10 lessons learned from professional women on work-life balance

A new report finds that the keys to achieving success as a professional woman begin with a good education, a defined financial plan, and learning to re-think the guilt that plagues so many who choose to balance both a career and family.

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The report from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and TD Bank Group entitled “10 Lessons: Women @ Work Managing Career, Family & Legacy” is the result of a two-year research project and essay competition that brought together the thoughts of professional women with university degrees from across Canada.

The researchers asked the women to contribute essays and take part in focus groups to come up with 10 ways that women can achieve success in life, work, and their legacy.

The women who chose to balance both families and careers reported they often felt guilt they were not at home more, but many reported that the sense of self-worth and accomplishment they earned from their careers ultimately made them better and more inspiring mothers.

Sandy Cimoroni, chief operating Officer at TD Wealth and chair of the bank’s Women Investor Program, says women have a tendency to be tough on themselves, and to want to be successes both at home and at work.

But she says there never is an ideal work- life balance because the balance is always shifting depending on our place in life.

“Women are often given the message that you can’t have it all. You can have it all; just not at the same time,” she said. “As your life changes, your priorities change, so it’s about reprioritizing and making shifts to your focus.”

The women reported that success and advancement meant different things to each of them, with some saying they equated it with achieving traditional career goals, such as executive appointments, while for others, it meant having flexibility to spend time with family, or being able to start a business on their own.

Many of the women spoke of the need for having a sound financial footing and had stories of being blindsided by unexpected events such as divorce or death. Many expressed gratitude that they had been prepared by having a solid understanding of their family’s finances, having a long-term plan and having access to an emergency fund.

Meanwhile, others also spoke of the need for younger women to understand that there are trade-offs every time they take a career break.

“When women take a break and then come back into the workforce, they have to recognize they have lost income power or saving power in some cases, in that time,” Cimoroni said.

Researchers have even given this phenomenon a name: “the motherhood gap,” noting that careers breaks related to childcare were found to generate a three per cent wage penalty per year of absence that persisted for the rest of their careers.

“That’s been a reality for a while and I'm sure it’s going to continue,” Cimoroni said, but noted that reinforced the need to prepare for that possibility financially.

Here are the 10 lessons about career, family and legacy success from the report:

  1. Communicate your aspirations.
    Define both your family and career aspirations. Reflect and revisit them often. Communicate your aspirations to your organization or network, as well as your family.
  2. Get an education
    An education early in life is critical to achieving career advancement, financial security and independence.
  3. Be financially prepared for the unexpected
    Plan for an emergency before an emergency happens.
  4. Develop business acumen
    Seek opportunities to develop your ability to make sound business judgments.
  5. Understand the trade-offs of a career break
    Consider long-term financial and skills implications when making the decision to opt out of the labour market.
  6. Rethink guilt
    Focus on the positive, long term benefits and outcome of a career.
  7. Be confident – take career & life risks
    Be aware of the self-imposed obstacles that could be holding you back. • Take risks, both in career and life, to achieve the life you want.
  8. Find trusted mentors and mentees
    Build your network of mentors to help guide and support you. Help others to develop leadership skills.
  9. Network, network, network!
    Think carefully, creatively and strategically about how you develop and maintain your networks.
  10. Think about your legacy.
    Identify your legacy early and revisit it often. Use your plan as a guide to achieving your goals


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