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Balance: On Your Terms

By Barby K. Siegel

International Women's Day Balance For Better

Balance. That seven letter word loaded with emotion, with controversy, with double meaning, with second-guessing –  and yes those occasional pangs of guilt. 

Gender balance. Work-life balance. The word balance itself leaves much to personal interpretation.

When I joined Zeno almost ten years ago, my children were 9 and 12.  I was anxious about this daunting, big new job. I had my fair share of self-doubt. I had never been a CEO, and I did worry how I would balance all those responsibilities with young children who needed Mom during their big years of change and growth. When I shared my concerns, Richard W. Edelman said: “You will decide. You will decide when you will take a call and when you will be with your children.” That advice has stuck with me, and, over the years, I have applied that sentiment  – not perfectly – but I have done my best.  

My husband Fred has always been my champion as I built my career, mothered our children and tried to be the best daughter to my aging parents and sister to my older siblings. I can remember when our children were young, Fred would from time to time stop me in my fast moving tracks at home, and literally say “you need to get back to balance.” I would be traveling a lot, or be away too many nights or just slightly consumed by the big pitch of the day. He would say “the girls need you.” It stung, thinking that I had it all figured out.  

But he was right…a gentle reminder to re-balance for better. 

Today and throughout the month, much will be written about the global and national strides women have made and the struggles still ahead. Those women who proudly donned their white suits for the State of the Union; the many women who have thrown their hats into the ring to run for President of the United States; the women working to break the glass ceiling at some of the world’s most important companies; the women who are changing Hollywood; the millions of women and men who have marched in women’s parades or shared their stories in the hopes of saving others.  

These are important conversations and ones to which we should pay attention and engage, using our voices to amplify the issues as we see fit, continuing to wave the white flag for women’s rights everywhere. Many are still not as fortunate as we are.  

Our numbers tell a pretty powerful story. One I would imagine other organizations might envy. Zeno is:

  • 69.5% female globally
  • 50% female at the Global Leadership level
  • 67% female in the C-suite
  • 63% female in senior management roles, level 4 and above.  

All to say that the Green Machine should know no limits for whatever your ambition today and tomorrow – whether that’s to be the CEO, or the best account planner, writer or media pitcher in the house. A place where you can be yourself. Where you can balance your personal and professional interests, your utterly business self with your slightly quirky other half. A place where “careers are built, and lives are lived.” A place where nobody says “no, you can’t,” but rather: “yes you can;” “why not;” “go for it.”

But what about personal balance? Or is it the beauty and chaos of imbalance that we ought to embrace and celebrate? 

So do we assume all these women leaders have their balance figured out?  Speaking from experience, I would say — probably not. We can get close but there are sacrifices along the way – ball games and dances, volunteering and yoga to be missed, weekends cut short, dinners away. Some days are more work than play, and other days the reverse is true. Take a balanced and realistic view and you will see moments of both balance and imbalance. And when we lose our balance from time to time, which we will, we jump back on. Hold our heads high and move forward.  

In the end, balance and imbalance are uniquely personal. No two balancing acts are the same. No judgment. We balance on our own terms – with the people – friends, colleagues, managers and mentors who understand both the complexity and shared responsibility of balance. 

I encourage all of us – women and men – to #balanceforbetter, today and moving forward:

  • Help each other steady the see-saw.  
  • Reach out for help, we surround yourselves with those who will be there to catch you.
  • Cheer each other on.  
  • Send the elevator down for the next generation of balance seekers. 
  • Remember that life is short and all we can do is wake up every day and do our very best.
  • Take chances and let nobody box you in.

Accept imperfection and imbalance as the path to balance.

And now that my children are grown, I can tell you it does all balance out in the end.  And when something good happens at work, a text arrives “way to go mommy…” and it all falls into almost perfect balance and harmony.  And yes Fred still reminds me when I start tipping over.