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How to juggle work and family? Local author has new advice: Take a pause

Author Lisen Stromberg

Local journalist and author Lisen Stromberg first began to explore the question of how to balance work and family when her son was just a few weeks old. While gathering with other new mothers at Stanford Hospital, Lisen noticed how quickly the talk turned from sleep and nursing to the challenge of working once maternity leave was over.

That’s because while the women all had different Silicon Valley careers, they shared a common reality: there was no roadmap for how to juggle work and family. Lacking employer policies to support working mothers, they would have to forge their own paths.

A surprising insight on how women balance work and family

Many years and career turns later, Lisen reflected on how they each navigated this journey and an insight emerged. “I looked back at the women in my new mother’s group and noticed that almost all of us decided to take time away from at some point to attend to our families. Although most of us eventually went back to work, this ‘pause’ surprised me. I decided to find out how widely this strategy is used by women in other parts of the country.”

New book explores the real choices made by working women

The result of Lisen’s exploration is her new book called, “Work, Pause, Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood without Killing Your Career.” In it she offers a new way to understand the choices made by working mothers beyond the media stereotypes of ‘having it all,’ ‘leaning in‘ or quitting for full-time motherhood.

Surveying 1,500 women to find out more

As a good journalist, Lisen wanted to start with the facts, so she researched how women’s career choices are influenced by family demands over time. Perhaps not surprisingly, statistics were hard to come by. So Lisen created the “Women on the Rise” survey, and gathered responses from almost 1,500 college-educated women across the country. She also conducted in depth interviews with a wide range of women to learn more.

Women across the country ‘pause’ and thrive

While the women who responded to Lisen’s survey were diverse in terms of economics, race and geography, 72% had one thing in common: they had paused or downshifted from careers to care for their families. And 89% of those who had paused returned successfully to the workplace, although many pivoted to new roles or professions.  As for why the remaining 28% never took a break, economics were a factor, but workplace flexibility was by far the most important influence on the women’s ability to stay on a consistent professional track.

Lisen Stromberg moderating a panel of women. Photo credit: Lisen Stromberg

Women are re-shaping the workplace

“Faced with inflexible workplace policies, many women have to create untraditional, non-linear careers that will allow them to keep working while also taking care of their children,” Lisen explained. “But a generational shift is coming that will force employers to start paying attention to these issues for all workers, if they are to keep talented men and women over the long term.”

Millennial men aspire to be engaged parents too

That shift is the rise of millennials in the workplace, who are much less attached to traditional gender roles. The young men of today want to be engaged fathers, and they are demanding that companies make that possible. “64 million millennials are about to become parents and this is going to have huge impact on employers,” Lisen said. “Over 70% of millennial fathers reported changing jobs to have better work-life balance, and managers are noticing these trends.”

Photo posted by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Silicon Valley companies lead the way

That’s why innovative companies like Facebook and Google are eager to publicize their generous policies for paid leave for both mothers and fathers, along with their childcare benefits. “These companies want to attract and retain the best talent, so they are leading the way in providing policies that allow parents to attend to their children and excel at work,” Lisen said. “And as Silicon Valley goes, so goes the country; policy changes are likely to spread from these innovative companies rather than from lawmakers in Washington.”

What’s different? Today’s men ‘want it all’

Need more evidence that men are as interested in Lisen’s message as women? She recently spoke at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis and it was the male students who peppered her with questions. As Lisen explained, “Their message to me was simple: ‘We want it all also.'”

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About the author

Victoria Thorp

Victoria Thorp

Victoria is the founder and editor of Palo Alto Pulse and has lived in Palo Alto since 2007. Victoria's diverse professional background includes working as the editor of GreatSchools.org , as a senior writer for KIPP and Teach for America, and as a radio producer for City Visions on KALW (91.7FM San Francisco). She is a graduate of Leadership Palo Alto and a member of the Palo Alto Partners in Education Advisory Board.

She has a BA in English from Tufts University and Masters in Education and Secondary Teaching Credential in English from UCLA.

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