Balance. What is it and what does it mean in life? I recently went to a women’s conference on Innovating Differently, Women, Entrepreneurship & Technology and enviably the question on work-life balance was addressed. The hot “balance” topic has recently been made popular by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook CEO with her Commencement speech to the Barnard Graduating class of 2011 and, in more recent months, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department for the United States, publishing a fifteen page article in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” My good friend, a female powerhouse, brought these amazing women to my attention through her blog Shawna’s Musings http://shawnalittle.com/.
Sandberg encourages women to “lean in”, “think big”, “believe in yourself” “own your successes”, and to “not leave before you leave”. We need to close the “ambition gap” to close the “achievement gap”. However, many women slowly start making small decisions for balances of responsibilities they do not yet have and are leaning back on their achievements; No longer challenging themselves. Sandberg promotes finding a career that combines passion and contribution so that you can be compelled to go back to work after starting a family. She believes the biggest career decision you will ever make is if or who will be your life partner. “A world where men ran half our homes and women ran half our institutions would be a much better world.” Whatever balance you seek, she compels you find it with your eyes wide open; don’t let fear overwhelm your desires.
Slaughter believes there can be balance, but not today; not the way the American economy and society are currently structured. Not until 50 women senators and a women president are elected and there is equal representation in the executive and judicial ranks will we have a society that works for everyone. She address some ½ truths (or ½ myths) on how we always thought it was possible to “have it all”:
1. It’s possible if you are just committed enough
2. Its possible if you marry the right person
3. It’s possible if you sequence it right
Amongst her in-depth insight to why we are where we are and what needs to change, she leaves us with this message “…We may need to put a woman in the White House before we are able to change the conditions of the women working at Walmart. But when we do, we will stop talking about whether women can have it all. We will properly focus on how we can help all Americans have healthy, happy, productive lives, valuing the people they love as much as the success they seek.”
So what did the women of the Vancouver conference say when posed on work-life balance?
“We don’t believe in balance, we focus on fulfillment.”
“It doesn’t have to happen all at once…Consider it a scale, you may put more weight at one time on family priorities and at another time it may be work; over the long-term it can be balanced.”
“Striving for what we believe is balance is setting us up for failure.”
“Balance is not ½ and ½.”
“Balance is a stupid word.”
“No sense being at work and guilty about not being home and being a home feeling guilty that you should be doing work.”
“There’s no such thing.”
“Working for someone else doesn’t allow you to chose your balance.”
Balance, a word you think should be so easy, level, sensible and inconspicuous has left us, as a society, unaware and at a loss of what it really represents. I feel we are in the process of defining a new meaning to match our ever-changing world. In this process, for “balance” to have the substance we seek: happy, healthy, productive, fulfilled lives, it’s become exceedingly obvious that women must have an equal voice.
What’s your voice, what’s your definition of work-life balance?