Hey millennial women—let’s get past the idea that career and family is either-or

“Mother of the Year” and leader of a billion-dollar company? Check.
“Mother of the Year” and leader of a billion-dollar company? Check.
Image: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
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The deficit of women in tech and corporate leadership roles is at the top of my mind today. While there are notable women in powerful roles at huge companies—Mary Barra, Ginni Rometty, and Sheryl Sandberg, to name a few—many still don’t feel like they have the opportunity or have the support system to advance their careers and maintain a fulfilling home life.

Believe it or not, 63% of millennial women believe that having children will make it harder for them to advance their career, and 56% of working moms find it very or somewhat difficult to balance career and family responsibilities. Being a successful career woman, wife, and mother is a challenging task, and in my experience, this challenge holds true for both women and men. What’s worrisome, however, is that millennial women—the next group of female business leaders—are still grappling with the same problems my generation had to overcome when we were beginning or own careers.

Young women are quickly advancing into leadership roles, and are making career-trajectory decisions. At the same time, many are thinking about or are already starting families. If these women believe that they can’t do both, there will continue to be a shortage of female leaders. Though female leadership is currently on the rise, the group only accounts for 14.6% of the working US population. At just under 15%, this is not a figure that can afford any cuts.

The question of whether women must choose family or career advancement has become more prevalent as women have started to seek higher-powered roles. I’m here to say that they don’t have to choose. While I can’t claim to have perfected the balancing act, I have learned some valuable lessons over the past 16 years about maintaining stability between home life with my husband and two sons, and my career as I have taken on C-level roles at Ad.com, Yahoo!, Millennial Media, and now Criteo.

Create realistic expectations and communicate them

Nobody can do it all. Saying yes to every work and personal event is an impossible undertaking. Winning professionally and personally means creating long-term goals rather than focusing on short-term tasks and “sweating the small stuff.” I’ve learned that striving for the long-term is more achievable and just as rewarding. There are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything we’d like to get done. If you don’t set realistic expectations for yourself, you’ll end up feeling guilty and unmotivated.

When identifying and building your long-term plan (and daily or weekly schedule), prioritization is key. Communication and transparency are both integral to the execution of your plan—get your family, co-workers, and manager on the same page, and get their buy-in. This also creates a support system of people who will help you reach those goals.

Find (or create) the right culture

The culture of the company is very important when it comes to finding a healthy work-life balance. It’s something I look for and consider deeply every time I join a new organization. Supporting employees in all aspects of their life, not just during work hours, is either in the cultural DNA of a company or it’s not—and that means it has to be embraced at the corporate and executive level. If my team members (and I) are accomplishing what’s expected, having flexibility from our employer to prioritize family life when we need to only breeds higher productivity and dedication to our work and the company.

There are also things you can do to create a supportive culture. I believe family comes first, and I make sure my team knows that I want to build an atmosphere where people can talk about their lives outside of work. This includes making time to share the challenges and successes of raising a family, or even training for a marathon. Similarly, I talk to my family about accomplishments and struggles at work so they feel involved and see another side of my career beyond watching me pack for yet another business trip.

Leading in a male-dominated industry

Finding female mentors who have experienced similar stigmas and challenges has consistently helped me navigate and advance in the male-dominated tech industry. If you’re having trouble finding female mentorship, look beyond your own company to industry associations. Female mentorship is something I’m passionate about paying forward, and I know there are many others like me. In advertising tech, for example, I’ve always found mentorship and creative inspiration at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Mobile Marketing Association, Advertising Women of New York, and IPSOS Girls’ Lounge.

In short, achieving and maintaining a work-life balance isn’t attainable every day, nor can it be perfected overnight. It takes time, experience, and most importantly, support from others. It’s extremely difficult—for male executives, too—to balance work and family, but with prioritization, communication, and transparency, it can be achieved.

I hope that millennials, especially millennial women, feel inspired and confident in their own abilities, both at home and in the workplace. When it comes to female leaders, women like me don’t have to be the exception—together, we can be the rule.