The irony didn’t escape me when I realized I’d be late to AIGA DC’s event about managing careers and family. For weeks I had planned to attend, but realized too late I’d botched the family calendar, and my husband was uncharacteristically delayed. Instead of sipping pre-event drinks with friends, I made ravioli for my six-year-old and fed the dog.
The snafu couldn’t have been a better setup for the evening’s discussion at The Washington Post. Moderator Jill Spaeth guided a conversation with five DC-area women creatives who shared their experiences about leading teams at work while managing families at home.
I managed to make it just in time to catch the introduction to “Having It All: How to Keep the Job You Love and Start the Family You Want,” which featured insights and advice from Angie Chan, Kim Holt, Amanda Markmann, Erin Orr and Katie Parker. Over the course of the evening, these five women candidly offered their leadership and parenting experiences to a sold-out audience, and here are a few gems:
On taking maternity leave
Kim Holt: “I think that anybody who has maternity or paternity leave should take advantage of it. One thing that I realized when I had my month-and-a-half off, was that I couldn’t stay [at my job]. I got all kinds of books about the thing I wanted to do. I literally used every minute that my son was asleep to plan my next career move so that I would be adequately positioned. I was always preparing in the background. If you’re somewhere that doesn’t appreciate you or gives you leeway, you need to strategize and use the time that you have to make your next move.”
On prepping your team for your absence
Angie Chan: “We’ve talked a lot about my upcoming leave, and of course, I have documentation. I’m really hoping that up until this point, I’ve been modeling some decent behavior. I really believe in my team and hope I’ve trained them well. It’s like parenting: ‘I’ve trained you to make good choices!’ More than anything, I want my team to feel empowered. When it comes to making tough choices, or pushing back on deadlines, or rapidly responding to things, we’ve been through this before.”
On returning to work
Erin Orr: “You get back into the workforce and pick up right where you left off. The demands on your [work] time are expected to be the same as the day you left. I think that one of the biggest challenges was getting this routine back together. Now I’m at a point where I do have a routine, but I’m managing a team of, predominantly, younger professionals who do not have children. They’re not at that stage in life yet. While the work quality and the time is the same, we’re just on different schedules. I think that poses a challenge to supervisors, managers and leaders to set that example. Be realistic about protecting your time. If my son has a soccer game, I don’t want to be that mom who shows up at halftime, like ‘Hey buddy, I’m so sorry, I got stuck in a meeting.’”
On working and trying to do it all at home
Katie Parker: “I avail myself of every opportunity to offload [house] work. We have a laundry service, and I don’t feel guilty about that at all. My husband is extremely helpful. I’ve trained myself not to feel guilty if I’m not the one doing the housework this week. I’ve been coming home really late and have a lot going on. I’ve gotten myself to a point of just not feeling like I need to do everything.”
On encouraging a workplace atmosphere of care-giving
Amanda Markmann: “There’s a lot we can do as leaders in our companies, whether we have kids or not, to realize that [care-giving] expands beyond children. You’ve got aging parents or people who have friends dealing with cancer — there are so many different aspects to care-giving. We need to talk about motherhood, but we also need to realize it’s bigger than that. It’s more about care-giving and how much value, or lack of value, we’re really putting on that.”
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Spaeth went on to ask the panel about their influences as they made the transition into family life. Despite high-profile business women in the news or popular think-pieces making the rounds online, all the women on the panel cited close family members as their inspiration for working hard and managing family. And which words surfaced again and again over the course of the conversation? Perseverance and persistence.
(Photo caption: Women creatives from the DC area gathered for a panel discussion about leading at work and managing family at home. From left to right: moderator Jill Spaeth, Kim Holt, Angie Chan, Amanda Markmann, Erin Orr and Katie Parker. Photo by Bahar Etemadian.)
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