5 Tips for Rocking Entrepreneurial Work-Life Balance

work life balance

Many of us wonder about work-life balance and how to achieve it. And, even imagine rocking entrepreneurial work-life balance. I did a study on work-life balance with women and men. Equally, they wanted more work-life balance, but the differences were striking: Men who had partners and families were more satisfied in their career. Women who had partners and families were less satisfied. Single men, less satisfied in their career, single women were more satisfied.

This data makes sense to me and is backed up by a statistic Sheryl Sandberg cited in a speech given recently at Salesforce: Women still do two times the amount of housework men do, and three times the amount of childcare. If women have families and a job, they are working much more. For men, it seems it’s almost the opposite.

So what happens when women want it all?

I was chatting informally with one of my favorite people, and superstar entrepreneurs, Courtney Klein, recently. Courtney is Co-Founder and CEO of SEED SPOT, an organization designed to educate, accelerate, and invest in entrepreneurs who are creating solutions to social problems.

SEED SPOT ranks as one of the “Top 20 Accelerators in the World” by Gust and one of the “Top 3 social impact incubators in the United States” by UBI Global and Cisco. SEED SPOT also holds an Emmy for their partnership with Univision serving Latino entrepreneurs.

Courtney is incredibly professionally successful; she has a growing family–and is well-known nationally. I thought you’d find her take on the question of balancing it all as an entrepreneur helpful.

Melissa: “Courtney, you’ve said that women ask you regularly about running a company and having a family at the same time. What’s your answer?”

Courtney: “When I was pregnant with my first child, a mentor said, ‘The best thing you can do for your daughter is to be the best version of yourself.’

And, as a small human was kicking inside of me, I realized that being the best version of myself meant uniting my identities as a mom–and CEO. After 200 flights with my daughter before she turned two, while still learning, I have learned a lot.

I often traveled with a relative and had nannies able to be on-call in seven cities. My daughter sat on stages with me at big conferences, played on my lap while I was on calls, and attended board meetings in her stroller with her favorite toy in hand. The benefit to the daily juggling act was that we never spent a day apart.

The gift of being an entrepreneur is that you get to make your own rules. The challenge is that you often have to create a new norm – really, a new normal. 

Walking into a donor meeting with unrecognizable baby gunk on my sleeve was a common occurrence, but if I didn’t react, neither did they. If folks were shocked that my morning coffee was transported by stroller, I didn’t let it bother me, and they soon forgot about it as well. If my daughter cried and I walked out to nurse her, I simply explained that her hunger was of higher priority than anything else in the room.

This was the way it was; this was the way it was going to be. People accepted it.

There is no one-size-fits-all model. There is no scoring system for how to be a good mom, or a good entrepreneur, or both. But the opportunity we have is to carve our own path for what our identities look like together, not separate.”

Tip: Unite your identities instead of separating them 

Melissa: “There is so much we could learn from you about social entrepreneurship, founding a company, growing a business, but is there something specific female founders need to consider?”

Courtney: “The startup culture is still super patriarchal – if one statistic alone tells the story it is that less than 3 percent of venture capital goes to women. It’s even less for founders of color.

If entrepreneurs play into a patriarchal startup culture system – it will never change. At SEED SPOT we have a huge focus on diversity and inclusion, 49% of our alumni are female founders.

We owe it to our children, the next generation of innovators, to set a new narrative for what an equitable startup culture looks like.

And the new narrative of equitable startup culture must be led by entrepreneurs who don’t take the passing sexual comment as casual, slam those who ask for integrity in exchange for capital, and demand equal pay for themselves and those on their team.”

Tip: Make the new rules for what an equitable startup culture looks like 

Melissa: “My research has shown that men want work-life balance just as much as women but they don’t discuss it as openly. What’s your take on why men don’t seem to worry about ‘balancing it all’?”

Courtney: “I think that’s the predominant cultural narrative in America, but I don’t think it’s actually true. The desire to balance it all has nothing to do with gender; it has everything to do with choice.

If bucking norms makes you uncomfortable, you are going to have an impossible time as an entrepreneur. And if you conform to norms and succeed, it only perpetuates the problem and digs a deeper trench for future generations to climb out of.”

Tip: Get comfortable bucking the norms, the next generation needs to witness a new model

Melissa: “What are some of the unspoken issues that women don’t talk about openly when it comes to balancing personal and business life?” 

Courtney: “It saddens me how many women that want to have a family don’t for fear they can’t do it or will lose their identity if they do. As entrepreneurs, we have the unique advantage of sculpting our own identities. And that can make a difference not only in our own lives but in the lives of women everywhere.

Tip: Social modeling matters – share your tips, tricks and lessons learned.

And, as Courtney pointed out in our conversation, “Sometimes it’s about rocking the compression socks at 30,000 feet, or discreetly muting a conference call button while nursing, or juggling a network of nannies in cities across the country. And, other times it’s about dealing with someone who isn’t quite there in terms of understanding your identity as a female entrepreneur, or an entrepreneur/mom. Sometimes it’s about sharing a resource, or a network, or a hug.”

Tip: Don’t let fear defeat you. Reach out to those doing it for support. 

A version of this post was first published on Inc.com.

Photo: Austin Neill on Unsplash.

An Open Letter to Men in the Workplace

image-of-men-by-jose-hernandez-CC-2.0

Men,

With the recent events in the media, I can imagine you’re a little confused. I feel for you. How can you authentically and naturally interact with women without concern you’ll offend? What words can you use? What actions can you take?

What does it mean when a woman asks you for “support”?

There is professional protocol in business, and most of us do our best to follow that. However, men and women interact very differently—and most of the time we’re totally unaware of that. What happens when we unintentionally slight someone, offend or hurt them? Especially in the workplace.

Here is a list of things I’d like you to consider. How often do you:

  • Thank women regularly for their contribution.
  • Praise women for their competence and a job well-done.
  • Ask open questions to understand a problem, before offering a solution.
  • Say you’ll jump in and help on something.
  • Ask if anyone needs coffee or water before a meeting starts.
  • Refer to a female colleague in a meeting as a “go-to expert.”
  • Give credit in a public forum, “Susan had a great idea when we talked last.”
  • Use names when you’re speaking about or to women.
  • Ask questions, like, “I’d like to offer specific support, what can I do?”
  • Follow through with what you say you’re going to do.

If you’re doing all of these things, women in your organization most likely respect you and enjoy working with you. If you’re doing some of these things, you will be seen as harmless. If you’re doing none of them, I can guarantee women have a problem with you.

Luckily, I’m offering you a complimentary webinar full of “how-to’s” to keep you from making these mistakes, and better yet, to help you turn into a superstar team player that all women will want to work with and for.

The session will explain the differences in men and women’s communications styles. The meaning behind words like “support.” You’ll learn the secrets to advocating for your female colleagues, how to work in mixed teams most effectively, how to read non-verbal signs, and what to do when women are upset.

I guarantee you’ll improve your relationships with women in all aspects of your life and work.

With respect,

Melissa

To sign up for this session click here.

A version of this post was first published on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Jose Hernandez CC 2.0

Work-Life Balance is an Outdated Concept, So What Now?

Beach chairs on the evening sea coast.

Work-life balance became a buzzword a couple of decades ago. Everywhere you turned there were presentations, articles and self-proclaimed “experts” all promising to help the overworked find a better balance.

The thing is, I’m not so sure work and life are really separate concepts anymore.

More and more, work and life are intertwined, especially when working remotely, or traveling for work. And to increase engagement, more companies are making workplaces feel like “home.” “Work-Life Integration” is probably a more accurate term today, and people work every day to try to do this well. It isn’t as much a balancing act as it is an act of acceptance that balance doesn’t exist. Something will always have to give; your time in the office, your kid’s soccer game, time with your partner, or travel abroad. If you want successful work-life integration, you will need to sacrifice something.

Sure, there are still the no-holds-barred leaders out there whose commitment to work eclipses everything else and there are those who think that’s the way it has to be if you want to be successful. Some of these people might even be happy with their life this way, who are we to judge? Many experts today still proclaim it is possible to have it all. However, what exactly does “all” mean?

As leaders, we need to become aware of what’s important to us and the individuals in our team, we need to set an example, be a role model, and help them create the right situation and strategy for themselves. In my opinion, work-life integration is about setting boundaries. If you clarify what you want, create a plan, set boundaries, and manage it well, fulfillment in one’s personal and professional lives can easily be a reality.

It’s all about boundaries.

To achieve life balance, you have to set these boundaries both in your personal life and your work life. You’ll want to make deliberate decisions about what’s going to be the priority. And it has to go both ways to work out. At work, we often have to respond instantly to crises and sudden situations. Then again, sometimes your personal life is more important—your preschooler is in a theater production, a parent is diagnosed with an illness, or your eldest is graduating from law school.

The fact is, when a situation with enough importance emerges (in business or life), we make time. And you know what? The world doesn’t end. This just shows that having boundaries and stepping away is possible. Planning is key and with proper boundaries in place, it becomes easier to give attention to all areas of your life. (Nigel Marsh has a wonderful TedTalk on boundaries.)

Here are five steps to creating excellent work-life integration for yourself and your team. Share these steps with those you manage and hold a conversation about their relevance:

Define “balance.” First, you have to know what you want out of life, then you can create a clear plan to achieve those goals. If working a lot right now is important for your career growth, then that’s ok. If spending more time with your partner is a priority for your relationship, then do that. Maybe your kids need more or less attention at this point in their lives.

Communicate proactively. In some ways, this goes hand-in-hand with the above point. Talk to your family and significant other about what’s coming up on the calendar at work and speak with your team about what types of personal situations may require your attention no matter what. This can help avoid partner, manager or team resentment when various life or work events arise.

Know your own resilience level. You may be the type who can sleep little and work a lot. Or you might require eight hours and need to let your brain rest in between productive spurts of work. Maybe you burn out without regular vacation time or maybe work gives you so much energy, you don’t need many holidays. Listen to what your body and mind need and honor that.

Walk the talk. Don’t preach work-life integration and then send emails in the middle of the night, regularly stay late at the office, and text your team members at off hours. Managers are often unaware how their own behavior unintentionally sets the standard for the team. People may feel they have to respond in the middle of the night, stay late until the boss leaves, etc.

Introduce your personal life into your work life. Back in the day, talking about your personal life at work was a big no-no, but now those walls are coming down. You see more and more amusing family anecdotes or personal stop-and-think moments being integrated into presentations and speeches. The more you make your workplace feel like home (as much as your company will allow), the more balanced you’ll feel at work.

Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage says, “When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive.” The idea of work-life integration isn’t just corporate lip service anymore, but it isn’t really about having perfect balance either. It’s about creating an ideal situation for yourself – accepted at home and at work – so that you can thrive both personally and professionally.

For a workshop, webinar, or speaking engagement on How to Set Boundaries and Be Happier in Life and Work, contact Melissa.

A version of this post was first published here.

 

Change Happens. Here’s How to Deal with It.

Change Management

Change happens. To all of us. How we manage change in our lives, and our work differs from person to person.

A friend of mine was lamenting a change at work. It wasn’t necessarily a bad change. But things would be different. His responsibilities. His team. His travel schedule.

I listened, gave him some advice, and he walked away feeling much better. Easy for me to say, right? The thing is when the tables have been turned, and I’ve been through a change, I felt the same way he did, resistance. Doubt. Even fear.

Why are we so good at seeing the silver linings in change when it comes to other people’s situations–but not our own? We worry, belabor, and stew.

After my last big transition, I gave this questions a lot of thought and created five steps that I’ve since used to accept and embrace change–and they have worked. So whether it be something new and potentially exciting or something bad, I recommend the following steps:

Get in touch with your emotions.

You lost your job, or you got a new job. First, think about what’s unsettling you so much about the situation. You can’t accept what’s different if you’re unsure of why it upsets you. Getting to the core of your anxiety may help you alleviate some of it by addressing your emotions with facts and rationale.

Get perspective.

Take a step back and think about how you’ll feel a week or year from now. Will this change still be such a big deal? Do you think you will have adapted? Imagine: Will it even matter? If not, then try not to waste energy getting so upset or worked up.

Realize it’s a part of life.

Change happens. It’s inevitable. Change is what makes our lives move (and be exciting). It’s what helps us evolve and grow. Sometimes the face of change may look scary or bad but underneath, it could be hiding a blessing or opportunity. When faced with change, understand that for new things to come, old things must go.

Find the silver lining.

Even in the hardest of times and transitions, there’s almost always a silver lining of some sort. If you can’t see it, talk to someone. Chances are, an outside perspective can help you identify it. Then, after you’ve moved on from being consumed with anger, fear, or sadness, try, try, try to focus on this positive. Try to think about how you can turn this change into an opportunity.

Get moving.

It’s no secret that I think exercise can help tackle even the toughest of problems. It can help you process what’s happening, de-stress, and just plain get your mind off things. Anything from yoga to running to a brisk walk can work wonders for your mental state.

Change happens. It can be tough. There’s no mistaking that. But, I bet, if you think back through your life and all the big transitions you’ve had to tackle–most of them ended positively or, with most of them, you ended up adapting and handling the change well. You never know what lies on the other side of change. Need help dealing with change in your work? Contact me.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

4 Ways to Bring Spirituality into Business

Work Life Balance

Spirituality and business. These two words seem to be at odds with one another but I want to make the argument that they shouldn’t be.

One way I’ve learned to bring my spiritual self to the workplace is to look at things positively.

Negative thoughts are a cancer and they only bring pain and drain energy. Banish them. Use positive words when talking and if something has gone wrong, analyze what it was and move forward. No one is perfect. Learn to let go of negativity. (Or as my father calls it “stop awfulizing” about things.)

To learn about the other three strategies, please click here to read the entire article!

 

Work Life Balance

Image Credit: Marigranula/123rf

9 Ways Happy People Balance Work and Life

Work Life Balance

There are nine simple steps people can take to get closer to a happier, more balanced life.

For example, employees should set boundaries at work:

Once you know what you want, you have to set expectations in the workplace to achieve these goals. Maybe you’re home early three afternoons a week, but you’re available during certain hours after the kids go to bed.

Decide what types of situations you really need to respond to and learn how to say “no” and delegate more to your team. Another option is creating a job-share with coworkers.

To learn about the other eight steps, please click here to read the entire article!

 

Work Life Balance

Image Credit: 123rf/flynt

Five Friday Highlights: Traditions and Stereotypes

Global Stereotypes

Our world changes rapidly. Despite these accelerated changes, some deep-rooted global stereotypes persist as society evolves around them. Such is the case in this week’s selections. Venezuela and Brazil struggle to find lost power while stereotypes remain entrenched in Africa and Japan. Finally, a look at the world’s cities with the best work-life balance.

Venezuela Burning by Danielle DiMartino Booth explores the history behind Venezuela’s current crisis state. She asks, “How has Venezuela spiraled so far out of control in the wake of the commodities supercycle that built modern-day China, one that filled the coffers of resource-rich exporters worldwide?”

Challenging Africa’s Albino Stereotypes from the BBC explained the obstacles to acceptance people with albinism face in Africa. One woman (Celestine Mutinda) said, “Some of us are scared of walking along the streets of Nairobi. Sometimes while walking some people do say ‘this is money’. They believe that albinos can be sold. Some albinos end up isolating themselves because of discrimination.”

Adult Adoption in Japan from The Economist explains mukoyōshi, a practice almost unknown outside of Japan. This practice is one in which grown men are adopted by the families of the women they marry. This keeps the family line from ending and therefore prolongs their place in the business world. Read this fascinating article to learn about the 90% of adoptees in Japan: adults.

Finally, let’s learn about The 13 Cities With the Best Work-Life Balance in the World from Business Insider. Want to know which cities have the best balance between work and leisure time? Then this is the article for you! You’ll need to read it yourself to find out who is number one, but I’ll give you one hint: if you want great work-life balance, you’d better like Europe!

Have you read something this week that gave you a new perspective on another country? Email me to let me know!

Image Credit: 123rf/everythingpossible

Taking Tech Companies Global

If you’re a tech company expanding outside of the US, you’re going to need more than a slick logo and a ping-pong table to make an impact. From not anticipating cultural differences to failing to research the market before expanding, hyper-growth organizations can’t always predict the challenges presented by taking the business multinational. If your company is considering global expansion, considering the tips below will go a long way to making your growth across borders both pleasant and profitable.

Don’t Rely Solely on Virtual Communication

It’s no secret that good social and cross-cultural communication skills are vital to successful virtual relationships. Unfortunately, many tech companies (and start-ups especially) are comprised of engineers, developers and other employees used to working autonomously and independently, often working out of their homes or remote offices.

Email is the default method of communication. And sometimes various chat functions are used.  But studies in managing virtual teams show that face-to-face communication is 10 times more effective than phone, and phone is 10 times more effective than email. This means that you must encourage phone, video conference and even face-to-face conversations when at all possible. Making it clear to your employees that you expect them to know each other as people, not just as email thumbnails, fosters a personal connection between your global workforce. Personal relationships don’t just make project work more effective – it also increases employee retention rates and promotes a global mindset for staff.

Product Development: One Size Does Not Fit All

Expanding your products or services globally is a lot trickier than many international tech companies anticipate. Standards and viewpoints we accept in the US may not be viewed so positively abroad. For instance, Facebook has run into privacy issues in other countries, from the amount of user data they collect to claims that the ‘Like’ button violates certain German laws.

China is a notoriously difficult country for US firms to expand into. LinkedIn is poised to become one of the few US tech companies allowed in this restrictive market, in part because it offers a service not well established in China: Business networking.

The solution: Care and attention to the local culture, customs and laws. Take the time to create relationships with local economic development agencies, chambers of commerce and other local tech companies. Talk through your business proposition with leaders to discover what cultural challenges you may run into, then create a global game plan. Having a trusted business leader on the ground during your global expansion will prevent easily-preventable conflicts through innovative solutions only available from a leader with intimate knowledge of the country into which you are expanding.

Internal Culture is As Important as External

Consider the business culture of the new market you’re entering and make sure your internal communications reflect it. In the US, business mixes personal and professional. Tech startups especially build their teams around passionate people who love what they do, love the company they work for and are happy to rally around and even celebrate a set of common values. Many Asian companies also embrace a close company culture and in some cases look at a firm as an extension of family.

In some European countries, however, you’ll be hard-pressed to drum up this type of workplace enthusiasm. Employees see it as a job, they’re happy to come work, happy to have success, but the concept of colleagues as family is foreign.

Management style and decision-making methods need to be considered as well. Tech companies place an emphasis on consensus building and crowdsourcing ideas from among their disparate experts. Managers must find the right balance between leading the team toward a goal while still allowing the experts to feel their contribution matters.

Work-Life Balance is a Myth (But we can try!)

Let’s admit it – there are workaholics in the tech industry. It’s the norm to work long days and sometimes all night to get things done. When you’re based in the US, with only US times zones to deal with, it’s not as much of an issue. But if you expand into Europe, where work-life balance is taken very seriously, all-nighters are anything but typical and a different approach is necessary.

An even more delicate balance exists in India, where a heavy US business presence means Indian employees often work crazy hours to keep up with the demand of US-based customers. Does this make work-life balance difficult? Yes – while workers complain about working long hours and being stressed because of it, the hours also make workers in India feel needed and valued. There is an international trend towards making work-life balance attainable, and that’s important for business leaders to consider when planning global expansion. Make sure you are prepared to manage expectations across your culturally diverse workforce as part of your global business plans. It’ll improve relationships and increase employee engagement.

Now that you know the trends I see with expanding tech companies, I’m curious to know what unique challenges you’ve faced with global expansion. Drop me a line at melissa.lamson@lamsonconsulting.com and let me know. With your permission, your story might be one of the ones featured in a future blog post.