Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin made global news in 2005 for standing up to the infamous Neil French (the creative leader of their network at the time) who bluntly declared that female creatives aren’t cut out to be CDs at a Toronto event.
In this excerpt from Darling, You Can’t Do Both (Published by HarperCollins Canada. All rights reserved. ©2014), they explore how working at a female-friendly company beats the pants off working at a boys’ club—especially when it comes time to consider parenthood.
Executive recruiter Cathy Preston says ruthless organizational skills are the hallmark of senior women who have successfully combined careers and kids. While many are organized to begin with, the act of balancing a lifestyle that should, by all rights, require forty hours a day helps women become über-focused.
“You have to develop amazing systems in order to run your life,” Cathy says. And these systems—ranging from family agendas to ensure no important kid events get missed, to developing the discipline to go to bed at ten and get up early—become habits that help women optimize their performance at work.
One of the things we’ve both learned over our careers is that taking on a workplace or culture that doesn’t support your life is draining work with poor odds of happy endings. It’s much better to find an environment or employer that supports your success and well-being from the get-go.
Our own experience suggests working at a female-friendly company beats the pants off working at a boys’ club—especially when it comes time to consider parenthood. Seeking out a company with a culture that will support your success regardless of gender makes sense on so many levels. Or, you could do like Pum Lefebure and make one yourself.
Pum co-founded Washington, D.C.–based Design Army with her husband, Jake, when she was twenty-nine. Her mother urged her to wait a while to have kids, but she found herself pregnant immediately after her company launched. Over the next few years, she not only raised a wonderful little girl, Sophie, but also grew a company that would go on to win countless design and marketing awards.
Pum is a great example of how our beliefs shape what’s possible. “I never accepted that it would be impossible to have a career and child and enjoy it all immensely,” she says. “I had to have it all.” The day Sophie was due, Pum worked until nine that night and delivered her baby at midnight. She was back at work two days later. (Marissa Mayer’s two-week maternity leave was not a world record.)
Pum’s superhuman ability to virtually skip mat leave isn’t exactly a blueprint for the masses. But she has a very interesting answer to juggling motherhood and career: integration of work and home life. “We all have twenty-four hours. If I need to put eighty hours a week into running my company, and I want to be a good mother too, clearly, I have to do both at the same time. I don’t want to do this ‘balance’ crap. I’d do both badly. I noticed it took my left arm to breast-feed and I had a right hand that could text. Generations X and Y are all connected. You have to be modern about it.”
Sophie comes to the office after school and sits down at her own little “work station” where she can play designer, have fun with Photoshop or do homework. Jake and Pum never had day care but instead took their daughter to work events. Because many of her clients are parents too, Pum says, they always took Sophie’s presence in stride.
On the home front, Jake cooks and Pum cleans. They share child-rearing duties. Pum’s life-work integration mantra is to put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you. “I need to take care of myself to be a good mother. I’m very ambitious; I want to reach for the sky and I want Sophie to be right there next to me.”
I asked Pum if she had advice for the working mom who doesn’t have the advantages of owning her own company. She shared an example from under her own roof. One of her employees told her that she expected she’d have to take a few years off to have a child, because she couldn’t imagine how she’d manage both. Pum suggested her employee think about a flexible work arrangement, maybe work from home Thursdays and Fridays, for instance. “You have to be flexible with your employees,” she says. “You want to keep them!” The added bonus of Pum’s integrated approach to life and work: high employee-retention rates.