August 07, 2012 Practice Points

Flexibility—The Superpower All Working Moms Need

By Molly C. Taylor

Women have recently been told by Anne-Marie Slaughter that we, in fact, still don’t, and maybe can’t, have it all. Enter Marissa Mayer. After being named CEO of Yahoo and announcing her pregnancy to the public, Mayer quickly became the female champion of “having it all.” Of course, that definition includes an abbreviated maternity leave during which Mayer will “work throughout.” In her article “How to Balance Motherhood and Career (If You’re Not Marissa Mayer),” Christa Carone points out that for most working moms, the concept of “having it all” just isn’t possible. Those like Mayer—and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook and even, Anne-Marie Slaughter—are unique cases. Their choices, and the fact that they have them, aren’t reality for most working women.

Carone, the chief marketing officer at Xerox, bluntly states that “[j]uggling a career and a family isn’t easy. In fact, it’s hard as hell . . . and no one has everything figured out.” Rather than focusing on the likes of Mayer, she calls for an honest conversation about how less-than-superhero working women actually prioritize and balance on a day-to-day basis. In turn, she also provides her own practical advice to those women trying to walk the tightrope between work and home:

• Be a superstar employee from the very beginning because this will garner respect, and give you flexibility in the long run.

• Be true to yourself and understand who you are and what you want in life. And, don’t apologize for investing your time in what is important to you.

• Be honest—you’re not superhuman. In other words, recognize that you have limits and can’t be everything to everybody. Carone points out that this might mean missing a school field trip or a business dinner.

• Understand that your priorities and interests will change throughout your life and that your ambition will change as well.

• Realize that flexibility is a two-way street. If you want a company to be flexible about where and when employees work, recognize that “[s]ometimes work does need to win.” This might mean that work creeps into family time or the weekend or that certain business trips, meetings or work events can’t be missed.

• Before you join a company, understand its culture. For Carone, the flexibility of Xerox is the main reason she has stayed there.

• Face it—some jobs (or companies) aren’t right for you.

Carone herself is pretty high up on the corporate food chain and likely has more choices than your average working mom, but her advice is practical and her point well-taken. To her, the key is flexibility—on both sides of the equation. Companies or law firms who want to attract and retain top female talent need to recognize the need for flexibility, not only in the day-to-day work environment but also in the bigger picture over the span of a person’s career. Similarly an employee or lawyer demanding flexibility from a workplace needs to show similar flexibility in meeting a company or a client’s needs. Such fluidity might not be what some would call “having it all,” but to Carone, it is a way to “lead a very full life that includes a rewarding career and a happy family.”

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, working moms

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