Teresa Taylor: Women Can Have It All, Except Work-Life Balance [Interview]

May 23, 2013

11:01 am

When women have kids, Teresa Taylor doesn’t want to see them quit their jobs or work part-time. But she does want them to throw out the idea of work-life balance.

In The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work/Life Success, Taylor shares tips and personal stories to help women “have it all.” The key, she thinks, is integrating your work and personal lives.

Taylor herself is a 30-year executive and former COO of Qwest, with two boys. Below, she explains how to succeed at motherhood and business.

Tech Cocktail: What’s the typical conception of work-life balance?  

Teresa Taylor: The typical one is that you’re supposed to be perfect at everything – you’re perfect at home, you’re perfect at the office, you’re a great wife. And this bar, these demands, are just so high.

My story’s about: just bring your life together, be one person, be present where you are, don’t try to bifurcate your lives but in fact integrate, and you will have success at both places. Just be yourself. All these skills you have from home, take them to the office; the skills you have in the office, take them home, and integrate them together.

Tech Cocktail: That’s probably easier said than done. How do you achieve that? 

Taylor: First, I talk a little bit about how to create “layers.” You can think of layers like layers of clothing – how do you have options for the day? You might get yourself dressed in the morning, and then you want to be able to take things off and put things on depending on the weather changes, and that’s how life is, too. How do you create options for yourself? Whether it be windows of time, how you deal with weekends, child care (of course), and being comfortable with delegating and asking for help.

Tech Cocktail: Can you give an example? 

Taylor: Probably the biggest layer is day care. I tried everything – I tried the day care center, I tried taking my kids to someone’s house, I did the after school, I had someone come into my house, my husband changed his schedule where he worked weekends but had off a couple days during the week. So we went through all the stages at different times and different points in their life – whatever was working at that point. I didn’t look for one answer all the time. And then I have a lot of backup; backup is other working moms, other friends. I even had to have my administrative assistant pick up my kids in an emergency!

My message on child care is: do what works for you; don’t listen to all this garbage about “Your kids must be here, must be there.”

Tech Cocktail: Can you give an example of transferring skills from home to office and vice versa? 

Taylor: Listening was a big deal. You just learn to listen better at home. At the office, you’re ready to cut people off and get onto your next task, where you don’t obviously do that at home – you’re always listening to your children or to your husband.

And my organization skills at the office is what I took home. I’m a time management person, I’m really about time and lists, and one of my big deals is I just set a time limit for myself. At work, if I’m working on a presentation, I say I’m going to work on this for one hour, and that’s it. That’s the best I can do in one hour. I don’t carry on tweaking it and working it. And the same at home – if I’m going to wrap Christmas presents, I do it for one hour, not days and days and days. And if I don’t get it done, I have to move onto plan B, which might be (in the case of Christmas presents) bags or just bows!

It’s just like delegating is a hard adjustment. As their business grows, a lot of entrepreneurs typically start with doing everything. They have to be comfortable releasing and letting other people take it on and not do it the way they would have. Otherwise you’re going to work yourself to death.

Tech Cocktail: What are your top tips for working women? 

Taylor: Create one life, and one calendar. I use that as a metaphor to just put your life together as one; don’t separate, but integrate your life.

The other is realize it’s a privilege to be a leader, so approach it that way as you’re running your company.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Give yourself a break. When you wake up in the morning, say, “I’m doing the best I can today, and today’s a good day.”

If you are in a meeting, be in that meeting and be present. If you’re at something with your kids, focus on them, be present, and be there, and don’t wish you were somewhere else and wish that something else was going on. Be where you are and give it 100 percent right then.

I think women are terrible at networking and making connections, because we think it’s frivolous time. I think especially women business owners need to make sure they dedicate extra time and energy in keeping their relationships up, both personal and business.

Tech Cocktail: Talk about one of your challenging moments. 

Taylor: I had gotten my first promotion to the vice president level, and I thought I just hit the jackpot. I had my two little boys; my husband was great. And my division that I was now in charge of was the worst performing. I couldn’t get anything together; everything was falling apart. I was missing things at home, I was missing things at the office, I was missing deadlines, my teams were non-performing. It was just a disaster – I was going to get fired, basically.

It was a wakeup call to me. I said, “I can’t do this, this isn’t working.” And I thought about quitting, and that’s when I said, “No, I can do this. I want to work, I love work, I’ve got to figure out a way to make this work.” At that point I was carrying around two Blackberrys – one for my work life and one for my home life – and I literally just threw them out and I just put it onto one Blackberry.

Then I started talking about work [at home], I started talking about home [at work], and it just started gelling. It was the failure that caused me to rethink this.

Tech Cocktail: How do women executives contribute to companies?

Taylor: I firmly believe that better decisions are made when men and women do them together. And I think there’s plenty of statistics of performance – whether it be financial performance, employee performance, whatever you want to pick.  

But it’s lonely at the top. I was the only woman executive; on some boards of public companies, I’m the only woman. So it is lonely and it’s hard. My mission is to encourage women to continue with their careers and move up into those positions, and still have their families and still feel good about it. I think it can be done. My message is: you can do it.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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