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Getting back to work

Posted by: Elizabeth

Balancing work and family. Career paths. Lord Davies’ report.

I’ve got this topic on the brain lately. Partly it’s always on my mind for reasons I’ve articulated here before. Partly it’s because of the event I attended at LBS last week on ‘The changing nature of boards’ – at which the Davies report was discussed at some length.

Today’s FT Soapbox is on this topic too – at least somewhat. The author writes more broadly about how women are ‘let down by business schools’ which, she argues, are not flexible enough for many women, are too expensive for most women who are, in general, quite ‘risk averse’, and are not marketed to women effectively enough in light of these issues.

I’m not so enamoured of her arguments particulary, but I do think that business schools can and should do more to support women’s career paths. I would love to see LBS launch a 6-month-long ‘re-entry’ programme for women who’ve been out of the workforce and want support getting back to work. This could be a programme for LBS alumni (male or female in theory) that would focus on 1) functional skills refresher; 2) career planning; 3) job search.

A few years ago these programmes were all the vogue at Harvard, Tuck, and other leading b-schools. I haven’t heard much about them lately.

What you think, LBS?

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Life preserver wanted

Posted by: Elizabeth
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Today I start a new elective, Managing the Growing Business. I’m very excited about it, as I spent several years earlier in my career managing the growth of a small, high-potential company as it moved from operating under an entrepreneurial management regime – work all the time, reap the rewards when it all pays off in the future – towards being a steadier, more professionally-run company. This was one of the most thrilling, demanding, and also highly-satisfying experiences I’ve had. I want to do it again and again (hence the class).

But I’m also finishing up two other electives and need to get cracking on my management report. I’m an excellent swimmer but dang my arms are tired.

Lest any potential EMBA students think they can ‘phone it in’, let me disavow you of that notion!

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“Wow, a full time job, EMBA, and two young kids – how do you manage it all?”

I get this all the time. I’m not being conceited saying this, I really do get asked this all the time.

Depending on the day it either makes me feel like a superstar or a total fraud.

If you’re a mom considering an EMBA, listen to me. Come closer. Look at me when I’m talking to you.

There are not many of us and there are good reasons why. Juggling a full-time job and an EMBA, a full-time job and kids, and an EMBA and kids – these are all hard to do. Doing all three at the same time might be insane.

But here’s the secret. Managing all three at once is not that bad. It might even be easier than ‘just’ two at a time.

Why? You have to create systems, you have to get a support structure in place and you have to let go. For me, doing this degree has required I step back from the management of every single detail of my children’s lives. This is not always easy to do but I am convinced we are all happier for it.

Obviously this may vary based on the ages of your children. I would not recommend trying to juggle work, EMBA, and newborn (especially not if it’s your first baby). My kids are still quite young – especially my 2-year-old – and ideally I’d have waited until she was a bit older. But for my own reasons I decided this was the time for us.

So here are some lessons I’ve learned and some advice (moms can’t resist giving advice; feel free to ignore):

  1. You will miss out on time with your kids. You will feel badly about this. Some days you will feel terrible about it. If your kids are still quite small, they will play on this and make you feel worse. “I hate London Business School, I hate it!”
  2. Your classmates will take trips to Germany for Oktoberfest and Italy for ski weekends. You will be tempted to join them until you remember how much they need you at home. This will bother you less than you think.
  3. You will not do all of the required reading for your classes. And you won’t even bother to look at the ‘recommended reading’.
  4. You will take the required 6 electives and not a one more.
  5. Where you once carried diapers (nappies) in your bag, you will now carry case studies to read during any free moment. Your retention will be lousy, so take good notes.
  6. The support of your employer will be imperative. If your boss is not on board with your doing the EMBA, switch jobs before you even consider it. You simply cannot feel apologetic across all parts of your life. My advice is that you remind your employer – in a soft, ‘we’re-all-in-this-together’ sort of way – that supporting working moms is good for the business, good for society, and good for his/her career (because it is).
  7. The support of your partner will also be make or break. He will need to do more parenting to make up for your absence. If you’re like us (and most couples), this will be an adjustment. But it will also be great for your kids. You already know this, but now you will have to put it into practice.
  8. You will need more help around the house. Spend some money, it will make a bigger difference than a new pair of shoes or a nice bag. We have a housekeeper. I send out the laundry, get milk delivered, buy all of our everyday groceries online, and order healthy prepared meals to keep in the freezer. Most vitally, we have an au-pair who lives with us. I know, I know – you can’t imagine having a stranger living in your house. You will get over this when you realize how important it is to have an extra parent.
  9. You will need an extra parent. This will be difficult for you to accept sometimes. But your au-pair will become a vital member of your family (if not, fire her and find another).  Although you will feel sad and even jealous watching your children cuddle her when you head out the door for an early-morning class, your children will learn that more people than their parents find them lovable and fascinating and maddening. They will learn to be flexible and accommodate differences.
  10. The EMBA passes quickly. Just as you had to grit your teeth and get through sleepless nights, tantrums, and toilet-training, it will all be worth it in the end. My daughters are already anticipating 7 July, the date I receive my degree. They have no idea what it all means. Someday, maybe they will. But at the minimum we will all celebrate having done this together.
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Posted by: Elizabeth
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When my alarm sounded at 6 am on Friday morning, I had been dreaming about term sheets. My husband shoved me out of bed and I dressed in the dark, quietly, so that our two daughters, aged 2 and 5, didn’t awaken as I was rushing to get out the door.  I hate not seeing them in the morning but I’ve learned that saying goodbye to a sleepy toddler who wants a cuddle is worse than not being there at all.

I was on my way to LBS early to compete in VCIC with a team of fellow JEMBAs. Think of it like Dragons’ Den. We were the dragons. Except that our ‘audience’ was made up of real VCs assessing our performance.

Our team was called Alcumus and we had qualified in the first round to go on to the second round and compete to represent LBS internationally. Of course none of us had any time for this – we work full-time and are deep in the throes of electives and management reports. But we’re also competitors so we promised each other we’d keep going as long as they’d have us.

Which turned out to not be too much longer. Friday started at 7:30 with the entrepreneur’s pitches and stretched into early-afternoon breakout sessions with each entrepreneur. Everything was timed. Intimidating and occasionally downright grumpy VC judges watched our every move, taking copious notes. Were they impressed with that line of enquiry? Did they think that was as lame an answer as I did? Would any of them actually make eye contact?

We bid for an online medical-records company called Patients Know Best. The NDA we signed prevents me from sharing details; all I’ll say is that my dreams of term sheets were a clear misallocation of energy.

“Did you have fun?” asked my husband when I got home late Friday night. “Did you learn from it?”

Yes and yes. It’s ok that we lost; of course it is.

With the clock ticking away behind us, we weren’t adept enough to step back and suggest to the entrepreneur another way forward towards a negotiated agreement. We reached an impasse – no deal.

The VCs’ feedback was brutal, painful – but it was bang-on. At LBS it’s often been the most mortifying experiences that have taught me the most. I think that’s part of what the EMBA is meant to do – to provide support and feedback as you push past your comfort zone and try new things. You failed, so what? Next time you won’t.

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