Joyce E.A. Russell took questions from readers last week in an online chat. Here are some excerpts:
Q: I was surprised to hear that [new Yahoo chief executive] Marissa Mayer is only the first pregnant woman to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Why do you think it’s taken us so long to get to this point? What strategies can working moms and dads employ to balance both home and career without sacrificing one or the other?
A: It seems that our models of work assume the traditional model from the past where someone is still home caring for our families while the other person is at work. Thus, our organizational models have not really changed to reflect the current workplace — that both men and women may want careers and families.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule — some smaller firms are much more family friendly, and some larger firms are making changes to be more family friendly. You can also check with published accounts of the “Best Places for Women to Work” as well as the “Best Companies to Work” and the most family-friendly firms. Then, you will see examples of companies that are really trying to make the workplace a place where people can manage both their families and careers. It is a tough struggle for people today.
For women in particular, since they still assume more responsibility for child care (in many situations), they almost need someone at home who can handle all those responsibilities. This is why we are now also seeing more men at home caring for families while their wives work. It is really hard for both to do everything.
Q.: I became a freelancer through someone else’s choice when I was laid off from the job I moved to D.C. for a couple of years ago. After struggling with being legitimately unemployed for about two years, I’ve come out the other side and now have so much work I have to turn it down sometimes. I’m happy to keep this lifestyle going for a while longer, but I’m sure I will be interested in a full-time, staff position at some time. As far as my resume goes, it won’t change much. It will still say “freelancer,” and I know potential employers (from my experience) don’t love this. How can I make it say “freelancer who was in demand” so that I get the respect from potential employers I deserve?
A: I’m not sure you can refer to yourself as “freelancer in demand” although that certainly sounds like it fits for you. You might instead just list the various projects you have worked on or clients you have had. This could show the breadth and depth of things you have been doing so it doesn’t look like you just kept doing the same work for one client.
You should also make sure to bring this up in any interviews you have with firms. I think your confidence in the interviews based on being “in demand” will probably come through to employers so they can see this part of your strengths.
Q.: I’m truly getting sick of being in a managerial position of having to promote/enforce/talk up policies and positions of senior management that blatantly scream “We’re being cheap and making your lives harder so we can pocket more money yet only give you cost-of-living increases, if that.” I really want to start my own business, but I am scared it will fail or never leave the ground.
A: I can understand your frustrations about what you are doing versus what you feel you are getting in return. Remember though: Few people just jump out into entrepreneurial work. Instead of thinking of quitting your current job and starting your own firm all at one time, you might think about researching what you would want your venture to be, getting feedback on it, getting any capital you might need, and so forth before you actually leave your company. It’s often a good idea to be starting a new business while you still have some security in your life.
Are there smaller types of entrepreneurial work you could do to give yourself more experience with your own venture? I have known people who set up and ran those kiosks in malls for a year before starting their own larger business. Also, get some feedback on your own skills for being an entrepreneur before you start out. It’s important to know your own strengths and weaknesses, and make sure you have a partner or assistant who complements your skills.
Q.: I’ve worked here for almost three years as an administrative professional. My job involves desk coverage for three, four days per week. One desk keeps me busy, but the other two don’t. My skills are suffering because of this because sometimes I have to make myself “look busy”, or go around to other assistants looking to assist them. How do I get over this — should I look for new work or just hang in there and be glad I have a cushy job?
A: Sounds like you already know the answer to this. You sound like you really want to do more in your job. Have you talked with anyone in your firm about ways you could expand your role or take on more responsibilities? What about taking courses whether online or at a school? It seems like you are ready for something more so now you just have to figure out (with help) what that might be. Maybe your company has some ideas for you. Talk to a manager to find out.
Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist.