Banish the Word “Balance,” Say Top Women Executives

You may have heard a loud “Thank You!” coming from the New Jersey area this week as I read the following quote from Carol Bartz, Executive Chairman of Autodesk. In a Wall Street Journal article by Carol Hymowitz, entitled “View From the Top,” Ms. Bartz said that “The word ‘balance’ should be banished from women’s vocabulary.” I, of course, would take that a step further and say it should be banished from everyone’s vocabulary, but regardless, hooray!

I shouted for joy! Finally someone at her level is supporting what I’ve been saying for years: The word “balance” doesn’t reflect reality and, therefore, is the cause of much unnecessary grief and guilt.

Watching the video clip of Carol Bartz talking about how unrealistic the term “balance” is, you can see her hold her hands in the air at the same height to symbolize what most people believe–that our goal is a 50-50 split between work and personal life which she says is the myth of trying to “have it all.” (Her description of what that means is actually hilarious). She then shifts one hand down and one hand up to illustrate how time and energy focused on your work, and focused on your personal life need to shift depending upon what’s happening at any given time.

What her hand gestures describe is Work+Life Fit, that ongoing shifting and changing of the boundary between work and the rest of life in response to changing circumstances. Depending upon the transitions you experience, more time and energy will be focused on work sometimes, and at other times, more time and energy will be focused on your personal life.

Clearly because of the jobs they’ve chosen, Ms. Bartz and the five other senior executive women interviewed for the article don’t have anything that would come close to resembling “balance.” But they do each have a unique “fit,” based upon their unique professional and personal circumstances and choices. And that’s the point for all of us. Their work+life advice reinforces other key points from the Work+Life Fit™ Process as well.

1) Define what you want. Make sure you consider the realities of your job, and redefine success for yourself so you feel good about those choices.

“So there are lots of sacrifices and choices you have to make along the way, “says Frances Sevilla-Sacasa, President of U.S. Trust, “But don’t think it is all bad. I think you have to make choices because there are trade-offs.”

“So not always being there (at a business meeting) or not always being at the school play is more important than living up to some other standard. So if we can set our own expectations for how we want to live, we can make it better for women coming up the ranks and men too,” says Ursula Burns, President of Business Group Operations at Xerox Corp.

2) Don’t be your own worst enemy (so many of us are!) Give yourself a break every now and then. No one is going to care!

“Some of our women leaders, who also have responsibility for young children at home, impose more pressure on themselves to be there, to have face time, than the company requires. They have a hard time saying, “I’m not going to be at that meeting,” says, Andrea Jung, Chairman and CEO of Avon Products.

“If you do call in or just don’t show up occasionally, nobody will die. People will actually applaud the fact that you made a reasonable choice,” says Ursula Burns of Xerox Corp.

It’s so refreshing to hear others, especially senior corporate leaders, encouraging others to stop trying to achieve the unrealistic “balance,” of having it all, which only results in stress and guilt. Define who you are, what you want, and then make it happen in a way that works for you. And feel good about it, knowing that there are sacrifices and trade-offs no matter what work+life fit you choose. Banish “balance!” (Thanks, Carol.)

Holiday Work+Life “Fit” Tip #2 – Don’t Let Technology Be the Grinch That Stole Christmas! Here’s a link to my posting about how to manage technology over the holiday season to make sure you achieve your holiday work+life fit goals.

4 thoughts on “Banish the Word “Balance,” Say Top Women Executives

  1. An irony: I applied for a job at corporate Avon a few years ago (when Andrea Jung was already CEO there). I had mentioned that I wanted PT in the cover letter. I have a strong resume and was well-qualified for the position, and HR called and set up an initial interview for me. In the course of our discussion, I mentioned that due to family responsibilities, I was looking for a less-than-FT situation. She obviously had not read the cover letter, because she looked unpleasantly surprised, and told me that they did not want PTers!

  2. Cali,
    Great post and outstanding topic. I think the imagery of “balance” is way off base too — the concept of a teeter-totter needing equal weighting is ludicrous in how most of us live. It tends to reflect how little we value the joy our work can bring to our lives as well, which is a true shame.

    Keep up the great work on your blog.

  3. When I facilitate leadership seminars, I use the term “work/life integration” rather than balance. Balance implies a 50-50 equal split, and all women executives know that’s not realistic. As a Life Strategies and Leadership CoachI also explore with my clients what their definition of work/life integration is. It can mean different things to different people and its important to have that defined for yourself and then be able to assert the need for it in the workplace.

  4. I am a Human Resources professional and I think in general, many professionals haven’t heard or thought of the concept of “work-life balance”. Rebranding the concept will be a healthy challenge but “work+life fit” isn’t too far removed. I would imagine that it would start with SHRM and World At Work to gain broader acceptance.

    With my wife and working pretty long weeks to include the associated business travel, we wanted to help promote a healthier worklife balance through a company we started called Delegate Source. We currently provide dog walking, babysitting, housekeeping, and home health services in the Denver area and have plans to initiate services in the Chicago and Boca Raton areas later this year.

    I would be interested in your views on this service. I am also seeking professionals in the worklife field to partner with in terms of marketing. As global competition continues to heat up with the rise of India and China, it will be more important to ensure that our knowledge workers are as focused as possible in order to remain competitive.


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