Friday 17 June 2011

Balancing the Boardroom with the Babies

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending an event at Cambridge University titled "Conversation on Creative Leadership in Difficult Times". Fifty executive women who had demonstrated talent in achieving success while "swimming upstream" came together to share their knowledge and experience.

I think I was alone in not being employed outside my home for most of my adult life, but I wasn't the only Mum of a child with disabilities in the room. Two other mothers sought me out during the coffee break after seeing my bio in the notes.

What did this group of very esteemed business leaders discuss? One entrepreneur talked about "the voice in your head" that sows the seeds of self-doubt. A CEO in a large national corporation spoke of "outsourcing" her childcare and other domestic responsibilities in order to ensure her success in the boardroom. Everyone felt pulled apart by their caring responsibilities which they felt competed with their responsibilities to the company and their co-workers.

The power relationships of caring was a topic that I found fascinating. Never before had I heard women discuss the need to relinquish to their partners some of the 'special territory of nurturing' inherent in motherhood. A young political strategist spoke of her husband being snubbed by the mothers at day care. She told of him being eyed with suspicion when he asked to volunteer at his daughter's school for half a day every week. 'Women can have it all' seems to imply that we do not have to give up any sacred territory of motherhood. But if we want a seat at the board table, perhaps we do.

Organization at the office is a given for these successful women, but organization at home was seen as a more elusive key to effective leadership. My comment to the group was that the idea or ethic of independence was not helpful in society or in any group where people share objectives. Even the word 'leadership' seems to connotate one person alone, out in front of the group. The better visual metaphor, I suggested, was the leader conducting the flow in the centre of constantly moving concentric circles.

Perhaps women executives seeking better organizational tools for their home and work could benefit from Tyze - a secure IT tool to support and coordinate personal support networks that was originally developed for the disability community. We use Tyze to coordinate Nicholas' personal needs and professional supports, but it's like an 'app'. It can be whatever the user needs it to be. Who will walk the dog or pick up materials to make a school project can be put into a task list for family members or a select group of friends can sign up to. Anyone looking after young children or elderly parents feels the pull of competing responsibilities. Lack of organization in caring responsibilities can leave a person feeling nothing but guilt.

Women leaders need to talk more about the 'how to' of balancing babies with the boardroom. Tyze is a good place to start finding answers.

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