Ladies at Lunch: discussing work-life balance

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Over a delicious meal at Harbourside Restaurant our Ladies at Lunch deliberated over our numerous questions that included work-life balance, managing expectations, technology and whether we, as women, feel supported by other women. We also asked the group to share some actionable tips they use in their busy day-to-day lives and learned that Express Food Bag was definitely worth trying!

What was apparent in our conversation was that every day is a juggling act and we all feel overwhelmed at times. We definitely need to be more supportive of other women and, in turn, we need to put our hands up and ask for help when we need it. Putting systems in place on the home front and realising that you can’t do everything were also important to our wellbeing and sanity.

Joining us at lunch was a group of dynamic women from a range of professions. Our hosts were ASB Private Banking Managers Diane Hansen and Hayley Nelson. They were joined by Kristin Dunne (CEO Tourism BOP), Natalie Berkett (Director at KPMG) and Katrina Hulsebosch (Director at Harris Tate Lawyers).

Is a work-life balance an illusion? What does it actually mean to you?

Kristin   I think there’s work-life flexibility but I’m not sure balance is a word I would use because every day is a juggling act. Some days you feel balanced, others you don’t.

Natalie  I don’t know if you’ve read Mia Freedman’s book Work Strife Balance? One of her catch phrases is ‘Balance is b*shit’. This really resonated with me. The phrase implies that women can’t have it all and puts pressure on woman to reach the unattainable perfect “balance”. Work-life balance is all about flexibility to me, and give and take in all aspects of your life. Sometimes you might be winning on the work side of your life but might feel you’re not winning on the family side and vice versa. This is normal and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it.

Hayley   Yes, it’s never equal portions. Sometimes you’re working long hours, other times you don’t have that pressure and might need to watch your kids doing cross country. It’s about making those choices and prioritising.

Do you think women expect too much of themselves and what can they do about it?

Hayley   Yes! High expectations, high achievers. One’s own harshest critic.

Kristin   A friend introduced me to the idea of energy management rather than time management and that was so powerful for me because time is more like putting things into slots whereas energy management is about ‘how I’m feeling today – did I have a huge day yesterday that’s affecting my day today?’ It changes on a daily basis.

Diane     Listen to yourself – so often we are living our lives through other people’s expectations. Sometimes you might need to say that today I can’t do that. It’s ok to have a quiet day to recharge yourself and not live up to other people’s expectations on that day.

Katrina  Yes, I constantly have to remind myself to be more realistic.  As my career has developed and my children have grown, I’ve become more comfortable knowing that I won’t make every event, and how to prioritise what I do commit to.

Hayley    Do up a meal plan for the family so that they know what is going to be on the table and when they will have to make their own dinner, even if it is just porridge!

Do you feel supported in your careers by other women?

Long pause from all the ladies…

Kristin   I work in an all-female team, not by design but that’s the way it’s happened. One of our values is being supportive and we have a mutual value for flexibility. In that environment I feel incredibly supported. Outside of that bubble…mmm…don’t know.

Katrina  I think we can do better. Within business networks there is a lot of support.  There is also a lot of support outside of business too, but finding it is a bit harder when you’re not in the school social or sport networks every day.

Natalie  I think there are some really good role models, for instance, in our organisation that made me feel supported, especially coming back to work after my first child. Sometimes, as a full-time working mum I feel like the odd one out, for example, I can’t always do the school things without juggling things.

Hayley   I totally get that. We can definitely all do better at supporting each other at all levels. We need to put ourselves in others’ shoes.

Did your upbringing affect the way you are as a woman, a mum and a business woman?

Diane     I went to boarding school so I became independent at an early age from having to make a lot of decisions myself. My parents have a strong work ethic, and I always had part-time jobs. It definitely shaped who I am.

Katrina  Definitely! My upbringing was very modest. At 12 I had a paper run, and I continued in part-time work throughout all of my studies. Knowing how to work hard is a family trait, which of course has helped me in my career.

Kristin   We didn’t have a lot to go around so I started working at 15 and helped contribute [to the family] but also had some cash to do what I wanted. Both my parents’ values of hard work got impressed on me. Now I try and give back wherever I can to them and acknowledge the support they gave me.

Natalie  My upbringing was very similar and has definitely affected the way I am. We didn’t get given a lot of things – we didn’t get our university paid for or a car bought for us so we had to go out and get part-time jobs. I had my first part-time job when I was 14 and was eventually working a 30+ hour job per week while studying at university so I definitely learned those values of hard work from my upbringing and this has served me right through my career.

What are some tangible, actionable tips that you have learned along the way? Things that our readers can, perhaps, apply to their own lives?

Katrina  It takes a village…get as many people who like your children to help out (don’t be shy to ask for help, and in turn help out when you can), and we love My Express Bag!

Hayley   Schedule and plan. Rather than a big ‘to do’ list, schedule it in so that it will happen.

Natalie  I started this recently – win the night to win the morning. Pre-organise things the night before so you are more organised in the morning. Get kids clothes out, sort out their lunches, that type of thing.

Kristin   I am a single mother for 70% of the year as my husband works offshore, so I have to outsource as much as I can. So that’s the lawns mowed, a cleaner once a week, My Food Bag with the lunch and fruit box options. I have been a struggling single mother so I know I am talking about outsourcing from a privileged position but I know I can afford this and find if everything works like this, I am calmer and more in control of what’s happening. So, I guess it’s a system that I have created around me that works with a lot of support.

Diane     It’s important to take time to treat yourself. And in turn, if you have the time, share that time with friends and family so that they can also have an hour to themselves. People need to put up their hand and know it’s ok to ask for help.

Kristin   My parents are amazing and my sister buses down from Auckland regularly and will come in and wash the dog, put washing on – walks into my house and does whatever needs doing. She’ll text me that she’s coming down and asks what she can do to help and it’s a case of not being too proud to ask for help. She doesn’t have kids and it gives her an opportunity to be involved in our family too.

Katrina  There’s benefits in being “busy parents”. My children are so good at remembering themselves when things need to happen, what day they’ve got drama, sports training or a project due, they pack everything and they’re self-motivated.. I can’t remember all those things. Not being too hands-on has created more independent children.

Hayley   Yes, my four make their own breakfast and lunch. Helps with their independence.

Kristin   I think sometimes we say that everything is great – only once you know someone better do you drop that façade and are more honest. You can admit that you had a crap week, where everything went wrong, that you’re an awful mother. It allows them to open up too. Every day is a juggling act. The best system in the world goes wrong and every day is a Rollercoaster. It’s important that people know it doesn’t always work.