How can women achieve work-life balance?
Can women have it all?
Crystal Clay, an entrepreneur and mother-of-two, says yes.
Fifteen years ago, she wasn’t so sure.
“Sometimes I didn’t sleep for 48 hours,” said Dr Clay, recalling how she balanced her doctoral studies with a full-time job while caring for her young daughters. “On the weekends I sometimes got six hours of sleep. It became hard to get out of bed in the morning and I was chronically exhausted.”
Falling asleep during important meetings was a telltale sign that she needed change; the real warning came days later.
“I’d been working late and was driving home,” she said. “I dozed off for a single second. A police siren came up behind me and actually woke me up and saved my life. The siren was not coming after me, but it shook me up and stopped me going over the bank into Church Bay.”
Her daughters were a priority but so was her job. Looking at her schedule, she realised she’d signed up for too many committees.
The HR executive excused herself from many of them and became more selective about her business travel.
“I accepted the best and said no to the good. When I was home I spent my free time with my daughters. I became involved in their activities and I made my house a hub, so they could have their friends there.”
She had a lot of support from her husband, but her friends and colleagues didn’t always understand.
“Sometimes they’d say, you should just come with us and let them do their own thing,” she said. “Sometimes I spent the day with my friends, but mostly I focused on my children. I knew what my priorities were, and I always made decisions in line with my values.”
She thinks it’s the reason she has a great relationship with her daughters who are now in their 20s.
Dr Clay last year left the post she had held for a decade at Chubb and started an executive coaching business, Olive Branch Consulting.
She’s sharing some of the lessons she’s learnt about work-life balance on the way, in a workshop at the Women’s Resource Centre tomorrow.
Changes in pace, technology and social norms have put new stresses on the balance between work and home life, she said.
“That has created a new set of challenges for people in the workplace in general, but a unique set of challenges for women in particular,” she said. “They want to have fulfilling careers, but also want to have fulfilling lives as well.
“How can they do that? They might have to redefine their role in work and at home and they need to have conversations. If you ever want to start a conversation among women, just bring up the topic and the room comes alive. It is quite an evolving issue.
“In the 1970s you saw more women entering the workplace. Then in the 1980s women started to talk about the glass ceiling. In the 1990s there was another shift and we saw more women entering more leadership positions, and being more empowered in the workplace. We had new kinds of conversations in the workplace. All these things are culminating now.”
She often discusses the issue with her clients, and finds that people usually know when their lives are out of balance.
“You feel like things are out of control,” she said. “These are the kinds of things we will talk about in the workshop. We will identify burnout, and look at self-care. We will be looking at having people around you to support you.
“Fortunately I had support from my husband and we came together as a family.”
But she warned, balance looks different for everyone.
“I always caution people not to judge others on their decisions and choices,” she said. “We can’t compare ourselves to others. Work-life balance is not one size fits all. It depends on your needs and how you can be most productive and how you can get the things you want while working. It is a broader conversation about the things most important to you and how you can juggle those things without compromising.”
She started her company to have more flexibility to do what she wanted, when she wanted.
“It allowed me to choose the projects I wanted to work on,” she said. “I also wanted to broaden my scope and have an impact in the community.
“I work with individuals, teams and organisations. I support them in the professional development, leadership training and coaching and consulting. I also support non-profits; some of the programmes I support are programmes like the Women’s Resource Centre.”
Ms Clay’s workshop runs tomorrow from 9am to 11am at the Women’s Resource Centre, Charities House, 25 Point Finger Road. Admission is $50. For more information e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 295-3882
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