Integrating work and life as women in tech
Part 5 of 5 in a series on leadership, community investment & decisive career growth from Capital One’s Women in Tech
February 23, 2022 11 min read
According to a recent LinkedIn survey, we are starting to see gender parity across many of the top 15 rising job categories. However, some of the hottest new tech roles are not on that list. How we, as women in tech, lead over the next few years will be crucial in bridging the gender gap in these technology fields. To help answer how we can make these changes on both a personal and industry level, I’ve talked to some of my colleagues at Capital One, to create a five-blog series on how to lead as women in tech.
Why integrate work and personal life as women in tech?
In its traditional use, the term “work life balance” compartmentalized work and life, setting them up in opposition to one another. Over the last year, due to COVID-19, there has been a paradigm shift in how we work. Many companies went virtual during the pandemic, with many of us still working from home a year and a half later. For many of us, all lines have blurred between work and personal life. There are no compartments.
The term “work life integration” is about bringing together the synergies between work and life. With this approach, you may find yourself better able to consider all the aspects of your life–work & career, home & family, personal well-being & health, and giving back & connecting with the community–without having to fall back on compartmentalization.
How to integrate work and personal life as women in tech
1. Practice mindfulness for personal and professional success
To have a successful career in tech you don’t need to give up on your family time or hobbies. You don’t need to work 80 hours a week or be under constant stress from an unreasonable workload. Being present in the moment, focusing on one task at a time, and ‘slowing down to speed up things’ are all great ways to enjoy the work you are doing. Taking breaks that fit your schedule and recharging as needed are an important aspect of maintaining a sustainable pace. Here are some tips on how to be more mindful at work that I have found useful in my tech career.
A few years ago I was part of a leadership program where we learnt about better integrating work and personal life by putting together all our personal and professional goals in one place. As part of the exercise, I worked through a quiz to check what I had versus what I wanted. At the end of the quiz, I was able to score my success level (meeting my career goals) and my sanity level (able to enjoy my life) on a scale of 1 to 10.
This was intended to highlight where I was meeting my goals, where I was exceeding them, and where I was falling short. Personally, this helped me appreciate the areas I was doing well in and helped me focus on tangible goals I could go after in areas where I was not. And having both personal and professional goals in one place helped relieve the pressure of walking a tightrope between the two. Once I started to view everything in terms of “success and sanity” for my holistic life I found myself enjoying what I was doing, even when it meant juggling different things occasionally.
2. Stop glamorizing overworking
Growing up, we all have heard at least once that hard work always pays off. As we start our career journeys and set out with great aspirations it’s easy to forget that sometimes working hard gets to a point where we are working too hard. Burnout, exhaustion, and lack of resilience tend to kick in when we end up working too hard. The irony is we may not even know we are overworking!
If you are a self-described “workaholic” like me, you might pride yourself in overachieving even outside of work. Maybe you strive to overachieve not only in your career, but around planning events or trips, cooking, hobbies, sports, caretaking etc. At one stage in my career I had gotten completely burnt out at work but didn’t realize it until long after. Since then, I have tried to disconnect from work over the weekend, evenings, and scheduled vacation times to help me recharge and prevent more burnout. The pandemic has certainly made it harder to disconnect, but nevertheless I try to set limits and focus on completing things in flight before picking up new efforts.
If you are trying to break the overwork cycle too, there’s help! Create a list of your personal and professional goals. Instead of trying to do it all, cross out things that can’t happen if you plan to take on newer responsibilities or learning commitments. Prioritize ruthlessly, weigh trade offs, and delegate as needed. This can give you a greater chance of avoiding burnout and enjoying what you are actually doing or planning to take on.
Don't overcommit. As an amazing leader once said to me. "If it isn't a Hell Yes, it's a Hell No!" Try to channel that opportunity to someone you know who could learn or grow from the chance to take it on.
Also as a leader, it is especially detrimental to overwork yourself as it sets the wrong example for the rest of the team. Knowingly or unknowingly, rewarding overworking behaviors often puts women in tech at a disadvantage, although it also impacts a much broader category of associates. A fear that unrealistic working hours are necessary to be successful in their careers, requiring disruptions to their personal or family time and overwork, may have a big psychological impact and derail career ambitions.
3. Prioritize your well being
I’m fortunate to be part of a team that encourages practising mindfulness, participating in fun events, and limiting after hours work related emails and messages. We meet regularly as a leadership team to support each other and find areas for improvement based on the feedback from our teams. I’ve learned a lot from our collaborations on how to prioritize our well being.
Prioritizing your physical and mental well being is the best gift you can give yourself. Because if you don’t, no one else will prioritize it for you. And the benefits of course, are multifold like staying healthy, having sharper focus, reducing stress, etc. Here are simple ways to prioritize your well being at work that I have found helpful in my tech career.
However, there may still be times when it feels like everything else takes priority above taking care of yourself. In such situations, a helpful question to help prioritize or deprioritize your task list is, “What’s the worst that could happen if I don’t do this now?” As long as the answer doesn’t include lethal or legal implications, it’s safe to assume your fears may be exaggerated and not as close to reality as they seem.
Put away things that can wait. For example, If I’m up against a soft deadline for creating a high level design for a new feature, but am not in a state to do the best I can, I would rather request an extension to the deadline and get to it when I’m in a better state to take it on. For example, I had originally intended to write this blog post six months ago but finally got to it now. There are things that come up and change the course of our original plans. It’s ok to roll with them and not try unrealistic means to hit artificial time commitments.
Take time to recharge in a way that suits you the best. Find a buddy who can keep you honest if you go off course. And as with everything else, know that the unexpected always happens. If you get called in for a production issue and spend a few hours during an evening or the weekend, make sure you carve out an alternate time to catch up on the things you missed out on in your personal time.
While I always focused on career growth, it was as/more important to me to have a quality personal life. I make it a priority to be as present as possible with my family and friends, even if I may need to put in more work later. I insist on planning time to focus on myself, too: reading, traveling, pampering, exercising, or just doing nothing.
4. Assemble a support network outside of work
In one of my previous blog posts, I mentioned the importance of having a professional network, including mentors, to help you advance in your career. In a similar vein I’d like to add that it’s also important to maintain a sustainable support network outside work to help you be successful in your personal life. A support system outside of your job that may include your spouse or partner, kids, friends, family members, or neighbors who you can reach out for help. Knowing that you are not alone, that you’re helping others & accepting help from others is a comfort in itself. Figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, and improvise with your support network team.
If you are like me and categorize everything as important, maybe try identifying one thing that you are unable to do or don’t like to do - it could be anything like baking, cleaning, getting groceries, etc. For me it was cleaning. I was obsessed with cleaning my home all by myself. But when I started to fall behind on this, I thought about it more intentionally. If cleaning my house took me three hours every week and took me away from the time I could invest in myself, I’m probably doing a disservice to myself by not hiring professional cleaners to get that job done. This became an important part of my support network.
Sometimes when your personal chores seem to be never ending and the help you are getting from others is constrained to some extent, try timeboxing. Timeboxing is an important aspect of effective time management and helps maximize productivity in everyday scenarios. Here’s a guide to timeboxing that will help you break from the perfectionism trap and not work on something until it’s completely done. Personally I choose a 10, 15 or 30 min ride during the lunch hour based on the time I have that day. Usually I listen to leadership or technical courses while I exercise, and it’s essentially timeboxed to the length of the ride I choose for a given day.
My husband and I share household chores and kid duties. I make sure to take time for my own hobbies, exercising and social life.
5. Enjoy your role in Tech
Know that you are in tech because you are good at it and let that bring joy! Regardless of everything that has gone well or not in your career, find ways to stay true to your core interests in technology. Try to remember what got you interested in the field in the first place and work to keep that spirit alive.
Make sure to celebrate small wins rather than waiting for bigger milestones. A little appreciation goes a long way. Take the time to reward yourself and others. I take time on Fridays to look back at the week and write appreciation notes to my teams and colleagues recognizing the great work that they’ve been doing.
There are little things about what we do at work that creep into our daily lives. I noticed that whenever my kids like a new recipe, I say it’s “going into a for loop.” This was something I had picked up from a friend and thought it was a pretty interesting usage of conditionals in regular conversations. While it may seem ridiculous to my kids, I’ve enjoyed adding a dash of tech humor at the dinner table.
Being in tech for 17 years, I’ve often been the only woman on the team. It isn’t easy and does require a lot of persistence. I’ve made my peace knowing that this is what I’m good at and enjoy doing. Leaving tech wasn’t an option as it would leave behind a nagging feeling that I could’ve made the situation better but didn’t. I now take into account all my experiences and guard my team from gender biases.
I want to thank Michele, Robyn, Vannia and Mariya for their help with this article. This is the last article in this 5-part blog series.
Afterword to this series
If you’ve been following through all the articles in this series, or even just the ones that are most relevant to you, I’d like to extend my sincere gratitude and share some of the context behind my “why.”
In a recent conversation with my Career Coach, whom I’ve worked with over the past four years, she mentioned that despite her expertise, there were parts of the women in tech experience that still puzzled her. Over the years, she had seen numerous junior engineers leave the field just a few years into their careers, often citing everyday challenges and the perception that the field was unwelcoming. She asked if I, as a senior manager and woman in tech, had any advice for fellow women technologists who were struggling in the field.
That got me thinking on many levels about the experience of being a woman in tech. I find myself identifying with some aspects of what these junior engineers were encountering. Yes, there is something unique about the experience of being women in tech. Building software requires creativity, a great troubleshooting muscle, empathy to better understand the end user, and is definitely a team sport.
This is probably what brings many aspiring women to this field in the first place, despite the challenges. Challenges are part of what excites engineers. Addressing these particular challenges may seem daunting, especially if you’re feeling a lack of camaraderie or support on your team. I understand that. Nevertheless, we can’t improve this field for the next group of women engineers if we don’t fight for the future we believe in and want to see.
Addressing this situation requires women to be comfortable having an open dialogue while partnering with men as allies for long lasting career impact. I’m hoping this “how to” guide, based on my own experiences and those from a group of Capital One’s women technologists, will help you overcome challenges you may be facing in your own career.
Sincere thanks to Christi Shadbolt, my Career Coach for inspiring this blog series and Kasey Smith, our technical Content Strategist for helping me pull this together.