures out if they’re ready to progress. In her position, she also has the option to go down and look at the organisation around the candidate to see why they feel like that and if their lives can be made easier.
Ultimately, you have to be in the right place at the right time, but women may be less inclined to put themselves in that right place because they don’t feel ready. A large part of this feeling may be from not achieving that crucial balance.
Rigidity in employment is a thing of the past – in today's hyper connected and technologically advanced world of work, roles should bend around people, not the other way around. Hopefully, as more in the C Suite come around to this way of thinking, we’ll benefit from a next generation of exceptional female leaders.
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