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Moderator's Perspective: Achieving Work/Life Balance

The critical issue of work/life balance was a common thread that ran through a majority of the panel discussions at the 11th Annual Dynamic Women in Business Conference. Is it possible for a woman to maintain equilibrium when faced with the numerous disparate roles and responsibilities that lie at the intersection of work, family, community, and personal interests?

The four women on the work/life balance panel, “Measuring Success Beyond the Office Walls,” offered their personal perspectives on the many facets of this question. Their views were based on having simultaneously fulfilled a number of roles throughout their careers: wife, mother of either three or four children (three of the four panelists had twins!), and distinguished business leader.

The panelists, Helena B. Foulkes, Vice President of Marketing at CVS Corporation, JoAnn Heffernan Heisen, Vice President & Chief Information Officer at Johnson & Johnson, Shari E. Redstone, President of National Amusements, and Beth K. Roberts, Partner at Accenture, talked openly about the challenges and difficulties they have faced in attempting to achieve balance in their lives. Contributing to that discussion was moderator Sharon L. Weinberg, Professor of Quantitative Methods and Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs at New York University, whose daughter, Allison D. Weinberg (OF), organized the session.

To underscore the notion that work/life balance reflects a series of personal and professional decisions, opportunities, and circumstances, each panelist began by describing her own personal definition of work/life balance. For some, it meant taking ten years off to raise children and then return to work; for others, it meant not even taking a full maternity leave.

For some, it meant raising children as a single parent in the face of divorce, relying on nannies, executive assistants, and close friends for kinship and support; for others, it meant figuring out how to divide up responsibilities with husbands, and finding time when their children were away to keep their partnerships strong.

For all, support systems played a crucial role. The panelists described their husbands as “heroes” or “prince charmings” by their willingness and ability to contribute more than fifty percent to family and household matters. Interestingly, each panelist described her path to success as nonstandard, implying that a standard path might possibly exist.
In the final analysis, however, the panelists’ intimate accounts revealed that standard paths do not exist – that each woman’s preferences and decisions must, by nature, be different. Setting boundaries and priorities, being resilient in the face of life’s unplanned challenges, and staying committed to achievable goals, however, were instrumental in all four panelists’ paths to achieving balance.

February 4, 2002
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