Robin. Advice for Young Women and Working Mothers

posted January 24th, 2012 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Robin what she considered to be the best advice she had ever been given and what advice she would pass along to a young woman.  She said: “I think we have an advantage as women. I always tell young women that because there are so many more men in business than women, we have an advantage.  Any decent male citizen would want women to get ahead just because of diversity and the fact that there are so few willing to stick it out, the ones who do have an advantage.  It’s that whole story about having kids and women are the only ones that can do it, so you have to respect that and give the woman an opportunity if you’re a decent upstanding citizen.  In the beginning, just by being female, you have an inherent advantage when you are trying to convince somebody that you’re the best person for the job, provided that you have all the other skills and education that are required for the job. And if you do qualify,  being female is an advantage.  It may not feel that way once you get a job and you’re working amongst a bunch of political men who may set out to purge you, but I do think at the beginning it’s a great door-opener.  So use it.”


She continued: “Then the most important thing is to be communicative and honest and a team player, and don’t try to destroy everybody in your path for the sake of power.  Just work with them and find what the best way is to hone your skills and your contribution to the team.  The one thing that I found was difficult as a woman was the night life.  Most of the guys went out every night, maybe not every night, but certainly Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights drinking at the bars and I didn’t because I had my own different, important-to-me life apart from the office. When you don’t join the boys, you miss out on all the gossip and what’s going on politically in the office.  Eventually, you find out about it but you’re late to the party and that’s one of the difficult things.  As a woman, I would say if you can go out once in a while just to be social, which I did, then do it, but you don’t have to.  You can always have your own mind. You don’t have to succumb to a lifestyle just because that’s how the guys deal with their stress or they are guys’ guys and they want to be together and that sort of thing.  You don’t have to be pushed into it or feel guilty because you’re not doing it.  Everybody’s entitled to their own life.”


I asked Robin whether she would advise a young woman to establish alliances with other women and, if so, whether they should do it at their own firm or elsewhere. She said: “Definitely! At their own firm and elsewhere, establish as many alliances as they can. In the beginning, I gave investment classes for women.  It was a way of getting clients but it was also a way of working with my target market group without them being intimidated because a bunch of men were around. This structure made them feel a little more relaxed.  Anything you can do with other women is fantastic.  To this day, I have tons of friendships with women from the business world. Maybe not tons because there aren’t tons of women in the business world, but I am friends with many women of the same ilk, a couple of whom are older than me, but many of whom are younger than me, and some of these I mentor a bit.”


I asked Robin whether she had any regrets about being a working mother and 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. She said: “I believe that your children are happy when you’re happy and staying at home would have made me a very miserable person.  It’s not something that I could ever even begin to contemplate.  So it’s that 80/20 rule.  Even if they only had me 20% of the time, they had a happy me 100% of that time and as they got older they really appreciated coming downtown to the office and were very proud of their mummy.  The beginning was difficult because I was one of the only mommies that was not in the school parking lot in the morning and there’s something called ‘parking lot politics’ and it’s important for kids because that’s where the mummies exchange all of the information, in the parking lot. Having your mommy in the parking lot is status! I made sure I had my contacts in the parking lot to let me know what was going on.  The second thing is, when you get married think ahead 30 or 40 years and put a lot of thought into who you are about to marry. I had no interest in getting married, to be honest, or having kids and unless you have a spouse who is prepared to share 50% of the work load then you can’t balance it all, there’s just no way.  Think about it, think clearly about what the future will bring and whether or not you want to compromise your career to have kids and discuss it with your spouse or your boyfriend. It’s a very important discussion point and I’m sure career/home life pressure breaks up a lot of relationships and marriages because people don’t think in advance about what’s coming down the road.”


Robin continued: “The third thing I would say is about having help at home.  If you’re going to have an illustrious career, it means that you can afford to have good help so hire somebody who drives a car for starters because in any good career on Bay Street, you’re not going to be able to drive car pool.  You can chauffeur for sports after school and evenings and weekends but in the morning it’s tough especially if you’re in a business which is mainly a morning business.  A lot of people, a lot of couples, hire nannies who don’t drive.  You are better off getting someone who drives and you’ve got to learn early to delegate, let that person drive your kids, provided they’re good drivers (which is part of why you hired them), and show them how to do the shopping. You teach them how to prepare these things for you so that you take some stress off of your load and you can put your heart into your work – at the risk of using the cliché – in order to spend quality time with your kids!  Your kids aren’t going to remember whether you fed or drove them in the early years or someone else did from time to time. They will remember the time you spent together with them hanging out, learning and having fun together.”


“There are all kinds of compromises but there are risks/rewards and you have to weigh them and I believe you will be rewarded in the end with happy kids.  However, you don’t know.  I probably won’t know for another 30 years but our kids certainly seem extremely well-balanced and level-headed and stable and proud. I would say it can be done with the help of a good spouse and some nanny help and intelligence about how you handle the whole thing and as long as you’re there whenever your child needs you, you can make it work, particularly with the technology today.  You can be anywhere and do your job with a blackberry, a computer, whatever.  Let’s put it this way, it’s a lot easier today than it was 30 years ago and it can be done.  You just have to think logically about it and plan it out.”


I asked Robin to describe her impression of the difference between her experience and the experience of a male peer or colleague. She said: “There’d probably be more confidences shared between the men in terms of communication just because some men don’t know how to deal with women.  They don’t know whether women are trustworthy or whether they can share business confidences with them.  The perception could be that the men are closer and, again, it goes back to the bar and the secret-sharing at the bar. Also, men schmooze with each other about women, so they have that camaraderie where they can talk about hot chicks or whatever. It goes back to the whole lack of camaraderie between women. We didn’t go to work outside of the home centuries ago; we worked at home. Men put on suits and ties and went to the office and they developed a natural brotherhood with each other. This is why I’m all for girls’ hockey teams and basketball teams and soccer teams because team sports, at least, provide camaraderie between women which we didn’t have even decades ago.  It’s getting better and better but the answer to that question is very complex.”


What Strikes Me?

In the beginning, it’s possible being a woman in the work force offers some inherent advantages, provided you are intelligent and well qualified


Being a woman is a great door opener, use it


Women can’t always (and may not want to) participate in the after work activities men do and as a consequence they miss out on the informal communications about work and what’s going on in the office


Children are happy when their parents are happy


The importance of school parking lot politics to children and their parents


Think about what you want in your life before getting married and/or starting a family because these decisions will impact your career choices and your ability to cope with work and a family


Having kids is very difficult unless parents share the load equally


Make certain the person you hire to look after your children is highly capable and a good driver


Compromises mean weighing risks and rewards


Men have a natural camaraderie and share confidences more readily with one another than they do with women


Men in the workplace aren’t certain they can trust their female colleagues


What Strikes You?


Please add your comments.


Be Sociable, Share!

Write a comment

You need to login to post comments!