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14 posts from July 2011

July 12, 2011

Work life balance? Christine Lagarde made sacrifices

Years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Christine Lagarde. At the time, she was global chairman of Baker & McKenzie, one of the world's largest law firm with more than 3,400 attorneys. That in itself was impressive. As most law firms are, Baker & McKenzie was dominated by male lawyers and had a presence in 35 countries. Christine was the first woman to hold the position. Making this feat even more remarkable was the the firm was based in Chicago and Christine had risen through the ranks in the Paris office. 

When I had lunch with Christine I was impressed with her. She's poised, multi-lingual, brilliant, politically savvy and easy to talk to about any topic. I was even more impressed when I learned that she was a mom. 

I set out to write a profile of Christine and her success. In the process, I made an interesting discovery. All was not well on the home front. Christine was traveling constantly between Chicago and Paris. One of her son's was having trouble in school, her marriage was rocky and she was apart from her children more than she was with them. Her husband at the time had take over most of the child rearing duties, although he wasn't the father of the boys (Christine was a widow when she married him). I could tell Christine truly loved her sons. But she knew she had to make sacrifices to achieve career success at the level she had climbed.

She made this comment to The Guardian:  When they were small, she says, the juggling of an alpha career and children was a struggle. "The balancing act is very hard. I had to accept that I could not be successful at everything. You draw up priorities, and you accept a lot of guilt." She is thoughtful. "It's part of growing up – as a woman, a spouse, a mother." She remembers an upsetting incident when a headmistress chastised her for working too much. "You can not let guilt engineer your life," she adds. "But you know, in my career, the best support in the end was my kids."

I knew Christine was smart and ambitious and I wasn't surprised recently when I saw Christine in the headlines again. She just was named the new International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director, replacing the Dominique Strauss Kahn.  That makes 55-year-old Christine one of the most powerful women in the world.


Since I lunched with Christine, she was headhunted to become Trade Minister in the French government. After a one month stint as Agriculture Minister in May 2007, she became Finance Minister and was a few months short of being the longest-serving finance minister of the Fifth Republic before she was tapped for this new high profile position.

Christine's two sons now are 22 and 24. She is divorced and has a new boyfriend. She recently told The Independent that her delight, away from work (when she can get away from it) is to spend time with them.

If were to ask Christine about sacrifices, I know she would read off a list. I am sure her sons have a list, too. But with success comes trade-offs, especially for mothers. I just wonder if Christine has found a way to overcome guilt and whether she would say the sacrifices were worth it.

Readers, do you think women as powerful as Christine make more sacrifices to achieve positions of influence than men do? Do you think the super high level of success as a working mother means not feeling guilty about making those tough choices?




July 08, 2011

Do Busy Schedule Mean Lax Parenting?

How many times have you just felt too tired to discipline your child? I have my hand up. I have heard all kinds of advice about picking your battles, but sometimes I'm too tired after a hard day at work to insist my son cleans his room before he goes to bed. Rather than picking our battles, are we a nation of parents who no longer want to battle at all?

This week in the WSJ.com's Juggle blog, John Edwards raises the question: Are our busy schedules causing us to coddle our kids during the limited time that we spend with them?

I would answer yes.

We are a generation of parents that want our kids to be happy. It's a big concern for us. Factor that in with guilt about spending most of the day apart from our kids because of our busy work schedules and you've got a recipe for permissive parenting. A friend of mine, a single mom, knows she's too permissive with her son. She spends most of her day at the office. After years of valuing fun over confrontation during her few evening hours with him, now that he's a teen she's having a hard time getting him to do his homework and his grades are slipping. 

Child psychologist Dan Kindlon raises a question that most working parents can relate to: "If you've got 20 minutes a day to spend with your kid, would you rather make your kid mad at you by arguing over cleaning up his room, or play a game of Boggle together?" 

We have all faced variations of that scenario at some point in our parenting lives. And most of us opt for Boggle. But what's the expense to our kids in allowing our busy juggle to value fun over confrontation?

Readers, what do you think about parental guilt and working parents not wanting their children to be angry at them during their limited time together? Do you feel accommodating-to-a fault parents are creating a nation of over-entitled kids?

July 06, 2011

Want better work life balance? How to take a task off your plate

Recently, I was in the audience at a Women's Summit listening to business coach Jodi Johnson answer questions when Maria Guadamuz asked one that intrigued me. Maria, owner of a locksmith company, wanted to know how to take something off her plate. She wants to improve her work life balance but feels like every task needs to be done by her for her company to prosper.

Johnson urged her to let go -- to turn payroll over to a firm that specializes in that area.

It wasn't the first time I've heard a business owner verbalize the struggle with knowing when and how to outsource a function or hire someone to do it. I decided to explore the topic further in a column. Experts like Nell Merlino of Count Me In regularly coach business owners on how to get low priority tasks off their plates. An owner needs to focus on growing the company. Below is my column with some suggestions from experts.


The Miami Herald

Learning when to call for help

By Cindy Krischer Goodman

   Maria Guadamuz, left, her husband Diego Castro, right, with their son Sebastian Castro, 2, own a locksmith compan in Miami. Maria is about to have a second child. The couple want to grow the business but Maria needs more work/life balance.
Maria Guadamuz, left, her husband Diego Castro, right, with their son Sebastian Castro, 2, own a locksmith compan in Miami. Maria is about to have a second child. The couple want to grow the business but Maria needs more work/life balance.
Each Friday when Maria Guadamuz prepares the payroll at her small business, she goes through an internal struggle. With her second child on the way, she knows she can’t do all the tasks she does now, particularly payroll, and raise her family. Yet, she frets over the idea of hiring someone else to take over the job.

“I want to be able to oversee everything and do everything,” says Guadamuz, co-owner of AAA Miami Locksmith. “Because it is my business, it’s hard to let go.”

Many people leave big companies to start their own businesses because they want more flexibility or more of a personal life. But where do you draw the line on guarding those perks when your business starts to grow? The decision to hire or outsource a function often is a necessary step for any maxed-out entrepreneur or business owner seeking to expand, but it’s a scary move fraught with a variety of concerns.

“A lot of business owners are afraid, “ says Jerry Selevan, a counselor with SCORE Miami-Dade. “They don’t know if they can afford help, they don’t know if someone can do the job as well as they do or if that person will learn too much and come back and compete.”

Click here to read more.

July 05, 2011

Can you sue a workplace bully?

One of my friends has been complaining to me that she is miserable at work. Her boss has been bullying her. A single mom, she’s in no position to quit her job without finding another and we all know the job market stinks right now.

Last week, I wrote my Miami Herald column on workplace bullying. I received tons of response. It seems on-the-job bullying is every bit the epidemic that workplace experts were telling me it is -- and it's making people miserable. So, I decided to have an employment lawyer weigh in. I wanted to hear some of the questions a lawyer is asked and share the responses.

Here’s my Q & A with Jezabel Llorente of  Miami-based  Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider & Grossman: 


Jezabel Photo-PR

Q.  Do people who are bullied contact attorneys?

A. Yes, they don’t understand what actionable harassment is. They say “my boss is harassing me’ but when we start chatting, I learn that the boss is a nasty person to work with, but there’s nothing discriminatory or actionable to sue for.

Q. So someone who is bullied doesn’t have a  legal case?

 A. Job dissatisfaction is not actionable.

Q. How often to you hear the bullying complaint?

A. Pretty often. However, about half of the people who come for a consultation don’t have a case. I have to explain the distinction -- being treated distastefully by a bad manager is not enough. You have got to more prove more, that there’s some type of discrimination or sexual harassment for it to be actionable. Courts don’t want to manage business disputes and personality clashes. That’s not what courts are there to do. It’s always smart to consult an attorney. I am happy to speak on phone to anyone and give them an honest evaluation. If you feel something is wrong, make the call.

Q. Do you tell people who don’t have a legal case to file at complaint at work?

A. In this market, if people have a job they want to keep it. I tell them there’s no downside to going to HR and registering their concern. But I don’t tell them this person has to legally stop being the way they are. They don’t’ have to treat you sweetly.

Q. What’s the distinction between bullying and gender discrimination?

A. If a woman or a man is doing a job and the boss wants him or her to act in a certain way that has no impact on the job, that’s a problem. If the boss is telling everyone to be more aggressive, then that’s fine. If he’s saying you’re not tough enough because you are a woman, that’s a problem. Also, if you’re making your sales numbers and he’s still telling you to be more aggressive and you’re receiving some type of adverse impact, not getting a bonus, that also becomes problem.

Q. When someone comes to you with that type of case, is it easy to determine whether there’s a legitimate case for gender discrimination?

A. Sometimes it’s borderline. In the cases I have been seeing 50 percent are not actionable. There are cases that are harder and I tell the client it could go either way. To me it could be interrupted as discrimination or just as being a tough boss or bully. Still, it’s always good to get a legal opinion.