Work/life balance at the top? Get real

Much is written about achieving a work/life balance, particularly in the context of attracting women to the upper echelons of corporate life. In the run up to the FT’s ranking of the top 50 women in world business, I have been asking some of the highest-achieving women in the world whether it is possible to “have it all”.

As an aside, the vast majority of women in the ranking have climbed the corporate ladder while bringing up a family. They may be super-achievers, but not at the expense of their desire to have children.

Sara Mathew, chief executive of Dun & Bradstreet, believes women need to do a better job of mentoring younger women coming up behind them, and that means confronting some bald truths.

She says:

“I’m asked how I balance my life and I go, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It’s a touchy subject so we don’t talk about the really reallys.”

It is not just women who have to make tough choices if they want to succeed, says Nancy McKinstry, chief executive of Dutch publisher Wolters Kluwer:

“I think … to get to the top of any organisation requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice – for men and women.”

Imperial Tobacco’s Alison Cooper argues that having something other than work in your life has benefits.

She tells me:

“I think it is important to try [to switch off] from a personal energy perspective and for what you do in the business. With two daughters you tend to get a bit diverted onto other things anyway.”

For Maggie Wilderotter, chief executive of Frontier Communications, it’s about separating work and non-work.

She explains:

“As a chief executive of a large public company you never really switch off. But I do compartmentalise. I work every day even when I’m on vacation, but if I work two hours, I’ve got 22 hours when I’m not working and if I’m on personal time I’m not worrying about emails. I’m good at being in the moment.”

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