My office has focused a lot of effort and attention in recent years on the subject of Diversity. They have committed publicly to putting more women in power positions, they focus on creating true equal opportunities and even publish information on major religious holidays on the Intranet, we have a gay and lesbian organization, etc. There is a Diversity Working Group that looks into projects and causes which will promote Diversity. The mantra, or my version of it is that the creation of a diverse employee base, allows for the office to benefit from the varied life experiences, cultural and religious backgrounds of our staff and basically makes us a better office and better employer. In other words, our office is like a microcosm of the Netherlands, diverse, inclusive which benefits all of us.
Now, I must admit, I have not always been the strongest supporter of the whole Diversity campaign at my office which is not to say that I am not in favor of Diversity but there is some part of me which says if we need to be talking about it all the time, we are not all that Diverse. To be honest, my skepticism comes from a very personal place. When it was decided to publish information about religious holidays on the Intranet, it bugged me that certain religious information was plugged more than others, that we were asked to be aware and sensitive of people observing religious fasts and festivals and the thing is that you are never quite sure of where that stuff is going to land. People have their feelings and attitudes and the very act of trying to publish this stuff to be diverse and inclusive, may actually achieve the opposite. Plus I was asked to submit information on Jewish festivals and I just have an allergy of being singled out as the office Jew. Not that I don't like pontificating about Judaism when it suits me, but I also don't like being singled out. I also am ever mindful that as a Jew it is difficult to separate the Jewish religion from the politics of Israel. Knowing that Europeans are much more pro-Palestinian, I often find these discussions uncomfortable as I always end up feeling like I have to justify my point of view which I don't feel like doing. Once, out with colleagues for the evening, I made the mistake of having one of these discussions with someone and while certainly enjoyed the debate, I fit enjoy his 'closing line' which was something like 'it's enough with the Holocaust already'. Granted this was one person's point of view, but ever since then I have adopted a 'Gays in the Miltary' stance on this at work, don't ask, don't tell. Therefore I definitely was not into being the 'Jewish poster child' for diversity. Luckily that has not come to pass.
The latest initiative has been to try and shine a light on work-life balance issues. No easy feat for a law firm to be sure. It's a good thing to do though. The most recent effort in this direction is to identify a Role Model mother and father in the office. People who combine working and parenting successfully, who manage to be successful and ambitious in the workplace but still hold family as high of a priority. There was a nomination process and it turns out someone nominated me. After the nomination process there were several candidates and a vote has gone to find the role model mother and father in our office. The lucky winners get to compete with other company role models for the national title Role Model Mother and Father. The whole contest is being run by a Dutch magazine for working parents and every winner will get covered in a magazine story, photo shoot and fancy pants event.
I am not so sure how I feel getting paraded in front of the press but I do think I do well in maintaining my work-life balance. I am focused and committed to my work but not at the expense of my family and I do think I have found a formula which allows me to both pursue my ambitions for my career as well as be a caring, involved, present and nurturing parent. So, I thought, why not me?
Ever since then I have been thinking a lot about how do I really balance parenting and working. Although I work 4 days per week, Hour for hour I definitely work more than full time. I think that I am very lucky in a few respects.
One - I have a great support system at home. My husband is very supportive of my career and really pushes me to satisfy my ambitions. And he helps out at home a lot. He is very involved with our daughter and is not afraid to pinch-hit when needed. Now, he has a job too, but his work is more 9-5 than mine is (actually 8-4). In addition to that we have the greatest nanny ever since sliced bread. He is truly kind to Maya. After school turns is an adventure in fun and learning and he helps keep our house running too by tidying up, cleaning up the dishes after dinner and just being his wonderful self. Plus, he really understands Mayand us and how we want to parent her. In addition to that he is very flexible, he understands there are times when I cannot be home at 6.30 on the dot, and he just goes with it. No Dutch babysitter would afford us that, it takes boatloads of pressure off.
Two - my Employer understands that I am a parent and affords me certain flexibility. For instance I usually arrive at the office a bit later in the mornings so that I can see Maya off to school and Leo is usually home around 4 or 4.30 so this allows me to work a little bit of a longer day. Of course, I probably do get afforded this because at work I deliver what I am supposed to and am available. I see many parents who for legitimate reasons have only "x" amount of time for work and when that it up, that is up. In a service industry that can be difficult. Still, most evenings I make it home in time to see and spend some time with Maya before she goes to bed. After she is fast asleep I log back in and continue working answering emails or whatever else is left over from my day.
Weekends are largely reserved for family time. I am not one of these people who think that we always have to be doing something, and I am a homebody at heart so there is a relaxation above all else feeling to our weekends. I admire people who are always taking their kids someplace, first errands, then tennis, then gymnastics, then the park, then for a bike ride, etc. But I also feel strongly that too much of a good thing is not a good thing and that we as a society have become too focused on always having to be doing something, the art of doing nothing, of downtime has virtually disappeared. I am still a dinosaur in this respect, believing with every fiber of my being that doing nothing has an important place in our lives. My mothers words just popped into my head, when as a child, I would complain of boredom, she would say, "you don't have to be doing something every second of your life." Weekends are filled with a lot of just reading, playing, being, without a lot of scheduled activities. I think this also works well for Maya who, with her autism needs balance, does not do well when things are chaotic and starts breaking down when she is overstimulated. Plus I always feel that what she does in school and therapy is hard work as she often has to go against "who she is" in order to do a lot of things and she just needs time also to be who she is, to (figuratively) breathe easy. I do occasionally feel sometimes that we don't do enough with her. Many of her friends are taking lessons and report outings galore and certainly many of my own friends plan many more activities for their children, but I sometimes wonder whether Maya would be doing as well as she is if we spent our weekends running around as much. All I know (and really care about) is that Maya is doing well and making progress. I know that things melt down when there is too much chaos in her life. I do feel strongly that the formula we found is a good one for her. Maybe I am just trying to justify my own desire to relax and do nothing and watch a lot of movies and tv on the weekends, who knows?
Three - technology and the times we live in. It just would not be possible for me to maintain this kind of working rhythm without the wonders of technology. I am a people manager, with a large department and a lot of issues which happen spontaneously. Without email, blackberry and the ability to log on from home, my time would be a lot less flexible and the choice would be much more black and white,family or work or family but because of technology it can be a little more grey, allowing me to devote the right amount of time to my family and my work. I would have to be in the office to deal with issues when they happen, to learn about the issues and I would not have enough time to fit everything in. It's sometimes a strange rhythm to be sure, but it really works for us and allows me to not sacrifice my parenting or my job, but to maintain the right commitment for both.
Alas, I am sorry after this diatribe to report I did not win the election at work, I did not even come close. Even the person that nominated me ended up not voting for me, thinking it was better to vote for a lawyer since it is a law firm. Those are the breaks I guess. No glossy magazine covers for me, but the whole experience did get me thinking a lot about the topic of balancing working and parenting and asking myself if I really am doing it well, and I am! I do successfully balance working and parenting. That's way more valuable to me than any magazine story.