Solicited Advice

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by Katrina on October 7, 2014

You guys! I need your help.

Can you answer one question to help to me prepare for a conference I’m speaking at next week? Here’s the question:

What is the single best piece of advice you’ve received on balancing work and family?

Please leave your answer in the comments below. (Or you can tweet it to me at @kalcorn or leave your comment on my Facebook page.)

Why I’m asking you this

Months ago I was invited to speak on a panel for a series of three conferences called The Conferences for Women—together they’re the biggest women’s conference in the country, reaching more than 23,000 attendees. It was a great honor to get this invitation—keynote speakers include Hillary Clinton, Diane Keaton, and Robin Roberts. The first conference, which is sold out, will take place next week in Philadelphia.

Our session is called “Survival Strategies in a “Lean In” World: Real People, Real Stories, Real Solutions” and it’s supposed to focus on tips for managing the day-to-day chaos of life.

I was looking forward to just showing up and answering questions under the expert guidance of Lisa Belkin . . . until I found out yesterday that she had to cancel due to a work conflict. And guess who they’d like to take her place as the “thought leader” (and moderator) for our panel? No, not Hillary Clinton. Me!

Now, some of you may note (as I have) that I wrote a book about how I FAILED to balance work and family and yet, I keep getting asked to speak about . . . how to balance work and family. And if you’ve read my book or followed my blog, you already know that I had my own little library of self-help books and I even followed much of the advice, but in the end it wasn’t enough for me. What helped the most was quitting my job and going to work for myself. Which is a real story, but not a real solution.

While the other esteemed panelists are sure to have some great answers, I’d like to be extra prepared by crowd-sourcing some advice here.

What has worked for you? Any and all stories or advice are welcome. The more specific the better.

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I’m not doing a lot of writing right at the moment (yes, the blog has been extra quiet), but I am doing a lot of speaking. If you can make it to one of these events, please come say “hi.”

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Update 10/7: BLOG IS HAVING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. (Argh!) We’re trying to fix it now, but in the meantime, if you aren’t able to leave a comment here, you can leave it on my FB page or try again later. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Blog comments should be working now, thanks to Kenny at fittedwebdesign.com. (That is a shameless plug for Kenny’s IT services. He’s the best.) Phew!

 

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My Boss

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by Katrina on July 31, 2014

Like most people of my Generation (GenX), I’ve had a lot of different jobs.

In high school I worked as a babysitter, a housecleaner, and a box office ticket taker for a local theater. In college I waitressed at Denny’s to earn tuition money. When I spent a year abroad, I earned my keep as an English language teacher in Chile.

After college, I held jobs as a union organizer, a freelance writer, and a media specialist for a health care reform campaign. When the campaign ran out of money, I joined the fundraising team. Eventually I went to grad school, became a journalist, soon became disenchanted with the state of journalism . . . and decided to remake myself as an Internet professional, a field where lasting six months at a job makes you one of the old-timers.

According to my most recent count, I’ve had more than 25 jobs in all. As you can imagine, having all these jobs means I’ve also had a lot of bosses, good and bad.

There was the owner of the pub where I worked as a cocktail waitress, who shamed me in front of the cooks about my wine-pouring technique (or lack thereof). There was the marketing guy who bought me my very own fax machine (this was cutting edge technology in 1991) so I could work for him as a copywriter from my dorm room in college. (This seemed like a magnanimous gesture to me at the time, but now I see it was a way to hang on to cheap labor.)

There was the guy who ran the video production house in San Francisco where I thought I was being hired to work on industrial shoots and learn to operate a Betacam, but instead spent most of my working hours dubbing porn (making VHS copies) for customers. There was the startup founder at my first Internet job who hired a masseuse to rub our sore shoulders because we were exhausted from working 12-hour days.

And there was the boss I wrote about in Maxed Out who, despite our occasional differences, was a true mentor. She gave me some wonderful professional opportunities and encouraged me to try new things, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

But all those different managers just make me appreciate the boss I have today. She encourages me to work on projects I care about, and she gives me all the flexibility I need to have a family, a life, and a career. She’s the best boss I’ve ever had. I wish everyone could have a boss like her.

Read all about her in my column, published today on MarketWatch: 7 Reasons I Love My Boss.

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Making Work Work: Sliced Bread Design

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by Katrina on June 23, 2014

About six years ago, while I was busy “maxing out” at my full-time job in San Francisco, a friend of mine started freelancing for a company that sounded like a working mom nirvana.

It was a small web design firm in Silicon Valley called Sliced Bread. The owners (Julie Stanford and Ellen Siminoff) were good friends who had bought houses next door to each other. They set up a large shared office in the downstairs of Julie’s house, and because they had kids about the same age, they decided to share a nanny. Employees came into the office two days a week. The other days people could choose to come in or work from home.

A couple people at the company had babies at the time, and my friend said when she was on conference calls with coworkers, it wasn’t unusual to hear the dull groan of a breast pump in the background. No one thought this was weird. Everyone was just focused on doing great work, and doing it efficiently so they could enjoy their lives.

A few years later, after I left my job, I did a freelance project for Sliced Bread and it was just as my friend had described. (If they weren’t a 90-minute drive from my house, I would work with them more often.)

Since then, I’ve kept in touch with Julie, and I was really happy when she agreed to let me profile her business here on the blog. As you’ll see, she and her business partner have not been afraid to break social norms when they had a good reason to, and their business is thriving. What follows is edited version of our conversation:

Julie Stanford

Julie Stanford, co-owner of Sliced Bread, a web design firm in Silicon Valley.

 

Me: What made you decide to start your own business?

Julie: True story—13 years ago I was working for a startup that decided to let one of the designers on a two-person design team go. But instead of just deciding which designer to let go, they told each designer a different fictitious story about what was going to happen next at the company in the hopes that one designer would decide to stay on her own (because the future was so appealing) and the other would decide to leave on her own (because the future seemed so terrible).

This plot could have worked except for the fact that the two designers were good friends and realized they were being played. The designer who was supposed to stay quit, and the designer who was supposed to leave stayed around for a few more months being annoying. Then she quit, too.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I was one of these designers and the other designer was my business partner, Ellen.

We decided we were never going to work for anyone else under any circumstances.

Me: How did you and Ellen know you would be good business partners?

Julie: Ellen and I became great friends when we worked at the startup; it was through her that I met my husband—they were housemates at the time. Ellen and I always dreamed about having an agency together and when the crazy shenanigans at our startup happened, we were happy to leave and start Sliced Bread.

Me: Was it intentional that you bought houses next door to each other, or was that just luck? read full story

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The talk I gave at TEDx Monterey in April is now available online! “Maxed Out: Changing the Conversation About Women and Work.”

If you like it, please share it.

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I’ve written before about why I believe results-only work environments (ROWE) have the potential to transform the workplace for the better, not just for moms and dads, but for anyone who wants to be great at their job and still have a life. Now I’m excited to announce that the folks at ROWE have a new training series to make it easier for all kinds of companies—small and large—to get in on the action.

But first, for those of you who have never heard of ROWE, a quick recap:

ROWE is a management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, rather than arbitrary measures like the amount of time they spend at the office. Employees are empowered to make their jobs compatible with their lives, which is not only great for their health, it’s also great for business. Companies like Gap Inc. report that productivity and morale go way up after they become a ROWE.

Here’s what people who have been through ROWE training have to say about it:

If I sound like a zealot, it’s because I am.* Although I’ve never officially worked in a ROWE, as a happily self-employed person, I feel like I’ve created my own unofficial ROWE.

I’m 100% accountable to my clients which means I’m judged 100% on the quality of my work. No one is checking to see when I’m at a desk. I don’t attend meetings that waste my time. I do most of my work from home, but I prioritize in-person meetings when I’m brainstorming with a team (even if that means flying to Texas, as I’ve been doing a lot recently), because that’s usually the most effective way to get that kind of work done.

Yes, I sometimes work nights and weekends when I have to meet a deadline, but I’m just as likely to go to the gym in the middle of the day, or meet a friend for lunch, or pick up my kids early when work is slower.

Having this autonomy has made an enormous difference in my life. It’s changed me from being a maxed out mom to feeling like I can thrive in my career and in my personal life.

Obviously, not everyone is in a position to start their own business, but all businesses would benefit from creating a work culture that values people. Which is why I was so excited to see that Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, the masterminds behind ROWE, have created a do-it-yourself system for people who want to transform their workplaces into results-only environments.

Learn more about the Do-It-Yourself ROWE online training here.

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Full disclosure: I’ve recently become a ROWE affiliate, which means I make a small fee when someone clicks the link on this site and then signs up for the training program. But the fact is, I would do this for free because I believe in the concept and the women behind it. Every single day I get emails from PR people asking if I’ll accept advertising on my blog. 99.9% of the time I ignore them because the products don’t interest me, and anyway, I didn’t start this blog to make money, I started it to share ideas. But when I was invited to become a ROWE affiliate, I gladly accepted. I hope it will be a tool that helps you create the kind of workplace you deserve.

Update July 29, 2014: I’ve been doing more freelance writing (for pay) and in order to avoid a conflict of interest, I’m no longer going to be a ROWE affiliate. This way, I can write about ROWE for newspapers and magazines, I just won’t get paid if you sign up. Which is fine—I’m more interested in getting the word out than making money off of ROWE. Now go sign up!

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Mother’s Day Sale! $1 for ebook (+ TEDx)

by Katrina on May 2, 2014

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$1 for the ebook

For a limited time, my publisher is offering eight ebooks for moms (including Maxed Out) for $1 each. Buy one for yourself, and send another to a mother you love. Or buy a round of copies for everyone in your book club.

Get the Maxed Out ebook here: Kobo | iBooks | Amazon | Barnes & Noble (Nook)

momday_promo_maxedout

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In other news…I gave a 15-minute talk at TEDx Monterey last week called “Maxed Out: Changing the Conversation About Women and Work.” (Thanks to everyone who answered my questions on Facebook about the title!)

I know that doesn’t sound very long—15 minutes—but one of the things that makes the TED talks unique is that everyone speaks without notes, so when you’re up there, 15 minutes feels like a lot of stuff to remember.

The talk went really well (as in, I didn’t blank out or lose my place, which is what I was afraid of), but I was taken aback by how emotional the whole experience was. It’s not like it was the first time I told this story or talked about the issue. I’ve done a bunch of book-related speaking events, and I’ve been interviewed a gazillion times since the fall. And yet…I found myself getting choked up a couple times while on the stage. (Hopefully you can’t tell.)

Later I talked about this with Amy Benson, who gave a beautiful talk about her upcoming film (“The Girl Who Knew Too Much”). We both agreed that there is something uniquely vulnerable about talking to a packed auditorium about something you care about, with NO PODIUM to hide behind. It’s the no podium thing that gets you. It’s less like giving a lecture, more like bearing witness at a church revival.

I’ll share the video as soon as it’s live—should be sometime this month.

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TEDx Monterey 2014 audience

 

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Maxed Out & advice for creatives @ SXSW 2014

by Katrina on March 13, 2014

I haven’t had time to do much writing lately, but I am doing a whole lot of TALKING…

Below is the presentation I gave at the South by SouthWest conference (SXSW) this morning. I share my “maxed out” story, and then focused the talk on specific things high-tech and creative professionals can do to make their workload a bit more manageable. The advice can be boiled down to this:

  1. Work from home
  2. Work out
  3. Work less

Maybe it will be a good reminder for you, too.

Funny story: My former boss (“Stella” in the book) is also attending the conference. We had lunch after my talk. She’s been amazingly supportive about the fact that I write about those years I worked for her. If I ever end up a character in someone else’s memoir, I just hope I can manage to be half as classy about it as she’s been.

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Is your book club reading Maxed Out? Check out this book discussion guide, which can be used for workplace book clubs as well as regular ol’ livingroom book clubs.

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I’d love to come to your book club!

by Katrina on January 30, 2014

Is your book club reading Maxed Out? I love talking with book clubs—both corporate book clubs or regular ol’ book clubs in someone’s living room. If you gather a group of 8 or more people, I can join for the last 30 minutes of your book club discussion either by phone or video conference (Skype, Google Hangout, etc.) to answer questions. Contact me at katrina@workingmomsbreak.com to set something up.

Be sure to use this handy dandy Book Club Discussion Guide to get you started.

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The problem with writing about being maxed out while you’re still living it is that some things you care about simmer on the back burner, (like this blog). Here’s a quick round up of upcoming events and book news.

Events

Temescal Library (Oakland, CA)
Feb. 8, 2014 at 3:00 PM

SXSW 2014 Interactive conference (Austin, TX)
Saturday, March 8th 10:00 AM

Sweet Thursdays—Reading, interview, and sweets! (Lafayette, CA)
Thursday, Mar. 20, 2014  at 7:00 pm

Author’s Dinner, a Literary Feast (Lafayette, CA)
Saturday, Mar. 22, 2014, 6:30 pm – 10:00 pm)

POWER Opening Doors for Women (Chicago, IL)
Thursday, June 5, 2014

More Events here>

Other Places My Writing Has Appeared Recently

Recent Press

I thought Maxed Out would mainly be of interest to Americans, but I’m pleased to say the book has been covered in print, TV, and/or radio in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Sweden, Poland, Australia, and several other countries I never thought would care. Which only goes to show that women are maxing out all over the world. Below are a few recent press links.

Find more Press here>

 

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Survey: Well-being & Your Work

by Katrina on December 19, 2013

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—Update 1/21/14 The survey is now closed. Check back in the next week or two when I hope to share the results here.—

In the last few months, I’ve given dozens of interviews with print, radio, and TV reporters about Maxed Out. These are some of the recurring questions I hear:

  • Are some  jobs more family-friendly than others?
  • Are people in every industry maxed out?
  • How much control do managers have to fix this?

I don’t really know the answers; I regularly receive emails and blog comments from people in a gazillion types of jobs and industries, but I don’t know how they compare. So I’ve put together a short survey to find out!

Here’s where you come in:

1. Fill out the survey now. Start here>

It should take about 3 minutes to complete. I will not share your personal information. I plan to quote from the results in my writing and public speaking. I will also post the results here on my blog for your reading pleasure (hopefully by February).

2. Please share the survey widely.

Email the link to your friends. Share it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn or wherever you hang out. I’m interested in hearing from people in a wide variety of jobs, industries, and locations. In order to be able to make comparisons, I would like to get as many responses as possible.

Thank you for your help!

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About the photo: You may be wondering what the above photo has to do with this survey. The answer is absolutely nothing. But photos of surveys are boring. Photos of meercats are cute. Hopefully it got your attention. Did you fill out the survey yet?

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In case you’re interested, here are examples of two other surveys I conducted in the past. The results were fascinating.

Who Clips the Nails?

Working Parents & Stress

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In Maxed Out, I pepper you with statistics about how the U.S. lags behind most of the developed world when it comes to support for working parents. But that doesn’t mean life is perfect in those other places, either.

The letter below is from a mom of two named Susana. She works in Human Resources for a multinational company in Lisbon, Portugal. With Susana’s permission, I’m sharing her email here as a reality check that even in countries that provide the basic benefits we lack in the U.S.—things like paid maternity leave, and more support for breastfeeding—workplace culture can still be fraught with stress for parents.

From Susana:

I finished reading your book, and I had to write to you to say that I loved it.

First of all, I’m not American, I’m Portuguese and I’ve always lived in Portugal, where we have some good help from the government, like paid parental leave, but also lack other necessary help like public daycare.

Despite some of these differences, while I was reading your story it was like I seeing myself, as I feel so much like what you described. I have a 5-year-old son and an almost 2-year-old daughter, and especially since my daughter’s birth I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and stressed. I don’t like the life that I’m living and feel we deserve better.

My husband and I both work full time, and my husband is very hands on at home and with the kids. In Portugal it’s not common to be stay at home parents. You’re supposed to work, and if you don’t you’re seen as a lazy bimbo (the word in Portuguese is “dondocas”). Working part-time or from home is not well seen either.

To make it worse, because of the financial crisis that we’re living, the company where my husband works sent him to work abroad on a project, and since our girl was 2 months old, he worked in another country during the week and came home only on weekends. This lasted for 18 months, and it stopped because we couldn’t take it anymore. I was on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown and my husband and children were miserable. So he informed his superiors that the travels had to stop, and found a way to work from here.

Since then, things are much better for us, and the kids are happy again…but deep down inside I continue feeling that I don’t have enough time for my children and my family as I wanted, and as I should have. I would love to work part-time, but a year ago when I mentioned it at work, I was advised to not ask for it, as I could risk being fired.

For your statistics :-) in Portugal we have the following good things:

  • 5 months of paid parental leave for the mother after the birth of the baby.
  • At least 2 months of paid parental leave for the father, and the possibility to share the mother’s leave.
  • After the return to work, the mother or the father have a paid absence time of 2 hours per day to breastfeed or bottle feed the baby until he’s 1 year old, and if you breastfeed, this leave has no limit of age.
  • Paid sick leave for pregnant women, when there is a risk pregnancy.
  • Paid absence time from work for medical appointments related to the pregnancy, even for the father.

On the other hand…

  • There are very few public daycares (run by social security or the government), and private daycare costs about the same as a national minimum salary (€ 485, which is about $ 650 per month), which makes it very difficult for most couples to have more than 1 child.
  • Public education is granted from age 5 on, so until that age families spend a lot of money on daycare.
  • The average number of babies per woman is 1.28 (way below the USA).
  • Part-time work is seen as something bad, and work from home is almost non existing.
  • Flexible work schedules exist but are not the most usual, and a person is a good professional if he works very long hours.

Until 2 months ago I was having an internal “struggle” with myself trying to balance work and family, I was even looking for a new job, but after my vacations in August (and before reading your book) I finally accepted that I am on the “Mommy Track” (We recognize the “Mommy Track” when we see it, but we don’t have a term for it. We just say that someone is “encostada” or “parada,” which means that you’re standing still). I’m going to stay on the Mommy Track, because I can’t do it all and my family is the most important.

I realized that I can’t change jobs because I would lose the flexible work schedule that I have now, and the work flexibility that I have, that allows me to work full time and manage to raise my kids and be there when they need me the most.

A few days ago here a TV ad came out, from the Portuguese national electrical company, and while some people praise it as so beautiful, it made me sad and a bit depressed, as it shows a typical day of a typical Portuguese mom. No one seemed to notice that the father only appears at the beginning and the end, sitting down and looking at the kids, and the mom does it all, and only stops way after the kids are in bed.

And in the end she has a happy look on her face like her life is perfect.

The title and message is “our energy is present in every moment of your life, but the biggest energy is yours.”

I thought it was really lame.

 

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Check out my new book! Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink

Pick up a copy for yourself, and another for a maxed out mom you love. Selected by Parade editors as one of the “top picks for parents.” Selected as a “mom must read” by Parents.com.

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