As we celebrate National Work and Family Month, I cannot help but reflect on how dramatically our ideas of 'ideal workers' and 'ideal families' have shifted since I began my career as a working parent in the early 1980s. Yes, we had shoulder-padded power suits, sneakers with panty hose, and movies like Working Girl and Baby Boom to inspire women to push for equality and respect in the workplace; but in many ways, we were (and still are today) challenging the "ideal worker model" of the early 20th century. This ideal worker model presumes that "the good worker is someone that is there full time, in an uninterrupted way, over the course of their careers, and that they will put work first" as described by Kathleen Gerson, professor of sociology at New York University. Having pioneered one of the first work-life companies in the 1980s, and now working with tech powerhouses and Fortune 500 companies on building great places to work, I am proud to say that this non-inclusive 'ideal worker model' is becoming obsolete. I see leaders today more interested in building a diverse, engaged, passionate, thriving workforce where there is no one-size-fits-all 'ideal worker.' And I definitely see a major emphasis on finding solutions for healthier work-life integration.
As a business leader and mother, I have seen, experienced and learned a lot over the past 30 years. While I do not presume to have all the answers, here are a few things I know for sure about work, life, and what's really important.
Life will throw you curveballs. I went to school to be a teacher, and then ended up as an executive at Intel. When my son Jason was born with Down Syndrome, I started researching specialized child care providers and the idea for my work-life referral business was born. This idea has now blossomed into Leverage Concierge, a global corporate concierge company, and I am grateful that life led me down a path bigger than my dreams could have imagined.
Follow your passion. I am passionate about helping other women succeed and making work and life easier for families. I'm lucky that what I do every day is fulfilling personally and professionally. But doing something that you're passionate about might not always come with a big paycheck. Women still need to make a living and take care of themselves financially. If you can't do what you love at your job, supplement work with something that gives your life meaning and purpose, whether its volunteering for a cause, mentoring other women, or giving back in some other way.
Take risks. I took a huge leap of faith by changing career fields and starting my own business. But I truly believed in what I was doing, and I had a strong support structure made up of my family and friends. If big changes aren't realistic, what small steps can you take to move in the direction you want to go?
Work-life "balance" isn't real. We're often told that women can do it all. But honestly, you really can't - at least not all at the same time. Looking back, I know there were times I sacrificed my personal life for my career, and I should have said "no" to work more often, and "yes" to my family and kids. Figure out what works for you, and don't hold yourself to anyone's standards except your own.
Stay curious. I'm at the age where I'm wondering, what's next? I love working, so the idea of a traditional "retirement" is not going to work for me. Life stages are different now, and I have so much more to look forward to. My husband and I recently bought a home in Mexico, and we're learning Spanish again. I want to travel more, meet new people, connect with nature, and volunteer. I'm considering starting a concierge business in Mexico with a focus on helping expats acclimate to their new surroundings. Why the hell not? It's easy to be complacent, but continue challenging yourself and pushing your own boundaries. You'll surprise yourself what you're capable of.
Lead by example. Exceptional leaders are good listeners. They care. They communicate. They build trust and respect. As an entrepreneur and CEO, I couldn't always pay people as much as I wanted to, but people stayed with me for years because I treated them fairly. I understood what they were going through in raising families and dealing with life outside of the office. My business was an example of what I'm trying to teach other employers about creating better workplaces. It's all about integrity. If I'm selling the idea of being a best place to work, I better be modelling it.
Take care of yourself. I've discovered that having a well-rounded approach to life is the key to well-being and happiness. I love to hike, do yoga and be active. I read novels for pleasure, and business and leadership books for self-improvement. I spend time connecting with family and friends, as well as time alone connecting with myself. Be your own person, acknowledge your individual needs, and do what you need to do to stay healthy. If you can accept yourself for who you are, that is the ultimate measure of success. You've won.
Cathy Leibow is Senior Vice President of Leverage Concierge. For over 30 years, Leverage Concierge has provided innovative, robust and highly customizable corporate concierge benefits to help customers drive employee engagement, boost productivity, and enhance company culture. Leverage Concierge offers 24/7 convenient access to unlimited concierge services through the myLeverageOnline website and mobile app. With an average 95% customer service rating and 98% client retention rate, Leverage Concierge proactively partners with each client to assure the program perfectly aligns with internal goals, initiatives, and culture and can seamlessly integrate with existing benefit programs. Leverage Concierge is affiliated with ACI Specialty Benefits--a Top-Ten provider of employee assistance programs (EAP), corporate wellness, student assistance, concierge and work-life services to corporations worldwide. Learn more at https://leverageconcierge.com/.