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Can women in tech have it all?

There has been a great deal of discussion around women and work in the aftermath of Anne Marie Slaughter’s piece for the Atlantic, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.

The article ignited a firestorm of discussion about the status of women in the workplace and given our focus on women and tech, we thought that it was time to weigh in on the idea of women in tech having it all.

Do women in tech face the same challenges as women in other fields? Or is there an opportunity in tech, where startups abound, and flexible work hours and working remotely are commonplace, to create a culture that is more family and worker friendly?

We want to hear your stories! What has worked for you and what hasn’t? How has your company helped you overcome the challenges of balancing work and family, and how could they improve? What sorts of changes should companies make in order to accommodate their workers’ needs? Lets talk solutions!

Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Tereza Nemessanyi, CEO of Honestly Now

“Life is about decisions…and emphasis on the plural. Because it’s not one decision, it’s really a million decisions every day, and year after year different decisions present themselves. We do the best we can, and we’re not perfect.

There is science that says there is tyranny in too much choice. And some people are quick to judge our choices (whatever end of the spectrum they are). A lot of people lose a lot of time with coulda-woulda-shoulda, questioning decisions they made. And I think women are more prone to that than men.

We can’t care so much about what other people think. It’s a lot of psychic weight in our backpacks that does not serve us.

Typical decision: I decided to save money and put my kids in the town camp, but it rained today so swim team is cancelled and camp is half-day at the school instead. Hmph. Bad decision? Or just temporarily crummy luck. Dunno. But at the moment I’m really annoyed. And my mom sent me to the same camp under the same circumstances but there was no choice involved because she couldn’t afford any other camp. So she accepted it and made it positive. So I need to make the here and now work; and, if I can’t, change it.

The biggest surprise for me in life has been how much happens that is totally unexpected that can fundamentally affect your path and the decisions available.

So maybe a woman has her mom around who can be really active helping with the kids for free while she’s plowing through her career. Or maybe her child is special-needs so there’s really no question the child needs a full-time parent advocate. Or maybe she never wanted kids. Or maybe the right life partner never materialized. Or maybe she picked the wrong partner and it’s unraveling. It’s all FINE. There are a million paths to a great life. We can change our lives 100 times. We have to accept and celebrate each others’ decisions.

We need to get off each others’ backs and trust each is busting her hump. And when someone needs a hand, and you have one free, offer her yours. You just never know when you’ll be the one who needs it.”

Tereza Nemessanyi is CEO of Honestly Now, a New York based startup that is disrupting Dear Abby. She blogs at Mashups, Markets, and Motherhood and can be found tweeting @TerezaN.

 

Melissa Demsak, Manager, SQL Architecture, Realogy

“The most important thing about raising a family with two working parents is to clearly define roles for each life/family stage. The second most important thing is deciding what household/child services to outsource.

My husband and I have worked in IT for 20+ years and have two very well adjusted and successful girls (ages 17 & 22). We started our family very young (age 22), so we both always had to work to support our lifestyle.

Early on, while we were in survival mode, I had the opportunity to get paid for overtime testing COBOL programs, I worked as much as I could and my husband took the lead on family tasks. Eventually my husband quit his job to attend a six-month training program during the day and took the lead on family tasks at night while I continued to work overtime.  After he landed his first job post-training he decided he would rather be a consultant than an employee of a corporation.  At that time, I took the lead on family tasks and held a job that included health benefits.

Once we got beyond survival mode financially, we had the opportunity to decide what household/child services we could outsource. I chose to have my home cleaned on a bi-weekly basis, because spending that time with my children was a more effective use of my time.  My husband chose not to do things like mow the lawn or fix leaky pipes since his hourly consulting rate was more than double the cost of these services. It all comes down to time is money and time doesn’t wait for technology!

I returned to school to update my skills and transitioned to working as a development DBA (database administrator). As the one who has mostly been responsible for our girls on a daily basis, I chose jobs that were not 24/7 and were close enough to home to allow me the balance I needed.  Now that our daughters don’t need me as their taxi driver and constant companion, it’s time for me to step up a bit and take on a more demanding career.

At 45, I’m ready for the challenge!”

Melissa Demsak has an intense passion for Data that has followed her through her 20+ years working in various IT roles.  She’s currently working as a Manager of SQL Architecture for a large player in the Real Estate Industry.  She holds leadership roles in the NJ SQL Server User Group and the NJ Women in Technology. She tweets @DataMelange and blogs at Data Melange.  

 

Jennifer McFadden, Co-Founder & COO, Skillcrush

“Choose your life partner wisely—he/she will be your best ally in the war against mayhem. And, if you are both working, there will be mayhem. There will always be beds that go unmade; breakfasts that are burned; projects that are late; launches that fail; customers who are disappointed; soccer games that are lost. As you get older, you realize that these small things are just that—small things. You have to be willing to move on to the next play. Having a strong team and a good sense of humor can help.

Be comfortable with uncertainty. Be willing to adjust course and slow down or speed up your career as needed. If you want to stay home and raise your kids for a few years, great. Just make sure that you’re doing something else on the side that can be leveraged to help you re-enter the workforce. Don’t just volunteer to help organize your local library’s seasonal benefit; jump onto Catchafire and use your PR or marketing skills to help organize a social media campaign to get books into the hands of underprivileged children. Use Skillcrush or other online resources to pick up HTML/CSS and build a web page for the library’s summer reading program. Choose opportunities that maximize the impact that you can have on an organization while building a skillset that you can leverage later. This isn’t selfish; it’s smart.

The conventional, 8-to-6, Monday-through-Friday career paths of the past were created when one parent worked outside of the home and one inside of the home–this does not mean that they are the optimal conditions for you or your employees. Rethink the way that you structure your work and the work of people reporting to you.

Balance all nighters with all-day play dates with your kids/family/spouse/friends…it’s not healthy to work 24/7 and you will burn out. This is true of everyone—even the 22-year-old programmer who is just starting out. Don’t let someone else bully you into thinking that working 24-hours-a-day will lead you down the path of enlightenment. They’re full of crap and just looking to benefit from your enthusiasm and endurance.

If you don’t like your current work, quit. Find a new job. There is nothing more draining than spending time away from your family doing unfilling work. If you see a job that looks interesting, find the skills that you need to get it. There are so many amazing offline and online resources available to learn new skills—there is no excuse for settling for the mediocrity or boredom that comes from being forced to do uninspiring work.

Learn to say no. As it turns out, you can’t do everything all of the time. Buy cupcakes for your kids’ birthday parties if you have to—baking is overrated and kids love the over-sugared, blue-and-red-swirly-frosted treat that you can buy at your local grocery store. They won’t judge you for it.

And remember, there is nothing so important that it would warrant missing your child’s birthday. Period.”

Jennifer McFadden is mother of 10-year-old Grace McNelis McFadden and 5-year-old Martha Lillian (aka, Lilly) McFadden. She tweets @jen_mcfadden.

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7 comments

  1. Michelle Replied

    Slaughter makes some very honest and nuanced points about work-life balance and has given us an opportunity to change the conversation altogether. As she puts it in her closing comments, the right question is not “can women have it all?” but “how can we help all American workers have happy, productive, and balanced lives?” One part of the solution is for managers and corporate leaders to embrace this reframed question. It is not about a special dispensation for one group, but about better conditions for everyone.
     
    I’ve just returned to work after my third maternity leave, and my husband has spent nearly a
    decade as a stay-at-home dad. There have been some periods where both of us worked, and  both of our older children have done stints in child care. The company I work for provides some paid parental leave (for men and women), as well as access to mental health resources, subsidized sick child care, and mentoring for new working parents. All of these are helpful, but the biggest support has been my direct manager. When I told her about my last pregnancy, she made clear her support as well as her hope that I would return to work after my leave. And she has acted on those statements, protecting my time off and ensuring I knew what key priorities I needed to support while I juggled the transition back to the office.

    *Everyone* has a reason to go home, whether it be kids, parents, friends, pets, sports, religious affiliations, studies, what have you. Everyone needs – and deserves – balance. As a manager, I try to make sure my team knows that they are all measured by the quality of their work, not the hours they put in. They all need to go home at a reasonable time, most days. They all need to take their vacations. And so do I. I have worked to protect their time and mine. This isn’t always the most popular decision, and it really takes a thousand little decisions every day to prevent this from being trite lip-service. But it builds loyalty and trust, which cannot be manufactured.    

    • “I have worked to protect their time and mine. This isn’t always the most popular decision, and it really takes a thousand little decisions every day to prevent this from being trite lip-service. But it builds loyalty and trust, which cannot be manufactured.”

      Love that, Michelle! It takes courage to create these types of policies AND to stick with them! And, yes, you are 100% right. It’s not just those with kids who deserve this consideration–balance should be accessible to all.

  2. NewEnglandNoir Replied

    Love the responses to the Atlantic article. The only thing I take issue with is the idea that “having it all” in the universal sense always equates to children. The formula isn’t the same for all women- if children mean having it all, I’m good with “most of it” instead. :)

    • Adda at Skillcrush Replied

      I am so glad you commented! We absolutely agree, 2/3 of our Skillcrush team is sans children, but we still struggle to balance our home lives, friendships, significant others, pets, family, etc. with the demands of work.

      I know a BIG plus for all three of us is that Skillcrush enables us to work remotely when we need to. I think that one big opportunity in tech is that fact that the work doesn’t HAVE to happen in any one specific place.

  3. stephenbooth Replied

     I did attend a very interesting talk by Hannah Dee of the British Computer Society Women’s Group about the fact that the number of women working in computing roles and studying computing has fallen and is continuing to fall.  The slides can be found here:  http://birmingham.bcs.org/downloads/BCSBirm-Event26Jun2012-Slides-WomenGone.pdf

    Slide 12 quotes some comments Hannah got from women, via Twitter, as to why they believe the number of woemn working in tech in the UK is falling.  Hannah’s blog can be found here:  http://www.hannahdee.eu/blog/

    • Juliet Waters Replied

      Thanks for this Stephen.  I wrote a similar blog on the history of women and computing, but with a more narrative angle.  And from the perpective of someone who is far from a tech expert.  Here it is, if you want to check it out:  
      http://familycoding.com/2012/06/06/532/ 

      And thanks Jennifer, for Skillcrush.  It’s keeping me going! 

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