Bloomberg LP: The Balancing Act: Working While Parenting or Parenting While Working?

Sep 11, 2015 8:50 AM ET

Originally posted on

With last week’s announcement that their employees will be offered unlimited maternity and paternity leave, Netflix became the latest company to address parents’ increasingly vocal desire to strike a better balance between work and family life. It’s a win for growing families everywhere. Earlier this year, Bloomberg responded to similar feedback from our employees and updated our parental leave policy to allow primary caregivers 18 weeks of fully-paid leave. But the balancing act doesn’t end there.

As a working mother of three, I will be the first to tell you: it’s not easy. There is no right answer or single solution. Every situation is unique. For many, family responsibilities extend far beyond traditional parenting: almost 84% of single-parent households are headed by mothers and studies suggest single fatherhood is on the rise. A recent CTI report indicates black women are less likely than white women to be married or living with a partner, and more likely to assist elderly relatives.

My husband is an integral part of my own balancing act. Understanding that careers and parenthood will never be equally balanced, we make every effort to integrate one with the other. And while we’re incredibly dedicated to our work, the needs of our family often come first.

I started my career as an investment banker and there came a point when I realized I wouldn’t be able to excel at my job, travel the world and still be present with my family the way I wanted to be. For me, moving into diversity and inclusion represented an opportunity to pursue a career with a broader view of the company, a high degree of fulfillment – and a little more flexibility. As it turned out, the transition was a great career move that allowed me to develop and impact the business in ways I hadn’t fully anticipated.

Even with a career that’s allowed for greater flexibility – and, at times, the opportunity to work remotely – I have to reassess my priorities every day. My husband and I plan together as far in advance as possible. We determine what requires our physical presence and engagement and what can be outsourced or delegated to the talented and capable individuals around us. Rushing out of the office to make a basketball game doesn’t matter if I’m going to be sitting in the stands glued to my Blackberry. I’ve learned that I want time with my family to be exactly that: time that doesn’t involve checking email or reviewing decks.

I’ve also learned to leverage the experience of those in similar situations. Ask questions, be open about the problems you’re encountering and learn from the working parents around you. According to a 2013 study from the Pew Research Center, 56% of mothers find work-life balance challenging – and so do 50% of men. It’s no longer a women’s issue: Bloomberg’s Working Families Community, which began as a subgroup of our Women’s Community, has grown into a global standalone internal network that provides support and resources to mothers, fathers and other caregivers balancing professional demands and family responsibilities.

One of the most popular resources the WFC offers is a virtual chat that allows employees to share their own best practices for issues liked career development, child care and elder care. I recently participated in a live event for the Community addressing some of those same themes. While all of the panelists shared familiar stories about the challenges of parenting while working, each of us shared different solutions: I’ve made it a policy not to schedule dinners unless there’s a very specific client need. In the same vein, I avoid travelling the night before an event or meeting unless the time and destination make it absolutely necessary. Other panelists try not to spend consecutive nights at evening work events, rely on a network of family and close friends, or work during their commute so they’re not tied to emails when they finally get home.

Balancing the demands of families and careers will never be simple or easy. It’s a challenge I’ve embraced and one that companies are beginning to acknowledge with greater flexibility, increasingly generous parental leave policies and resources like back-up child care and adoption support. As the roles of mothers and fathers continue to converge, family benefits will only become more important for the recruitment and retention of talent. There may never be a perfect solution to parenting while working, but with thoughtful support, I believe we can all successfully manage the shifting priorities of caring for our families and developing our careers.

Contributed by Erika Irish Brown, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Bloomberg LP.