If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from discussions with peers and colleagues of my generation, it’s this: One of the most daunting challenges for female Baby Boomers has been the balance of work and family responsibilities.
While the availability of corporate-sponsored child care has made life easier for scores of families, there’s still a sense that professional achievement and rewarding home lives are either/or propositions. Despite women’s educational advancements and tenure in the workplace, many are still wondering if it’s really possible to “have it all” without compromising one’s own physical and emotional well-being. And while it’s often convenient to stereotype women’s opinions, I’ve also learned that women are very disparate in their viewpoints on the matter. What works for one woman is unthinkable to another, making it difficult for corporations and businesses to comprehend how to best address employees’ family needs.
A recent professional choice brought the work/family issue home to me once again. It underscored the fact that quality of life does indeed play a major role in many well-educated women’s professional decisions. Moreover, my recent decision also reacquainted me on the chasm that exists between women themselves on work/family priorities.
During the past few months, I was approached with an offer to work at one of the nation’s premiere financial institutions. The position was highly lucrative, both from a financial and career advancement standpoint. The CEO had singled me out for the job personally and members of the executive committee warmly welcomed me. While I’m often approached with various job offers from banks across the country, I knew this decision would be a tough one. For as long as I can remember I had admired this bank, not only for its stellar financial performance, but for its philosophy of managing and motivating people. Indeed, this institution is the one that others have striven to emulate.
Of course, there was one glitch in accepting the opportunity — a relocation to the company’s out-of-state headquarters. The timing wasn’t great, as my spouse had just received a promotion and a partnership position in his firm. Accepting the position would also create another major adjustment in my family life — namely, less time with my children.
In the middle of the job offer’s excitement, I had to remind myself of the very reason that I left a rewarding position as corporate public relations manager for Louisiana’s largest bank a decade ago. Frustrated by the lack of quality child care options in New Orleans — my home at the time — I started my own financial writing and marketing consulting business after the birth of my first daughter. At the time, I made that tough decision in order to continue the work that I loved while being the primary caregiver for my newborn. As with many other women of my generation, entrepreneurship was an option that allowed for professional growth and personal flexibility.
In the years that have followed, I have been fortunate to have a steady stream of business. I didn’t mind trading in a fancy title or office overlooking the city because entrepreneurship allowed me to stretch my professional skills while spending time with my family. One minute I would be interviewing an executive on derivatives or mergers. The next minute, I would be carpooling to school. While my choice of work arrangements wouldn’t necessarily suit everyone, it has worked well for me. I’ve been able to take time out for field trips, plays and PTA meetings whenever warranted. I’ve also been able to dash to my children’s school whenever they have become unexpectedly ill. While no endeavor is without its challenges, I’ve been privileged to work with some of the best minds in financial services while devoting what I felt was an appropriate amount of time with my family.
While the recent job offer rekindled all of those feelings of ambition and excitement that accompany big-city corporate life, I decided to turn it down. Interestingly, the only criticism I’ve received about my choice has come from other women. One female contemporary said that she would have accepted the offer without hesitation because “you could always fly home on weekends to visit your family.” Another snapped that until more women “stick” their husbands with child-rearing responsibilities — like she does — then women will fail to make professional inroads. As the saying goes — I guess — to each his own. For my part, I have no regrets.
Clearly, the juggling act that women encounter in their personal and professional lives is far from being resolved. While some may scoff at the inequities in striving to “have it all,” women may be better served by spending their energies on creative, yet viable, solutions to work/family needs. It’s my hope that as women continue to advance in the workplace, they will become more empathetic and less judgmental of women’s individual choices in achieving personal and professional happiness. Undeniably, women face formidable challenges. But I am confident that the intelligence, tenacity and drive that made many Baby Boom women the “first” or “best” in their business, law or medical classes will enable them to address — and achieve — an equitable work-and-family balance.
Financial writer and consultant Karen Kahler Holliday balances work and family from her home office in Tupelo. In addition to writing this column and a monthly banking column for the Mississippi Business Journal, she is senior contributing editor for U.S. Banker magazine.