Today I leave for two weeks of vacation with my family. I love looking at the origins of words. In the case of vacation, the people who made up the word all those years ago knew that the key thought here is vacating. Vacating a home, presumably. But it also makes me think of vacating your mind, vacating your schedule, vacating the routine of your life.
On Monday evening I attended an event to celebrate the publishing of a Harvard Business Review article called, “The Battle for Female Talent in Emerging Markets.” The gist of the article is that in countries where multinationals are looking to grow their businesses (Brazil, Russia, India and China), they need women to do the work, but there are a multitude of factors blocking women from maintaining mid-level manager jobs.
In the last few weeks I have had renewed energy around the bigger picture for my business. I want to help companies and individuals find real solutions to sustained happiness and productivity. One big piece of the puzzle is around asking companies to talk to their employees and find out how to bring more humanity to the work place. The other piece involves helping people take better care of themselves and work better. To that end, I recently came across a coach whose perspective I find so interesting, Tony Schwartz and the Energy Project. In one Huffington Post blog, he talked about the benefits of stopping for lunch. Having worked for a company that did stop for lunch, I can tell you that I am a believer. We were so engaged and productive that we were growing at twice the industry average. A case of individuals and policy coming together beautifully.
For the last two years I have been focused on single women in mid-career who are frustrated at work, and longing for a family. I now see something much bigger. It’s not that this group is not important. I was in that group, and I know from personal experience how important it is to shake things up. When I say something bigger I mean this:
At the same time, academia, Corporate America and the Baby Boomer generation have been slow to respond. The corporate hierarchy that was developed by Henry Ford and depression and war era executives has barely evolved. The vision of marriage as the answer to one’s personal life is a firm as ever. As such, we are expected to do well in school, get the best job we can, eventually marry, and just be happy. And herein lies the rub…
In Friday’s New York Times Patricia Cohen had an article about delayed adulthood. It talks about how turning 21 no longer qualifies as a transition to adulthood. Traditionally, the model was that a person would turn 21, finish their studies, get a job, and marry within a few years. Now, people continue to study, and pursue long term professional goals so that marrying and family has become a lifestyle choice rather than a rite of passage.
The stretched-out walk to independence is rooted in social and economic shifts that started in the 1970s, including a change from a manufacturing to a service-based economy that sent many more people to college, and the women’s movement, which opened up educational and professional opportunities.
No doubt many saw last Sunday’s NYT article about technology and multi-tasking. On the blog were many comments questioning whether the distractions of technology were in fact making us less efficient. We are a society geared toward production, so it is logical that people’s main concern would be the risk to our thinking from multi-tasking.
In the two years that I have been coaching, there are three areas that I have been drawn to. The first, helping women optimize their careers. Finding what they are most passionate about, negotiating salary and title, managing office politics, or developing their own businesses. The second has been helping women find a relationship. I love strategizing about this and helping them overcome the fears and obstacles associated with the process. And the third, largely because of my recent experience, is around maternity leave and the obvious disconnect between the totally inadequate support in Corporate America and the reality that half of the workforce is now women. But for all this time, these topics have seemed so unrelated.
Very recently, however, it has fallen into place. In the last 50 years, there has been massive change in the US, both socially and economically. We saw feminism, civil rights, divorce on a mass scale, layoffs on a mass scale, globalization, geographic mobility, and technology and these movements, while overwhelmingly positive, have destabilized our expectations and ways of doing things. Women have been working alongside men, in the current iteration, for 30+ years. It is time for a merit-based system that finally recognizes womens’ management styles and respects our softer negotiating skills. In relationships, people need to stop beating themselves up for struggling to find someone and learn how feminism has shifted how we court. I got this idea from Getting To I Do by Patricia Allen who may seem conservative, but has some very interesting perspectives. And finally, with working mothers now squarely entrenched in work, companies need to see the cost of having them leave in frustration when they could be valued long-term employees.
To me it’s no accident that in the last presidential election, both democrats and republicans were talking about the need for a new reality. Our corporate systems were developed by depression and war-era children, and later by baby boomers. The formula was that you worked hard, postponed gratification, and enjoyed a beautiful retirement with your spouse. The problem is that today’s middle management and up and comers lived through seeing marriage and lifetime employment go out the window. They don’t trust these institutions and are not willing to postpone gratification indefinitely. The massive social, economic and geographic changes have left us with a perfect storm of life challenges, often without the support network of family and friends who understand. We are learning more and more that this new reality does respond favorably to a new kind of support. Life Coaching helps individuals regain control in a sea of uncertainty and pressure, and provides the tools and support to begin living a fulfilling and balanced life, on their terms.
About a month ago, I posted a discussion on my LinkedIn groups about Equal Pay Day that talked about how women still make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. I don’t know about you, but it felt to me first, not quite possible, and second, depressing! How can we fix 23% when we are already working so hard?
So here’s the good news. On Friday, May 14th the NY Times published an article about a Harvard research study that says that the real number is closer to 92 cents on the dollar. Hooray! The study addressed the ‘not quite possible’ piece I’d been stuck on. According to Hannah Riley Bowles, the study’s author, ‘Part of the pay gap can be easily explained away. Women are more likely to leave the work force to care for children, for example, so they end up with fewer years of experience. Men also tend to work in highter-paying occupations and industries.”
So while the article seemed to take a view that it’s unfortunate that we still don’t negotiate well enough to make up for the $.08, I was so encouraged. I mean really, with a little strategy and planning, can’t we learn to negotiate better and close this relatively small gap?
Here is the link to the article:
Yesterday I read a great blog in the Huffington Post and wanted to share it.
The post is about determination, but it’s really about pacing yourself. For the last year and a half or so most of us have been living with tremendous uncertainty. Even those who have steady work are seeing how reduced consumer spending is affecting our companies’ bottom lines, our 401k’s…you know the drill. So, knowing that we still have some distance to run, we need to find a way to pace ourselves for the long haul. I think this coach has some great advice.
As a serious non-drug user, I always found the thought of trying LSD and mushrooms titillating, but terrifying. I wanted the experience and learning without what I perceived to be the risk of addiction or losing my mind. An article in this week’s NY Times titled “Hallucinogens Have Scientists Tuning In Again” gave me such a kick, and made me realize that I wasn’t totally wrong. What the article said reminded me so much of what coaching is about.
Apparently, under controlled conditions, scientists at Johns Hopkins and other universities are finding that patients who have taken hallucinogens have had a profound and lasting change to the way that they view themselves and the world. A fundamental and on-going change in perspective. One patient is quoted as saying, “It was a whole personality shift for me. I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people.” Wow! That is the sentiment that got me.
The idea resonated with me on two levels. First, imagine being able, in a short time, to get out of the ways of thinking that block us? The ‘stories’ we’ve told ourselves for years about how things are, what we can and can’t do? What a liberating change in perspective! And second, imagine really being yourself, “sharing your natural enthusiasms.” People spend so much time and energy creating masks. It’s counter-intuitive for most of us, but when we actually let our authentic selves show, we connect so much more easily. And, when the two work together: Being in a perspective of feeling powerful, plus really knowing your authentic self…the possibilities are endless.