Colleen. Doing Things Differently, Working Mothers, Male and Female Career Experience

posted December 14th, 2009 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

Doing Things Differently


I asked Colleen when she considered her career in its entirety, what she would do differently, if anything. She says, if she could have she probably would have left E*TRADE a little earlier.  She says she had a great experience but after E*TRADE Canada was sold and the business was integrated, she stayed on and ran a U.S. business. Although she thought it was a great business experience, it was too far away from Canada. She says: “I live here. My travel was very hard on my kids, it was hard on me, and it was hard on my husband. It took me a long time to ask myself what I was trying to achieve?  I’d already had the investment banking fairy tale come true. I’d sold a company for money. Organizationally, I was three or four down in a very tall stack.  What was I doing that for?  So I could prove that I could run a U.S. organization?  I didn’t want the top job, so I probably should have left earlier”. 


Colleen says she makes career choices based on her evaluation of four criteria:  1) An opportunity to grow or learn; 2) An opportunity to build wealth versus generate income; 3) An opportunity to take an educated risk in a role, in this case like investing, she is a contrarian; and 4)An opportunity to work in the type of company she loves, one where the model for the business or industry is changing.  She says she has chosen, for instance, not to go back to the traditional places where she could more easily monetize her career.  When making career choices, before taking a job, she would encourage people to do lots of due diligence. She thinks one of the reasons she is at a private equity fund is that she wants to invest in and join her next company having worked with investors in the due diligence process both from a financial perspective, as well as, from a business opportunity perspective.  She says: “When you buy a company and go in as an owner, you want to be as informed as you can be. Time is money and the participation in the due diligence process  allows you to be ready to move fast when you step in”.    


Being a Working Mother


I asked Colleen whether she had any regrets about being a working mother, how she balanced all of the competing demands on her time and whether she had any advice or secrets she could share with a young woman who is attempting to do the same. She said there were lots of times when she had regrets. She says as her boys get older, she knows she will wish she could slow time down.  “I have regrets about times when I wasn’t at as many things as I should have been.  I’m 51 and at this point in my career, I feel more confident about making the choice to be more available to my sons.  I think that’s really hard when you’re building your career.  I think of investment banking where deals are often all encompassing around the clock and they’re horrible.  You have to realize you can do some things from home. Articulate how you’re going to do things because people need to know.  Okay, I’m going to be on-line at six o’clock tonight.  I will have completed the file by X. You will get the same work out of me but I’m doing it my way.  Be more assertive about the way you deliver against the requirements and check in to make sure you’re meeting expectations.  Say I’m doing it this way, are you okay with that? My advice is to not give yourself guilt.  Don’t make yourself guilty. Be comfortable and know you have the right to blend a full life of kids and work, and don’t feel guilty”.  


She says children are wonderful selfish people who would always prefer to have you pick them up at school every day, be more accessible to them and let them eat candy non-stop.  “There is no one who can impact us more than our children, nor we them.  We will be their role models on what and how they should perform in adult life.  We need to do what makes sense for both of us.” 


Colleen continued: “The last thing I would say, going back to the concept that there are four parts to you; there’s yourself, there’s your career, there’s your family and there’s what you do in the community. You have to be a bit selfish about how you spend or divide your time because you don’t have enough of it.  I always think my nanny has a much tougher time with balance than I do because I have the financial ability to get help.  I would always have people help me do things in the way that is the most valuable time wise, whether that’s Grocery Gateway, concierge services or exercise trainers”.  I do what works best to maximize my available time and then I spend it!”


Differences Between the Male and Female Career Experience


I asked Colleen to describe her impression of the difference between her experience and the experience of a male peer or colleague. And she said in some ways she thinks of her husband as a male peer or colleague. They both have the same sort of tenure in the investment business.  She says, he doesn’t think about things the same way she does.  He doesn’t operate with the same degree of multi-tasking or management of the mundane. Most working fathers don’t have to make dentist and doctor appointments, don’t have to think about all the people that help organize their lives, or what food is in the fridge for dinner, or whether it is pizza lunch day.  Colleen says their children’s school always creates stress for working parents and most households try to figure out how to divide and conquer.  “For instance, I am lousy with languages.  My husband teaches French to our son because I can’t. He does it faithfully but I’ve got most of the responsibility for communication with the school, homework and staying on top of other school requirements.  So I just think there’s an example of two of us and that’s how our lives work.”  She says her husband is a great dad and he has had times where he did all of it.  For example, when ETRADE Canada went public her son had been born in November and she had to be on the road doing the road show in February.  “When I was on the road, my husband was the primary caregiver for my baby son for that period of time.  They formed a special bond from that time. He makes a point of not missing concerts and performances and he does lots of other things.  He has household roles that I don’t have, for example, he does the family income tax returns.  It’s an ugly task and very time consuming.  Career-wise, right now, I have lots of flexibility as well so our split just makes sense.  If I go back to an all encompassing role, it is all of these elements that will add a great deal of stress for me and I think this is true for most women.  The nature of most women’s responsibilities at home mean they are always thinking about many things and that’s different than their male counterparts.”


What Strikes Me?


How does the “should” word impact you?


Don’t impose guilt on yourself


Be comfortable blending different parts of your life, for example, doing work from home. Know you have the right to approach things this way and don’t feel guilty


Articulate how you’re going to approach your work because people need to know and understand


You can be assertive about the way you approach your work as long as you deliver against the requirements of the job and check in with the appropriate people to make sure you are delivering against the requirements


You have to revitalize. It can be tough. You will have to be a bit selfish about how you do it


To the degree you can afford it have people help you do things in the way that makes the most sense for you whether it’s Grocery Gateway or nannies or career coaches or  exercise


The nature of most women’s responsibilities at home and work mean they are always responsible for many things and that’s different than their male colleagues


In most families, the greatest part of family and household responsibilities continue to fall to the wife and mother. On the good news front, husbands and fathers are taking on specific roles in the family and home which helps lift the burden placed on working women to be all things to all people


What Strikes You?


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