Just encountered this very interesting article about Erin Callan, former CFO of Lehman Brothers. She had written an opinion piece in the New York Times about the work/life balance debate facing people as she reflected on her life. As a high level executive, her work became her life, and as a result other aspects had to take a backseat.
‘I don’t have children, so it might seem that my story lacks relevance to the work-life balance debate. Like everyone, though, I did have relationships — a spouse, friends and family — and none of them got the best version of me. They got what was left over.
A very harsh realization, and sadly she found this out too late. However, there is a quote in the article written by Andrew Hill, which caught, my eye that I believe could confuse the issue facing the choices of contemporary career seekers.
If employees lean in, only to keel over on to the boardroom table out of fatigue, something is wrong,” writes Andrew Hill in the Financial Times Monday, referencing the title of Sandberg’s new tome. “The book and Ms. Callan’s lament expose a problem with the system, not just with the people in it. Managers ought to be creating the conditions to get the best work from all staff, not simply to extract the most work from a determined few. If employees are driven, or drive themselves, to unproductive and unhappy extremes, the whole corporate economy suffers.
The crux of the issue; business is about making money. Employees are simply tools used by business in order to achieve this end. Whether we like it or not, the truth of the matter is that men are better at this particular role as they can be the breadwinners while the wife can stay at home if she chooses (if possible) or work a less stressful job. Thus giving her the time to actually rear a family if she desires. The question is how easy can businesses afford to make life for their employees in order to avoid creating more situations like Erin Callan’s? Perks such as extended leaves of absence, or flexible working hours come at a cost to the company, which we all know affects the bottom line.
Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying that there aren’t men who haven’t sacrificed their family life for the almighty dollar or that working men to death is acceptable. Nor am I implying that women shouldn’t strive for elite positions in business if that is their dream. Lastly, I’m also not in favor of overworking your employees simply to stay in the black. Yes there has to be a reasonable balance (there’s that word again) for even the most rudimentary business to get the best from their employees. The bottom line I wish to touch on here; while both men and women have to keep this work/life balance in mind, it’s women who have to be even more realistic about their goals and make their choices accordingly. I repeat myself often here but it’s in the hopes that people may eventually listen. A woman simply can’t forgo the finality of their positions in life. You simply can’t make up for lost time, once the window is closed; it often is closed for good.
We all know that many argue the unfairness of the situation. That men don’t have to make a huge choice between the boardroom and settling down to have a family, but during this debate, we lose sight of the truth. Arguing about the equality of a situation, which can’t be changed, is simply a waste of time. No, it isn’t fair that an up and coming female business elite will have to take time off from work in order to start a family, the reality is who precisely do you take that particular issue too?
Mother Nature tends to be a little steadfast, and I doubt anyone knows where her secretary is to set up a board meeting.
This issue isn’t one to be placed on the doorstop of Money Inc, but simply to realize the limitations both genders face as they strive for corporate success. The ugly reality is that when women approach their careers the way men do, they end up losing a lot more than they bargained for.
I have spent several years now living a different version of my life, where I try to apply my energy to my new husband, Anthony, and the people whom I love and care about. But I can’t make up for lost time. Most important, although I now have stepchildren, I missed having a child of my own. I am 47 years old, and Anthony and I have been trying in vitro fertilization for several years. We are still hoping.
The truth is that Erin Callan is much closer to menopause than motherhood and sadly, I’d wager that her ship has already sailed. So many contemporary women have hailed Erin as a hero by ascending the ladder of success. However this quote seems to sum up her position on the matter in a very stark and serious manner.
Sometimes young women tell me they admire what I’ve done. As they see it, I worked hard for 20 years and can now spend the next 20 focused on other things. But that is not balance. I do not wish that for anyone.
Sadly, most won’t listen to her position, many being misinformed about aspects such as their fertility in addition to believing it won’t happen to them. I highly doubt Erin thought she would wind up there either.