Juggling a family and a career is by no means a simple task for women in today’s world, but it’s the new reality for more and more famlies. Moreover, finding a workable balance between the two is becoming critically important to the health and welfare of those families.
A report by Maclean’s magazine in 2013 found that, between 1976 and 2010, Canadian couples with female breadwinners almost quadrupled to 31% from 8%. Also during that time, the median in earnings for women jumped by more than 25% while the needle for men barely moved.
In a world of finance, often dominated by men, what’s the secret for women to having kids and a career, too?
Investment Executive (IE) spoke to three successful, working mothers who have been in the trenches . These women offer their thoughts and advice on what worked for them in raising a family while building a career. Here are their top five tips:
Ask Michelle Vickers what the key to raising a family and building a career as a financial advisor is, and her answer is familiar: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Teamwork is critical to success, says Vickers, vice president and portfolio manager with RBC Dominion Securities Inc. (DS). Vickers, along with her husband, Kieron Hayes, runs the Hayes Vickers Wealth Management team in Ancaster, Ont.
In 12 years, the practice has grown to an eight-person operation that provides investment, financial, tax, insurance and estate services to a wide range of clients.
Vickers, a 45-year-old mother of two – ages nine and 18 – approaches her home life with the same gusto that she does her business. “It’s really about building a team,” she says, which helps provide some work/life balance.
At home, Vickers and Hayes share responsibilities for getting things done. “We don’t have traditional roles,” Vickers says. “We can both make dinner and clean the house.”
It helps that Vickers’ mother is nearby to “lean on,” and Vickers’ son is often called on to help his younger sister get to where she needs to go.
A similar team effort also was critical to Diane Koven’s early success. Koven, an advisor with Sun Life Financial Investment Services (Canada) Inc. in Ottawa, entered the financial services sector when her children were 10 and 13 and she was a single mother; her kids are adults now.
When Koven decided to enter the business, she says, “I sat them down and we had a little family meeting.” She explained to the children that she had an opportunity to “do something that makes our lives better and potentially earn a lot more money.” She warned them that the change would be hard on everyone. She told them she was willing to do the heavy lifting, if they agreed to co-operate and help out.
Koven got her children’s buy-in early and made them part of the experience. She also set boundaries between work and home life, and made sure that she dropped the children off at school every morning and was home for dinner in the evening. As well, she made sure that she didn’t work late every night or on weekends.
When juggling kids and jobs, planning takes centre stage. For example, on the nights that Koven went out to meet clients, her older child was tasked with getting the younger one ready for bed and making sure homework was completed.
There also were rules regarding phone use. Koven set aside 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. for calls to clients. That meant the kids couldn’t use the phone or be in the room where she was working. Koven also introduced an element of reward: “If I made a sale, we would stop for a treat after school.”
That reward program helped to engage the kids and they would ask Koven how she did. If the answer was “No sale,” the response was “Hope you do better tomorrow.”
The family’s experience helped the children develop a work ethic, Koven says: “They know the concept of work and reward.”
In the case of Vickers and Hayes, planning was central to them having their second child, which would not only reshape the family, but require a prolonged absence from the office for Vickers.
“We put a lot of plans in place for that to happen,” she says. That meant beefing up support staff and ensuring Vickers’ files were covered during her maternity leave. However, she adds, “You don’t ever really step away.” Rather, you just avoid the 9-to-5 routine.
3. Outsource and share the load
Don’t feel as if you can do everything, from cooking to cleaning, chauffeuring, parenting and being the boss. Look to outsource and offload where possible.
“We tried very much to outsource as much as we could,” says Carol Lynde, president and chief operating officer of Bridgehouse Asset Managers in Toronto.
Lynde, who has three daughters now in their 20s, says that outsourcing included paying for a nanny in the early years.
“It’s about making sure you have the right support,” Lynde says.
For Vickers, outsourcing meant hiring someone to help clean the house. She and Hayes made that decision early in their joint career, when their son was five and the business had yet to take off.
“At that point,” Vickers says, “we decided to give up something.” Having a cleaner meant one less vacation or a stay-at-home vacation each year. “When I’m at home, I want to be present with my child. I don’t want to spend Saturday cleaning my house. If I can outsource it, I will.”
Spouses and family also play an important outsourcing role. Lynde, like Vickers, counted on her parents who lived nearby, which was “very helpful when things went awry, as they typically do,” says Lynde.
Lynde and her family made the decision to move closer to the trucking business of Lynde’s husband, so he was only eight minutes away and could scoot home if something happened. That meant Lynde had to do the commuting.
In Koven’s case, the generosity of neighbours and friends made up for Koven’s lack of family in the area and helped to ease her burden. Koven echoes Vickers’ comment that it takes a village to raise a child. “That’s exactly what happened to me,” Koven says, noting that a friend with a live-in nanny was “very generous” when one of Koven’s kids was sick, as were the neighbours.
The women consulted by IE say that balancing work with family life requires flexibility and scrapping traditional notions of roles. Lynde and her husband “end up trading hats all the time,” she says. “We never had a definite list [of who does what].”
For example, which parent attended school or sporting events depended on who was available. Lynde still gets teased by her grownup daughters about missing out on events such as soccer games. “You feel badly about that,” Lynde says.
A flexible employer also is critical. Koven was able to set her hours and didn’t have a boss, so she could drop off and pick up her kids as needed without too much fuss. As well, she says, clients can be understanding, provided “you take care of them.”
Work/life balance, Lynde says, is something that comes over time: People have to find the right job,” she says, “and you have to love what you do.” There will be days that a crisis in the office means you need to be present, she adds. “Over the long term, there is balance. There is never balance week to week.”
Employer support is an important consideration, Vickers adds. Avoid working for an employer who micromanages and judges output by time spent in an office, she advises: “We have a lot of flexibility in our business.”
But some jobs require that you be in the office, which makes work/life balance more of a challenge. “[You] can’t lead people,” Lynde says, “if you are in your home office.”
4. Supportive workplace policies
For financial advisors, the ability to work from home or on the go is essential. Also, maternity leave and sabbaticals are important, as are supports for parents when they take time off to have children.
For example, DS recently adopted a policy that offers advisors a leave of absence to start a family or take care of a sick loved one. Employees can either work with their branch manager to identify a suitable colleague to manage the absentee advisor’s book of business during the leave or have a licensed advisor from DS’ national office step in and temporarily manage accounts.
That policy wasn’t available when Vickers had her second child. But, she says, such policies can attract women who want to have children, but are worried about the impact that decision will have on their business.
“Having this program allows you to meet another advisor who is not a threat,” Vickers says. “And they are there to support you.”
In Lynde’s case, her firm offers a six-week sabbatical after seven years of employment, in addition to accrued vacation time. She encourages her employees to take advantage of that program and “do something they never think of doing,”such as taking an extended European vacation to unwind and recharge.
Technology is playing an increasingly important role in family dynamics by eliminating the need for parents to be tied to a desk in the office. (See story on page 26).
“[DS] has done a really great job of backing us up,” Vickers says. Devices such as smartphones and tablets allow her to work from home or on the road. “[Technology] frees you up considerably and allows you to be quite productive.”
Lynde, looking back, says having a family and career was tough. “But I would do it all over again in a heartbeat,” she say. “You need to be patient. It all works. [The family] survives, and so do you.
“Try to be kind to yourself,” she adds. “Things aren’t going to be perfect. Don’t beat yourself up.”
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