Women’s Circle of Excellence

Today, I attended the second half of the 2009 Montana State University College of Business Women’s Circle of Excellence conference, thanks to the lovely invitation by a colleague of my husband’s, Sharyn Sears.

The conference, meant to be an inspirational, networking-promoting, educational event, was small enough to be intimate (there were about 70 participants) and yet charged enough with solid speakers and organic energy from the attendees to be a top-notch conference, and well worth the invested time.

As a mostly-stay-at-home-mom, my opportunities for networking with other driven, professionally talented women can sometimes feel few and far between.  Especially living in a small Montana town.  So, today’s event was a welcomed way to spend a Friday (while Andrew took care of the kids–thank you Andrew!).

The day began with marketing guru Mary Perry guiding the group through a series of exercises in which we defined ourselves as CEOs of…well…ourselves.  She talked about seeing yourself as a brand–assigning things like packaging, tag lines, brand descriptions and position statements to our professional personas.  There was a healthy emphasis placed on social media outlets and how these can be used to further our brand.

The dialog about social media continued with an awesome presentation by online marketing expert Shelby Nordhagen of My Business Ideas.com.  Shelby covered the ins and outs of blogging, microblogging (Twitter), book mark sites like Delicious, Digg, Stumble Upon and Reddit.  In all these workshops, certain reminders emerged like  protecting certain elements of personal identity and thinking carefully about comments, photos, etc. that could be used against you in the future (such as when a potential employer Googles you and finds an incriminating photo of you at a friend’s bachelorette party doing something you’d rather a potential employer not see).

Despite all the great things that went on at the conference today, one very disturbing moment occurred which sent a large percentage of the crowd silently reeling in their seats.

A panel of four women–three of them in academia (science) and one in the private sector (ultimately, banking) got around to addressing the issue of balancing work and family.  The consensus these women came up with was this:  ‘I don’t really care if you have a family or not.  I just don’t want to hear you tell me that you have to leave early for your kids’ soccer game.  I don’t want to see you putting your family before work.’

Ugh.

Brenda Davis, renowned former Johnson and Johnson executive, and planning/policy professional in various political venues, spoke up right away, defending the approach she reportedly employed while hanging out in the upper echelons of J&J.  She said she always made every effort she could to support women in the workplace who also had children/family to tend to.  Her theory was, pay it forward now (ie. maintain a bit of flexibility with your employees who are trying their darnedest to do well in their jobs as well as their all-important parenting roles) and trust that in a few years, you will reap the benefits via your employee’s loyalty and hard work.

After the panel discussion was over, I participated in several conversations with other conference attendees (women mostly in my same age group) who were equally shell-shocked at the position collectively taken by the panel members.  These women, by the way, were not necessarily mothers.  Worst of all, there were undergraduate female students in the room.  I hated to think what impression they took away from that session:  perhaps, ‘”if I hope to go into business, I better not plan on maintaining any sort of decent commitment to my family.  Work must always come first…”

Thankfully, Brenda Davis reappeared for the closing keynote talk.  And she totally rocked it.

As Ms. Davis spent an hour expounding upon her personal and professional history, which included being responsible for 1/4 of the U.S. budget at the age of twenty-eight via her work on the U.S. Senate Committee on the Budget, she made note several times of the high degree of committment she maintained to her family.  In fact, while interviewing for one of her many high profile jobs, she even brought the issue of her daughters up in an interview.  Her girls, then 2 and 4-years-old, maintained the #1 priority spot in her life, and she made sure her future supervisor knew there would be times when she would leave the office early with the intent to be with her children for some special event, in exchange for working late at night after her kids were in bed.

Now, criticise this however you like, but, I for one was thoroughly inspired by this female executive tycoon’s ability to succeed in the business world and do a seemingly damned good job in her role as a mother.

All-in-all, it was a good conference and, at the end of the day, I was happy to return home to the cacophony of three spunky kids, dinner on the table, and a lovely bouquet of fresh-cut flowers on the kitchen counter.

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11 Comments

Filed under family, From One Mother to Another, Mommy and Motherhood, politics

11 responses to “Women’s Circle of Excellence

  1. I’m really not surprised that the workplace mantra is focused on work. It should be, especially now in these dire economic times. Employers want you at work- period.

    I have a girlfriend who is a mom and the only (and first) female VP at her company. She doesn’t cut out early. None of the men do. That’s the climate- right or wrong- it’s her reality and she works with it. She loves her job too.

    I think the real message is that balance is tough. I’m not sure there’s a perfect formula. I stayed home for over ten years while my husband moved up the career ladder. Now I have a real M-F day job and my writing. Sometimes my boys come first, other times something else does. It goes back and forth. I have been lucky not to have missed many important things. My husband has been less so.

    If the young women present at your event learned that work and family balance is really a juggling act, then I think they got an important lesson. I’ve met too many women who were (or still are) very unprepared for the rigors of “just” staying home with their kids, let alone adding a job to the mix.

    It’s too easy to pass judgement on other women’s choices and we’ve all done it at some point. I got over my own bias when my older son was in first grade. His fantastic teacher was a working mother and I’m damn glad she was.

    I guess my long-winded point is that it’s all hard, but it’s all worth it. A satisfying career that boosts your self-worth will help you appreciate and enjoy your family time. Satisfying family time will allow you to focus when you’re at work. It doesn’t have to be either or. It’s up to us to keep it that way.

  2. Shelly

    Excellent post Dawn and I couldn’t agree more. Women and Men know the score with a career. Long hours and missing a lot of family time. Women are not and should not be exempt from this work ethic. If we want the same pay and promotions we must work just as hard as the men. Equality means just that in every sense. Working and raising children is a balancing act that is sure to keep those who do it burning the midnight oil.

  3. As a follwo up to both Dawn and Shelly’s comments: another perspective would be to encourage a slightly higher amount of focus on the family for women AND men.

    My husband is an extraordinary example of this: he has moved up quickly through the ranks of the company for which he works. He is highly respected and relied upon by the exectutives that run the comapny and, in fact, is probably one of top fifteen decision makers for a 750+ person company.

    This being said, Andrew is incredibly dedicated to his family. While our middle son was still attending preschool, he would do his best to pick Landon up and bring him home 1-2 days a week over his lunch hour…as a way to support me, as well as spend a little Daddy-Landon time. He has been known to attend the occasional dance class, soccer pratice and doctor’s appointment–despite his heavy responsibilities at work. He makes up for these occasional absences/early leaves from work by getting up early in the morning and working at home and/or doing some work a few nights a week after the kids are in bed.

    A large reason why Andrew is able to do this is because the executives in his company VALUE family–theirs, and those of their employees.

    Would the managers and execs of Andrew’s company appreciate a person cutitng out early every day, or even as often as once every week? Probably not. But done judiciously, a person who makes the effort to put their family first once in a while remains fulfilled and balanced from a personal/emotional standpoint, thereby increasing their ability to stay focused at work (rather than worrying about what they’re “missing out on” at home).

    Again, reflecting on the career of Brenda Davis who was incredibly successful in her work at one of the largest corporations in the WORLD, as well as her persistant committment to her family, I truly believe it can be done (eh-hem…it can be done BETTER).

  4. I was pleased to see the topic of work/family balance arise at the MSU Women’s Circle of Excellence in Bozeman. While the session named for such dealt more with how to take care of ourselves as working moms, the session Kimmelin discusses was actually framed to address gender in the workplace. I think the takeaway I got was: having kids and working is a challenging and dynamic situation in any workplace and – surprise – the supporters and detractors cross gender lines. Notably, the hiring manager who gave Brenda Davis one of her first big breaks (the one in which Davis raised her young daughters in the interview….) — was a man. I am extremely grateful to the men I’ve worked for and with and who’ve worked for me over the years. Now that I have my own business I’ve learned that “flexibility” is frankly, a crock, but I’m encouraged to see that easily half the parents who drop off and pick up at my young daughter’s school are men. The truth is parents of both genders need the bandwidth to give all they need to in all arenas of their lives; that means the balance comes over time, not on a 50:50 daily ration. Indeed companies who want loyalty should take a longer term view. Thanks to Kimmelin for adding her voice to the conference and this important conversation as well as the blog discussion — the workplace approach to kids may never be totally settled, but it’s keeping companies invested in the conversation that may matter most. — Sharyn

  5. I was thrilled to spend time Friday, April 24th in the presence of such accomplished women at the MSU COB Women’s Circle of Excellence conference. And when I say “accomplished women” I mean both the speakers and the attendees. It was a fabulous way to spend the day. Kimmelin’s intelligent and thought provoking questions and perspectives were a very welcome addition to the event. As Kimmelin mentioned in her post, many of us were perplexed by the panel discussion focused on how women can succeed in male-dominated careers. It seemed to me the consensus of the panel was, “To be successful in a male-dominated workplace, you have to act like a man and play by their rules.” That perspective definitely does not ring true for me. Kimmelin – you mentioned research indicates the United States is far behind many other countries in gender equality in the workplace. Very interesting.

  6. Shelly

    Perhaps they were saying to be successful in any workplace you have to act like a dedicated employee. It makes more sense if you take all gender out of the discussion and focus on what it takes for ANY gender to be successful in the workplace. Men who cut corners and take too much time off and have too much “at home drama” get fired or passed over just like women do in my observations at my workplace.

  7. A little post-script here on this topic.

    I spent the weekend in the Bay Area with my mother for her birthday. She’s 60 now (please don’t tell I said it out loud!) and works with mostly men and women in their 40’s-60’s. The work/family issue pressing them in their office is not cutting out early for kids’ soccer games, but cutting out early to take aging parents to their medical appointments. Her office is very supportive of everyone doing this I think because almost everyone is. It’s really the same thing as dealing with appointments and commitments with young children though.

  8. Dawn,

    Wow. What an excellent point about employees needing to address family needs on the other end of the spectrum.

    To me, the point is still the same: employers need to find a way to sometimes honor the familial needs of their employees. In so doing, the employer ought to be able to expect a heightened degree of loyalty on the employee’s part, having granted him/her that little bit of leeway and understanding when the employee felt pulled in two directions: work and home.

    By allowing us to address needs going on in our personal lives, we surely ought to be able to then go forward and be (more) productive in our work life.

    Dawn, thanks for bringing up this important, additional element of the debate.

  9. Pingback: Exercising the Mind…Finding Your Niche…Developing Your Talents « Writing My Way Through Motherhood and Beyond

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