Vittoria Shortt, Champion for Change and CEO at ASB, discusses the benefits and challenges of balancing caring and working, along with the ways that ASB is supporting its employees to take care of whānau, in our Fast Four Questions feature.
To what extent do you believe that caring roles, such as parenting, are holding women back in their careers?
Parenting choices and carer roles for family members absolutely influence career decisions. Every family is different and there are different phases of family life we all go through from children growing up to parents ageing. The important thing is being able to think through the options and make the decisions that are best for you and your family at any point in time. For employers, it is critical to create an environment where women and men feel supported in that choice and not sacrificing one or the other. There are a lot of different ways that support can be provided.
Personally, I believe parenting helps people develop a whole range of skills that are equally important in the workplace. Similarly, there are skills and development opportunities at work that help with family life. Negotiating, listening, empathy, multi-tasking are just a few that come to mind. Parenting doesn’t halt growth and development it enhances it, and sometimes accelerates it. Employers who recognise the opportunity of their team developing different skills through their different ‘caring roles’ can really reap rewards.
I’ve also had plenty of conversations, particularly with women, where there is a feeling they can’t pursue the career they want to have and be the parent they want to be. In those situations, I’ve often found that more is possible than originally thought if you get creative with the solutions at home and at work.
How does ASB support employees with caring responsibilities?
To start with, caring takes many different shapes, parenting is the obvious one, but we also have members of the team looking after elderly parents, sick relatives, aunts and uncles supporting family members etc.
The most important thing we do at ASB is give people options which help them manage their time to suit the ‘caring responsibilities’ they’re dealing with at that particular moment. It’s about empowering them to balance their work and family commitments. Flexible hours is probably the most frequently used option. Being able to be where you’re needed at the right time is important for people to perform at their best. If that means coming in to work at different times, then we work together to make it possible.
Caring is a two way street, it’s not a solo journey. That said, ASB provides a number of different flexible working options including adjusted hours, the ability to purchase extra annual leave or job-share, working part time and providing our people who work from home, the technology to be agile.
What is your key piece of advice for successfully balancing work and parenting?
Striking a good balance between work and home life is achievable if you are clear about your priorities and you discuss it as a family. Family is obviously the first priority. Every year, particularly when our children were younger, my husband and I would sit down and work out what the year might look like. What was happening on the career, childcare or school fronts and how we would organise ourselves. We were clear about our priorities as a family and from there it was easier to work out what we would do and not do. Sometimes work would take a back seat (like when we travelled for 7 months as a family), other times work commitments for one of us would be very high and so the other parent would pick up more. Some of our children’s events we wouldn’t attend and others we wouldn’t miss. It’s all about knowing what is important for your family because you can’t do everything.
It’s exactly the same with work. Being clear about what your priorities are helps you avoid spending too much time on activities that won’t add value and keep you from other important work, home or life events. One simple question that helps with this is ‘what are the things that only I can add value to’? The other activity that can be helpful is organising your day/week/year into the must dos, should dos and nice to haves.
From there, it’s all about saying no to the things that won’t help me achieve our family or work priorities. Sometimes that means saying no to things I’d love to be doing.
When we went travelling, everyone said how ‘lucky we were’ to be able to do that. It had nothing to do with luck, we decided it was important and we quit our jobs and spent some of our savings to do it. Conversely, I’ve had conversations with my family when my work commitments are going to be very high to ask for their support. I guess the point of that is to say that sometimes the ‘balance’ is tipped towards work and at other times home. I’m not sure there has ever been a day, week, month or year in ‘perfect’ balance.
Is it possible to transfer skills you learn in the boardroom to home?
Definitely. I’m convinced the skills I have honed at work have helped me at home. Communication has to be at the forefront. Communicating clearly, listening, adjusting your approach, calmly working through issues. I have two young teenagers so these skills are definitely tested and continually improving!
You can learn so much from the different facets of your life you just need to be open to doing so and be secure in the knowledge that you can draw from all of your experiences rather than some arbitrary distinction between work skills only being relevant at work and parenting skills only being relevant at home.