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10 posts from October 2009

October 26, 2009

Not a sports fan? Will it hurt your career and personal life?

     A recent post on BusinessWeek's Working Parents blog really got me thinking about sports  -- its role in work life balance, career advancement and acceptance into social circles. If you have no interest in sports and your kids have no interest as well, will you be excluded from conversation and invitations? Can it hurt your career?

   The blog post notes a bit of a brouhaha erupted recently over basketball games at the White House. Seems President Barack Obama likes to unwind over a friendly game of basketball, and invites a rotating squad of high-level Washington power brokers to join him on the White House court. All of them, of course, are men, a growing point of contention in the feminist blogosphere.

     Apparently, there's a sports heavy atmosphere in the White House. Blogger Cathy Arnst writes: "I'm particularly sensitive to this issue because I have no interest in professional sports. This failure on my part has often left me looking on with a weak smile while the editors I've worked for throughout my career (virtually all men) talked about last night's game. I despise football (the remnants of growing up in a football-mad small town), I couldn't care less about March Madness, and though I do pay slight attention to the Red Sox, I am not all that interested in the World Series when they aren't in it. Nor do I know the first thing about tennis or golf. Has that hurt my career? Who knows? I'm guessing that there are plenty of work environments where it would.

     I truly believe that the failure to have any interest in sports can hurt your career -- male or female. I'm a huge Florida Gators fan. It's helped me bond over the years with co-workers and bosses who either root for my team or against it. I've made bets with my bosses who have had to take me to lunch when their teams have lost. It has helped me bond in ways that I would not have otherwise. My kids play sports. That's helped me bond over the years with other parents. I even have drummed up sources for articles while sitting on the sidelines cheering on my kids' teams. I've seen my husband network with other men by using last night's football score as his opener. I'm not saying it is impossible to get ahead if you have no interest in sports, but I am saying it helps if you do -- whether you are in the White House or the office cubicle. 

   Sports                             So what do you think of the question Arnst poses: Is facility with a ball, or knowledge of last night's scores, an important career booster in your office? Here's the question I would add: Have you ever felt excluded in your work or personal life for having no interest in sports?



October 23, 2009

Should I ask about work life balance on a job interview?

  With unemployment in double digits, I wondered if it was possible to negotiate at all for any type of work life balance accommodation in the current job market. I took my question to one of the country's top recruiters, Tim Tolan at Sanford Rose Associates in Charleston, S.C. Tolan specializes in Healthcare IT.

 Q. Are companies open to executives commuting if they they don't want to relocate for a job?

A. For senior positions, no. For sales jobs, yes. Companies want executives to have good work/life balance. When they are commuting on the weekends, they literally have no down time. Companies are willing to let them do it short term but not long term. More often than not, if doesn’t work out at home, the employee will quit and every one loses.

  Q. What do you think of bringing up work life balance questions during a job interview? The reality is people are working very long hours. How do you know if that's what's going to be expected?


  A. It's a conversation you have to have. At end of day, a candidate has to have balance. You could take the greatest job but if you are miserable, if can’t get off Friday to see your son's game, you will hate the job. It's iimportant to bring up those kinds of things, but do it at the end of interview. You also will want to force your way into talking to people who work there, to find out about the culture and how sensitive the company is to work/life balance.


Q. Even if the company isn't sensitive, are people still taking the job?


A. More and more people are biting the bullet. Some of companies are misleading their hires. They  bring you in the door with fanfare. You get in and you have to wear a second and third hat. The nirvana dissipates when you are working 10 –11 hours and doing twice as much as you thought you would be doing. Right now, people will suck it up but it's going to change soon.



 Charleston_Tim2     Read more about Tim Tolan and see his blog at  http://www.sanfordrose.com/healthcareit/executive-bio.aspx 


October 20, 2009

Work-at-Home Mom success stories

  Sheryl Rosenthal and Rebecca Joseph are two moms who jumped into the t-shirt business. Their small business Free to Be Studio is taking off. You can read about ittoday on The Miami Herald's MomsMiami.com site which has been featuring a great series of work-at-home mom success stories. A few days ago, the site featured Kelly Warfel who sells Miche Bags, unique purses, from her home, another great concept for a work-from-home mom. Look for the upcoming piece on Mom Corps, a staffing firm that matches moms to jobs.

As part of the series, MomsMiami Julie Landrey Laviolette offers up some great advice for avoiding scams and finding opportunities without financial risk. The story also includes information about the Direct Selling Association (www.dsa.org), which has a directory of companies that adhere to a strict code of ethics. It also suggests anyone who wants to report a scam do so at www.fraud.org.

    Here's something else you should know about: An upcoming Moms Miami workshop for parent entrepreneurs. I will be at the event as the emcee. Join us from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 3 in the Jungle Island ballroom for the Mom2Mom Business Workshop.

Find the tools you need to create, market and promote your products and ideas. You'll hear from moms who are succeeding and community resources that can help. Marla Brock, founder of PlanetZee.com and assistant director of The Launch Padat the University of Miami, and Misha Kurlya-Gomez of Misha's Cupcakes will share their advice. Lisa Sparks of Constant Contact will provide you with best practices for email marketing for your growing business.

The workshop is free. Register your spot here.

The event will also include a Momtrepreneur Showcase and Sale. If you'd like to show off your business, give away samples, register new users or sell your products, reserve a table at 305-376-4668.

October 19, 2009

Is the self-help movement dangerous? Ask James Arthur Ray.



If there’s one word to describe American workers today, it’s “overwhelmed.”


We’re overwhelmed by our workloads, our to-do lists, our debt, our responsibilities. And this feeling has created an entire industry of self-help gurus who want to help us feel less overwhelmed, to feel more successful.


Enter James Arthur Ray, the self-help guru who now finds himself in a heap of trouble.


 Jamesarthurray     Just a few months ago, I was in the audience when Ray spoke to about 1,000 business women during his appearance at a Work/Life Balance Conference in South Florida. Ray positioned himself as a success strategist,  energized the audience with his personal rags to riches to rags to riches story, and tried to convince us that he could help us achieve both spiritual and financial wealth.


The charismatic Ray dished up what people wanted to hear – that they may be overwhelmed,  but with the right attitude and beliefs they could make their lives much better. The mantra has made Ray a millionaire. His followers pay as much as $10,000 for a week long retreat.


But Ray seems to have gone too far in his motivational movement.  The Associated Press reports Ray  led a group of more than 50 followers into a cramped sauna-like sweat lodge in Arizona where three of his followers died after collapsing and 19 were hospitalized.


CBSnews.comreported yesterday that detectives were focusing on the self-help expert and his staff as they try to determine if criminal negligence played a role in the tragic deaths at the Angel Valley Retreat Center in Sedona, Ariz.


To me, it’s all very sad. When I saw Ray in person, I initially felt motivated by his 90-minute speech. But then, Ray moved into his sales pitch mode. He couldn’t just leave the audience with words of wisdom. He had to convince us that we needed to come to his retreat and throw some of our hard earned money in his direction.


Ray’s followers were people who trusted him to improve their lives. They felt he had the magic bullet. If there’s anything to be taken away from this tragedy, it’s that no one has a magic bullet for balance and success. We have to figure it out for ourselves...maybe read a few books, or listen to speakers. But anytime we have to open our wallets wide to help ourselves, something is very, very wrong.


What do you think about the self-help movement? Has it opened the door for charlatans or are there people out there giving legitimate much-needed advice? 

October 15, 2009

The challenges of work/life balance and raising a bilingual child

Raising bilingual children is challenging for parents who have so many other priorities to juggle, which is why I tackled the hot topic this week in my Miami Herald column. In response, some parents wrote to tell me they feel schools need to do more to teach kids a second language. What are your thoughts?

Here's my article that appeared in yesterday's Miami Herald:

It's Nia Yasher's third go round at raising a bilingual child and this time she's sending her daughter to a Spanish-language school. Yasher, a Cuban-American insurance agent who grew up speaking Spanish in her home, has two older daughters who aren't fluent in both languages.

``Teaching our kids Spanish is hard for my generation,'' Yasher says.

When parents set out to pass two languages on to their children, many find it more difficult than they had assumed. Today, working parents who grew up speaking Spanish, Creole, Portuguese, Hebrew and other languages have so much else on their plates that raising a bilingual child often becomes complicated, overwhelming and the chore on their to-do list that they let slide.

But the recession is teaching parents a lesson: being bilingual -- even multilingual -- is a huge career advantage and learning it as an adult is challenging. CareerBuilder.com has hundreds of jobs advertised in almost every industry that seek workers who are bilingual. Unemployed, some professionals are enrolling in language schools or immersion programs, trying to find any asset that will help them land a job.

As many bilingual parents know, the key to teaching a child a language is consistency. That's just what Anna DiSilva finds most difficult with her 5-year-old, now in kindergarten.

DiSilva, born in Brazil and married to an American, says her daughter, Raquel, spoke only Portuguese for her first five years, but now English is the language she gravitates toward because it's what she hears most of the day in school. DiSilva, a daycare worker, says English is the language she, too, speaks most of the day at work.

``When I pick my daughter up, I'll start off speaking in Portuguese, but then my husband gets home and we're all tired and English becomes easier. I feel guilty and worried that she might lose the language.''

It's that guilt that is keeping Roberto Giuffredi of Step by Step Languages in Miami in business. Giuffredi says he's been surprised by the demand since opening his language school seven years ago.

Of course, there is no better way of learning a language than hearing it from birth. Yet Giuffredi has taught Spanish to about 600 children of Hispanic parents who typically have some Spanish spoken to them at home -- just not enough to make them fluent.

``The vast majority of my clients have high standards and expectations. They have one goal, for their kids to become proficient so later in life they will have an edge over their competitors.''

Of the 53 million U.S. children between 5 and 17, about 15 percent are bilingual, according to the U.S. census 2008 American Community Survey. Locally those numbers are much higher. Of the 677,330 kids ages 5 to 17 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, 43 percent are bilingual.

Still, several factors complicate parents' efforts to raise a bilingual child. They include whether they are the first or second generation in the United States, whether both spouses speak the language, whether extended family are nearby to reinforce the language, whether the desire to assimilate is stronger than the interest in passing a second language on to offspring and fear of delayed speech skills.

Ana Lopez-Blazquez says as the daughter of Cuban refugees she went out of her way to teach her two children her native Spanish. But her home has three generations under one roof, with grandparents who don't speak English and are unable to reinforce her efforts while she was at work. ``I don't see the same dynamics in the generation that followed. Many of them have lost the language and it's a damn shame.''

Lopez-Blazquez, chief strategy officer at Baptist Health South Florida, views it from a practical perspective, too. ``Not being able to speak multiple languages is a major disadvantage in business.''

In an era where most families rely on two incomes, working parents may want to teach their children their native tongue, but lack the time and energy required to carry out good intentions.

Jeannette Kaplun, co-founder and chief content officer of Todobebe.com, a website for Spanish-speaking parents, says working parents already are tackling homework, housework and now economic pressures. ``We're emotionally exhausted,'' she says.

Kaplun, who herself is raising bilingual children, says it takes tremendous discipline and hard work. ``The older they get, the more they prefer to speak back to you in English. They resist and you have to resist, too.''

Kaplun offers advice to parents who feel overwhelmed: Listen to music in another language, watch Disney movies or cartoons, read books at story time, play games. ``It doesn't have to be seen as a chore.''

Of course, there's also Yasher's approach: outsource it. ``Personally, I speak Spanglish. At least with my daughter taking classes, I know she's getting the basics.''

October 14, 2009

Work life balance leads to higher earnings

   A new study confirms what most of us want to hear: companies that value work/life balance have higher earnings.

    According to the research, by training specialists Morgan Redwood, companies that prioritize work/ life balance enjoyed net earnings per employee of £32,769 – 23% more than the average for those who don’t. That’s a pretty big difference.

Management Today suggest that in the current business climate the finding raises an interesting question: to what extent is it worth cutting headcount costs if it’s going to affect the productivity of the remaining staff?

    This new research suggests work/life balance is already severely under threat as companies call on their remaining staff to pick up the additional workload created by redundancies. For instance, 47% of UK businesses questioned have seen their headcount drop over the last 12 months and further reductions will follow in the coming year with the largest companies three times more likely than smaller businesses to reduce their employee levels over the next 12 months.

   Morgan Redwood’s study, reported in Consultant News, includes this quote from Janice Haddon, Managing Director of Morgan Redwood: “We all instinctively know that a good work/life balance matters – but to have the actual value of it quantified is a breakthrough moment."

    As companies feel financial pressure, leaders might argue that they have more pressing concerns than worker morale. But as Haddon notes: "Work/life balance is not a ‘nice to have’ when we’re in a boom time. It can have a fundamental impact on the corporate performance at all times." 

    Would you have guessed that work/life balance and bank balance are tied in to each other?

October 12, 2009

Zero-tolerance, a dangerous word?

    I hadn't really thought much about the word "zero-tolerance" until I read about the controversy over the first grader suspended from school for bringing his Cub Scout eating utensil to school to use at lunch.

If you haven't seen The Times story or AOL's version, here's what happened: little Zachary Christie, 6, was excited with his new camping tool but now faces 45 days in reform school after officials determined the camping utensil he brought to school to eat his lunch with violated the school district's ban on knives. The utensil functions as a fork, spoon and knife. The school district says it has a zero-tolerance policy on weapons.

   Like school districts, many workplaces have zero-tolerance policies on weapons, too. As a parent, I instilled a zero-tolerance policy at my home this weekend to prohibit bad words. While zero-tolerance policies have tremendous upside, I am starting to see how they can be dangerous, too. When you can never make an exception, you must be pretty clear to all those who must abide about what violates the policy. If you have a zero-tolerance policy on weapons at your workplace, you better be clear about whether someone can bring a knife to cut a birthday cake (this incident resulted in a real lawsuit). If I have zero-tolerance for bad words at home, I have to be super strict when the policy is violated....will I be able to enforce my rule without exception?

Of course, bad words are way different from weapons. In South Florida, we have seen firsthand what can happen when weapons are brought to school. The community was outraged when a Coral Gables high school student was alleged to have been murdered with a knife by another student in the hallway last month.

    When it comes to safety and rules at work, at school, at home, is zero tolerance really the only way to go? Is it dangerous to set a policy where there are no exceptions or is it required in today's society?


 (Zachary Christie as he appeared in The New York Times)

October 07, 2009

Madeleine Albright on work/life balance

Yesterday, I felt uplifted after hearing former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speak before about 400 people. She had a very interested audience at a luncheon of The Commonwealth Institute South Florida, a
non-profit mentoring organization for women entrepreneurs, CEOs and corporate executives. 

Albright sat opposite WTVJ news anchor Laurie Jennings and highlighted stories from her newly released book Read My Pins . The former Diplomat’s jewel box is filled with historical anecdotes and pins starting with Saddam Hussein and the Serpent’s Tale – the pin that began it all.  Albright was candid, funny, spunky and answered Jennings questions as well as from some of the attendees who were curious to know how she became the first woman to hold this position.  Albright told us she was a journalist, researcher, full time mom and later a professor before even stepping foot on Capitol Hill.

        I was unaware that Albright had become a single mother of three daughters when she divorced her husband. She said she has lived by one rule in particular and still does: she always takes a phone call from one of her children, regardless of what she is doing. (Her daughters are now adults and she has grandchildren)

When asked what her advice was for women entrepreneurs, she responded by saying, “Don’t ever be afraid to speak up…I believe that women need to support one another, and there is a special place in Hell for women who don’t.”  Albright says Hillary Clinton played a big role in her being named the first female secretary of state. She and Hillary give each other lots of support today.

In regard to work/life balance, Albright said: "There are no easy choices. Every woman's middle name is guilt."

Albright thinks women CEOs need to make it comfortable for other women to balance work and family and  to understand that sometimes a mom can't be in two places at once.

I'm an even bigger fan of Albright's than I had been prior to hearing her speak. Judging by the line of women waiting for her to sign their books, many others are, too.





October 05, 2009

Are we paranoid parents who need to loosen the chain?

      Let's face it, these days, most parents have jobs or are looking for one. With so many of us caught up in the daily struggle of work life balance, should we loosen the chains on our kids?

     I must admit that author Lenore Skenazy is starting to influence my parenting decisions, even though she's on the hot seat these days and in some circles considered America's worst mom.

  Skenazy is the mom who wrote a column in The New York Sun in 2008 about how she let her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway system by himself. As Parentdish.com notes she also is a champion of what might be called children's liberation -- giving kids longer leashes and, ultimately, less fear-driven lives. Her book "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts" is creating a stir.  As Parentdish notes, In an often fearful society, such ideas are sometimes regarded as heresy.

     Here's what Skenazy said that really made sense to me: Children should be taught to talk to strangers -- to an extent. Children may need help if they're really in danger and should know how to turn to other people for help.

"It's like we think the neighbors are psychotic pedophiles," Skenazy said. "But there's a network of humanity out there we're sealing our kids off from."

     For those parents who work and have had to let their kids walk home from the bus stop and let themselves in the home, there's validity in teaching them how to handle a threatening situation. Maybe the old line, "don't talk to strangers" isn't good enough.  I heard a mom on the radio this morning talking about how she insists her kids give their own orders to the waiter at the restaurant. She wants them to interact with adult strangers and use common sense.  Overprotecting children doesn't really keep them safe anyway, Skenazy said. "It keeps them from growing up."

       I find myself rethinking my paranoid mom approach. Maybe this "don't talk to strangers" is over the top. Maybe I do need to teach my kids how to navigate more on their own. I don't know that I'm as brave as Skenazy and would allow my kids on the subway alone. But I do thinkit's pretty great that her son could do it if he found himself in a situation that required it.

       Working parents are going to need to rely on our child more to be independent sooner. We will need them to get off to school by themselves.My kids are at the age where they are asking for more independence and it's scary. But I think I'm going to take more of Skenazy's approach to heart. Maybe I will let them go to the movies or walk home from the bus stop alone and trust that I've taught them properly how to handle an adult interaction. 

      What are your thoughts? Do we need to stop hovering over our kids, or does our creepy society still force us to hover?

October 02, 2009

Working moms unofficial work hours

I have had lots of response to my article on working moms unofficial work hours. I realize I am not alone in my late night habits. It seems lots of moms agree with me that the 9 p.m. to midnight time slot is the BEST time to get work done. I no longer will be surprised in any way if I get an immediate response to a late night email from another working mom.

    Hilda Mitrani, a mom and business owner, could relate to this line: Today, working motherhood means putting in a full day, eating dinner, helping with homework, tucking kids into bed and logging on.

     Meanwhile, I wanted to mention that there are lots of conversation about what having more women in the workforce than men will mean going forward. In a fascinating radio interview with Gail Carson,publicist Patricia Thorp, president of Throp & Co. talked about the tipping point; there are more women than men working in America today. The recession caused 82% of men to be laid off, and now women are dominant.

      Thorp addressed these questions:  What are we going to do with our position on increasing power? What are our goals, to help women not just in America, but worldwide? How will women fare with the new responsibilities and leadership roles they are taking on? What will be there agenda? How will men fare with the new home responsibilities?  Click here to hear Patricia's interview.