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Careers, life and striking the right balance

By Donna Glasgow | August 18 2014 09:00AM

Asked what challenges they faced during their careers, many of the women highlighted in our Women of Influence report pointed to the need to balance career and family. The message they have for young women who may be feeling overwhelmed is – don’t give up – there are ways to make it work.

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Patricia Ziegler, chief operating officer of Financial Horizons Group is an example of someone who is right in the midst of balancing a high octane career while raising a young family. Her two daughters are three and five-years-old.

“A long time ago I set my goal on breaking through the glass ceiling. When you are striving towards that and all of the sudden you find yourself in a wonderful marriage and two beautiful children come along, there’s the work-life balance.”

She believes this issue will always be a struggle for women with careers.  “I don’t think our roles in the home have changed all that dramatically. So, we’re still caregivers, we’re still daughters and mothers and sometimes sisters and then we’re trying to hold down a career and continuing to strive for even bigger and better careers.”

Ziegler says in her case, she always tries to get home every evening by six to have dinner with her family and tucks the children at night. “I can’t lie and say I don’t get back on my computer and work from home – I do most evenings.”

Marianne Harrison, senior vice-president and general manager of Manulife Financial’s Canadian division says she is extremely proud to have had both a great career and family life. “Take my word for it, you don’t always get work-life balance in terms of some of the roles that I’ve had, but family has always been number one for me.” She says so many times people think you have to sacrifice one for the other, but she definitely believes this is not the case.

This doesn’t mean it has come easily. “I’ve certainly had obstacles from a work-life perspective. I can remember early on in my career  and maybe it was a sign of the times because it was about 20 years ago  when I had two children and I was told, ‘If you have more children then that shows a lack of commitment on your part in terms of your career’. Of course I chose to ignore that; I have four children. But it’s that misconception that if you do have children then you’re not interested in a career, that you’re only interested in your family. It’s so not true.”

She adds that she has an excellent relationship with her kids and no regrets. “When I die I’m not going to feel I worked too hard and didn’t spend time with my kids because I honestly feel I spent quality time with my children throughout my career…In the end I’ve given a lot to my career but I’ve given more to my family as far as I’m concerned and my relationship with my kids is very, very strong.”

Harrison adds that she has always involved her kids in her career. “It might seem strange but I talk about work. I don’t ignore it. I make sure they understand what I do. I make sure they are a part of my work and career.”

At times when they were younger, Harrison would bring them into the office because she didn’t want it to be a foreign place for her children. “I wanted them to see the people I worked with, understand what the environment was like that I worked in.”

She believes this involvement has had an impact on their work ethic and aspirations. “I see my eldest daughter, who is in college, who feels that she can do anything if she puts her mind to it and that’s exactly what I want. And my boys – I have two girls and two boys – they all feel that same way.”

Harrison says she tries to talk to young women on a regular basis to let them know that they too can have both a fulfilling professional and family life. “As you go through your career, you might step back a little bit at certain times in your life to manage that, but I always caution women not to give up on their careers.”

She has had employees ready to quit because they’re overwhelmed with the work and family obligations. “And I say, ‘You don’t have to quit, there are other opportunities”. For example, working four days a week instead of five might help. She also reminds them that their children will grow up. “When that happens, you don’t want to have given up everything you worked so hard to get and not have that career and that opportunity.”

Terri DiFlorio, president of Hub Financial, has three children ranging in age from 7 to 16-years-old. One of her top priorities has always been balance. “I love what I do but I don’t believe the person who stays in the office the longest wins the game.”

Maintaining that balance means that many times she has left the office at 4:30 p.m. to spend time with her kids, have dinner together and put them to bed. Then she works again. “It’s something that is so incredibly important to me. I don’t want my kids to be sitting around at our family dinner when they’re in their 30s saying, ‘Oh yeah mum, you were never around.’ That’s just not an option for me.”

What advice does she have for women who are struggling with work-life balance? “It has to be a priority for you…I’ve never found a time when I went back to do my work and it was gone. It’s always there and you have to understand priorities and quite honestly you have to understand when you need to say no.”

In a sales-based industry, there’s never going to be a lack of requests for your time, DiFlorio adds. “There’s a constant stream of pressure to get involved…So you have to choose where you need to focus that time and recognize that there are only so many hours in the day.”

It is also important to surround yourself with a good team. “I’ve got several people in my organization where I know I can hand off something to them and it’s going to get done and it’s going to get done really, really well and you just have to trust that or you’ll drive yourself crazy.”

Karen Bjerland, president and CEO of FaithLife Financial says it is certainly not easy to balance work and life, but one thing she has learned is to try to carve out as much time as she can that is just for her family. During this time, she puts away her BlackBerry and won’t open her computer. “Really focusing on them when they need me is a lesson that I’ve learned. Just as I can focus on work, I really need to focus on my family and put everything aside.”

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