How women can get their work-life balance right

Women in Tech

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As CEO of recruitment specialist YoungCapital, I’ve experienced that running a business isn’t something you do ‘on the side’. You’re fully responsible for a company and its people, which I find very rewarding. But it also means you have to be fully committed because the work never really ends. At times, it may be challenging to keep up with the pace, especially when you have a family. How can you safeguard the right work-life balance? In my experience, it depends – for the most part – on making clear decisions on how to organize your life. Which isn’t always easy. I believe leaders play an important role in encouraging people to take autonomy in how they organize their time. If you give people this freedom, you’ll see their flexibility increase. Which leads to more peace of mind, more balance and better performance.

It depends - for the most part - on making clear decisions on how to organize your life.

Autonomy is the key

To me, balance is not so much a sharp line between work and my private life, as it is the sense of peace of mind. It’s a type of peace that’s coupled with the freedom to spend my time in my own way and create my own work schedule. Then nothing feels like a must-do and I can truly look at my week as seven days with many hours in which I can do a lot. Of course, there are certain frameworks – we have standard office hours – but the boundary between my work and private life is not that sharp. For instance, I often get up early to do some running before work. When I know I’ll be working late in the evening, I’ll often sort out some private things during the day. Because it all overlaps, I’ve noticed that it’s easier to move with the flow and maintain a peaceful mind. But I’ll admit: it can be challenging sometimes.

Still a struggle for women

At YoungCapital, we regularly organize management sessions where I talk to my managers from all over the country. I not only enjoy having these conversations, but they also give me a chance to hear what’s going on within the company and to learn more about daily struggles that people face. What I’ve noticed, is that on these occasions, I often get the question ‘How do I cope with combining work and my personal life?’. Apparently, this is still something women struggle with – men never ask this question. Where does this struggle really come from? 

Making choices

I see – and this is simply part of our culture – that women automatically take on a variety of roles. This is especially true in our home situations: we want a career, but we also want to take care of our children, take on the housekeeping duties and have an active social life. My husband and I have made certain agreements about how we organize things at home with our two children. If you have the ambition to take on a top position, there are certain choices you’ll need to make together with your partner. Over the course of time, I’ve changed my perception on this. I always thought I was very emancipated, because I believed it was possible for both a husband and a wife to have big careers and have a family. I’ve learned this is truly an illusion. Sure, there are definitely success stories. But those mostly include the presence of au pairs or parents and in-laws that are always at home to help out and take care of all the household duties for you. In reality, you’ll need to make a choice about who’s going to pursue their career and who will stay at home more often.

Meeting expectations

There are always certain expectations that we want to meet, whether they come from your boss or your partner. That’s often where the struggle lies: truly feeling you have the autonomy to make decisions that help you keep your balance. I’ve noticed this is harder for women than it is for men. Women will say in job interviews: “I want a leadership role, but I also have children that I need to take to school. Is that possible?” As if there are no male CEOs who bring their children to school – but they don’t ask for permission. They just do it. I would like to tell these women: recognize your autonomy, just go for it and organize your situation in a way that suits you best. Instead of choosing to work part-time so that you can pick up your children, I’d rather give you a full-time salary and encourage you to commit yourself. How you organize it all, is up to you.

Exemplary role

This is exactly what I see in our management team. The team includes different women with different backgrounds, who have all found their own way of making things work in their work-life balance. The most important thing is that they take responsibility and always step up when it’s necessary. How they shape their roles, or plan their working hours, isn’t all that relevant to me. If I know you’re working hard and fully committing yourself, do you think I mind if you want to take your child to the zoo on a Thursday afternoon? Of course not. I think it’s great that you feel free to make your own choices to safeguard your life-work balance. Because I believe this will ultimately lead to a peaceful mind. And make you sharper and perform better. In fact, as a leader, I believe it’s important for me to set an example to my employees. If I didn’t approach it this way and didn’t feel that autonomy myself, I wouldn’t be able to stimulate others to do the same.

About the author

Ineke Kooistra has been the CEO of YoungCapital, a leading Dutch recruitment agency, since 2013. She has more than 25 years of experience in the recruitment and secondment industry. Ineke has also set up and expanded various specialist roles within the IT staffing market. Her role as CEO is to get people moving in the right direction and to motivate and coach them. She likes to be a facilitator to her employees and she describes her style as servant leadership, saying: “Tell me what I can do to help you.”

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