The never-ending question, can we have it all? At the first Femme Palette Mentor Talk, an executive coach Kristin LaRonca Parpel, a director at Deloitte Tereza De Bardi, and a country leader at Oracle Renata Dvorakova shared their advice on how to combine work and family. And the answer? Despite having different career paths, they all agreed on one thing - if you want to get something done, ask for it. Read what other tips did the female leaders share.
About the speakers
Tereza, the director who has entered her 11th year at Deloitte, is a wife and a mother of one. She knows how to navigate the waters of the male-dominated environment well and has since learned how to speak up for herself.
Renata has been with Oracle for 15 years now. She is also a mother of two sons and a strong believer that having it all shouldn’t be defined by material things. Yet, she is not afraid to recognize her success, such as having recently repaired a mortgage on her flat in Prague.
Kristin became the General Manager of an American company in Prague at the age of 26 and learned many valuable and tough lessons from that experience. As a mother and a business woman, she believes that at different life stages, we have different priorities, from friends and education to career and independence to family and health. In her 20s’ and 30s, she put her work first, during her mid-30’s and 40s it was her family, and now at 50, she is starting to be selfish again and think about how to really focus on the dreams and ambitions she wants to fulfill during the second half of her life.
Her answer to having it all is YES, you can have it all but you have to be able to manage it. ‘It’s up to you what you want and when’, but it’s easier to set yourself a target for the next couple of years rather than a lifetime. And remember, nothing has to be forever. And with a strong support network, and the willingness and drive to be true to yourself, you can make any change happen and at any age!
Have multiple scenarios prepared
When it comes to making tough choices, women have to often either choose between or learn to balance career and family. Kristin, the executive coach, spoke openly about having to decide whether to stay in New York and lead a successful professional life with little space for family, or move back to Prague to be with the man she loved. She chose the latter and despite serious fears and concerns, today she has no regrets (and a wonderful family, too).
What helped Kristin resolve a very difficult challenge and leave the ‘ideal’ role of a young, female, global director in NYC, was the role models or the lack of that she found in her industry in New York. Looking at the people around her, she encountered two types of women 1) over competitive and unhappy women without families or 2) exhausted women with small kids who they never saw. Neither of these options were where she wanted to be in 10 years. The key learning here is, whenever you face a decision, ask yourself: ‘where do I want to be in a few years and what do I need to do to get there?’ The answer will present itself but you must be ready for it. So often we get stuck in the here and now and then we realise we have ‘missed the train’ on some very important things in our lives (ie: pushing for that promotion, raising our kids, spending time with our parents, or even taking care of our health). It is important that we take the time for self reflection and recalibration. This is why I think mentoring is so valuable, it is a place where we can do exactly this. Kristin’s advice is this: If you are unhappy about something, it is up to you to make the necessary changes. Think and rethink your wishes and then come up with multiple scenarios on how you can achieve the desired changes. Discuss these ideas with the stakeholders (boss, colleague, partner, etc..) because no one will do it for you. Kristin believes that things have changed a lot in the corporate world since she was in NYC and that today, especially due to the pandemic, you can be more creative and flexible than ever.
Be firm on what you want
Making a choice comes at a cost. In the case of Kristin, it was the fear of being judged by others for leaving a successful career to have a family but she laughs now and says that no one really cared about her agenda, it was just some paranoia in her own head. On the contrary, when Tereza chose to stay in Czechia, as opposed to Italy where her partner is from, and have a baby, some of her friends and relatives perceived her as a back mother when she chose to go back to work ‘only’ after 1,5 year after ( the maternity leave in the Czech Republic is up to four years). With the support of a coach, co-workers and her husband, Tereza managed to regain her self-confidence but still empathises with mothers who chose to return to work earlier than usual and are faced with the hard societal stigma. Therefore, her advice is: ‘be firm on what you want and don’t listen to others too much’.
Don't be afraid to ask
Renata was raised in the communist regime, which meant clear expectations to become a housewife and have a family rather than a career. For that reason, the country leader studied education, so she would have time for becoming a mum. However, with the Velvet Revolution, everything changed and as new opportunities arose, Renata was ready to grab them. Instead of staying at a work where she slowly lost touch with her coworkers, she joined Oracle. Working in a fast-paced environment created a new set of challenges. One of the hardest moments was at the end of a sales quarter, a month when no employees take time off, when her son got sick. As she was unable to leave, she asked her husband to step in who had saved the situation. This shows that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help - at work and at home alike.
Decide on priorities
When thinking how to achieve harmony in life, Kristin suggests using the rocks, pebbles, and sand metaphor. Here the bigger the stones stand for the important things in life, pebbles are nice to have, and sand is all the extra. And when you try to put the sand in a jar first, the stones won’t fit, but the other way round, it works. Therefore, it is important to decide on the key priorities and ensure we have those in life first. The non-essential sand comes last.
Balance is impossible
If you are dreaming of living a balanced life, you might never get it. As Tereza believes, you have to go into discomfort in order to achieve something, and the bigger the discomfort is, the greater the gain. Therefore, if you truly want to make a change, first ask yourself, ‘What is the price I am willing to pay?’ and then get ready, surround yourself with the necessary support, and go for it. What helps is to choose a company as well as a partner who share the same values.
Be smart about spending your time
Renata also agrees that there is never a balance, only a suitable combination of priorities. When she used to stay late in the office, her boss would tell her to go home, so her body could recover. After having children, she learned how to be a better time manager and not to procrastinate, so she could spend valuable moments with her family. Thus, be smart about the way you work and learn how it can most benefit you as well as your boss. Are you ready?
“Don’t postpone parenthood.” - Renata
“Do your best but let go of the need to be perfect.” - Tereza
“Talk to someone you trust about what you want. Look inward and be true to yourself.” - Kristin
Big thanks to the female leaders for sharing their wisdom and to everyone who joined this fruitful and inspiring conversation. Do you want to listen to the full panel? Check the recording here.
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