As an executive, mother, wife, daughter, sister, coach, leader, woman in tech, and owner of an extremely demanding dog, it’s all about finding the right balance. Career is, and always has been, important to me, but I do have other interests outside of work, therefore the most difficult challenge I face is curating my life around my career. I have always been an overachiever, and I'm programmed to be one, but sometimes there's not enough whitespace to do more.
The reality is most of my early working life was spent ‘white-knuckling’ it, raising a family while maintaining a career in a demanding industry with unforgiving hours, intense travel, and competition. I'm not sure I've figured out the right balance completely, but I now consciously focus the limited time and energy I have on the things that are most important to me, and at which I want to be great at. Everything else is best efforts and can be crossed off the inevitable to-do list.
The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt is that you don’t have to be the best at everything, a lesson that came easy for my husband. He instinctively knew what he didn’t want to excel at but for me, as a woman, it’s taken several years to remove that self-imposed pressure.
Dealing with the pandemic
My husband and I are "empty nesters," but I know that the pandemic has had a particularly negative impact on women with school-age (or younger) children and/or elderly family members. For mothers, there was no book-ending the day with school or childcare, making it even more difficult for them to divide their time between family and work responsibilities. The domestic burden ultimately still falls on us, the wome'n much of the time.
The question that remains is can women continue to do it all, or should we back off? Many women try to compensate by working longer hours. Companies must be aware and sensitive to this. Of course, the good part is that the pandemic has compelled us all to pause and consider what is most important in our lives. My concern is that this mindset will be forgotten when we return to "normal," which would be an absolute shame.
In terms of my work and mental health, I'd be lying if I said I didn't struggle at first. It was difficult to bookend the day, as I was always on and accessible. My computer shining like a beacon from my home office. Before the pandemic, I used my commute time between home and work to wind up and wind down, but that vanished. There has been no "face time" to check with others if what I'm doing is correct and on point. I certainly had some doubts about myself along the way. But now that we've been doing this for so long, I'm not sure what it'll be like to return to the office – for anyone!
One interesting side effect of the pandemic has been that it has served as a great equalizer. It doesn't matter if you don't walk the halls and work at "Corp HQ," because no one is bumping into each other for impromptu meetings any longer. In addition, everyone behaves much better on conference calls/zoom calls. Better etiquette. So, if you are not someone who is comfortable speaking up in a meeting, it is easier in some ways (on or off camera). Plus, it has meant less travel. This new paradigm has provided us all with more flexibility, which I believe is a good thing.
The most pressing biases
In my opinion, some of the most pressing gender biases that women face are:
- Role stereotyping
For example, the inaccurate perception that women can’t be as technical as men so therefore can’t do ‘xyz’ job
- Higher burnout
Especially with the demanding hours and amount of travel required within the tech sector, which is further exacerbated by women doing double duty in caregiving roles plus their careers
- Unequal compensation/pay
It’s improving but not where it should be
- Childcare, elder care support
Burden of care most of the times falls on women
Companies may talk about equality and inclusion, but it must be a priority/part of the mission statement. Organizations must be held accountable for their actions; otherwise, it is just words. It can’t be a sidebar "issue", every leader within the organization has to be a proponent for change
What can we do to help?
Juniper Networks has a number of terrific initiatives geared towards advancing women’s careers in tech and leadership:
- Women’s Sponsorship Program
Provides mentorship from senior participants to more junior colleagues, with 2021 marking the graduation of the third cohort from the program
- Women in Tech internal series
This internal speaking series invited female leaders from external organizations to speak
- Women In Tech Conferences
Juniper sponsored this speaker conference series, giving employees the chance to attend and take advantage of networking and professional development opportunities
- Board of Directors
The board has a strong female presence, with three out of ten members female
From a personal perspective, I’m taking the following actions
- Submit nominees for internal Juniper programmes and awards, and participate in those programmes myself
- Be a mentor to women both inside and outside Juniper Networks
- A founding member of CHIEF, a network focused on connecting and supporting women in leadership
- Tend to encourage the women in my organization to have a voice and have confidence, and ask for their opinions in meetings
- Using my 28-year-old daughter as a sounding board for generational differences. She keeps me honest and current, which is important
Success mantras for women and girls to #BreakTheBias
I have a few success mantras:
- Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way – without hesitation, uncertainty, or trepidation. Don't overthink things; instead, dive in and give it a shot. In general, men simply take the risk, no matter what the challenges. We need to do more of this, and it isn’t easy. Some of the big risks for me were, relocating from the United Kingdom to the United States (for a job); deciding to stay in the United States (for a job); switching from engineering to marketing; switching from an amazing job in a large corporation to a start-up with significantly less pay/structure/balance (but far more exciting); and changing jobs while eight months pregnant. Oh, the list goes on and on. Basically, just do it!
- Find strong mentors, but even more importantly, sponsors who will include you in their professional networks. Some of these may be unintentional. Mentors are important, but sponsors are even more so. Who are the strong women in your life? You must be deliberate, or it will not happen – and there is always an excuse (too busy, too tired, no time). Don’t eat alone at the table!
- Be yourself, be authentic – don't try to change because you believe it will help your career. Bring your whole self – embrace and accept who you are. Don't hide the fact that you have children, ageing parents, and so on. You must be self-assured in order to sit at the table. You don't have to be a female clone of a man. Believe in your abilities.
- Ask for what you want. Have a say. I gave this advice to someone who eventually joined my team. I was so proud of her when she asked for a salary increase.
- Important one – have each other’s backs. We should always be supporting each other as women in the workplace. Backing each other to be “at the table”.