The European workforce – from an American Woman’s POV

Throughout my 30+ year career as a woman in the US Cable Industry, work-life balance remains one of the most important, yet elusive, quests facing women in our field. It’s true we’ve come a long way, but working in Europe has me asking for better and smarter ways for women to achieve even healthier balance between work and their families.    

In my early career, there were workshops, trainings and seminars to master balancing the demands of home and work. We created primary, secondary and tertiary grids of support enabling us to be valued employees, and good mothers, sisters or daughters. And we mapped out exacting plans to manage the overtime demands that came with executive level engagement, all the while carefully stockpiling the scanty vacation allowance for that hoped-for maternity leave some day.

“Domestic Support Contingency Planning” – a fancy title for thinking through and listing those you could count on for help when domestic life spilled over the lines.

This is something that has improved over time, thanks to organizations like WICT. But first, let me tell you how I first starting getting involved with WICT and how it has changed my life for the better.  I was privileged to encounter WICT early in my career. I attended the Betsy Magness Workshop in 1990 and continued through to the Leadership Institute Class 4. I proudly served six years on the WICT Foundation board as Secretary, Vice Chair and Chair.  As part of that initiative, I (along with many other women,) launched an industry-shaking research and advocacy program, PAR – “Pay, Advancement Opportunities, and Resources for Work-Life Balance.”

PAR received a tentative reception, because ranking the best companies for female staff in the telecom industry also meant revealing where other employers were lacking. So the launch and integration took several years to be fully deployed and embraced, but it continues today as the industry standard by which companies can be measured to help improve their diversity and inclusion. I am very proud of the impact PAR has had on the industry for D&I and excited about the future as WICT continues its advocacy work.

Now flash forward to 2004-2015, my life had many personal changes. Some blessings, whereby I adopted two beautiful children from China and Vietnam. But also it was one of the most difficult times in my life, where I chose to stay out of the industry and be at home to take care of my ailing mother who was in hospice with a terminal illness. Sadly, my mom passed away in 2013 and I’m very fortunate my kids and I had the ability to have been by her side until the end.

About a year afterwards, another blessing came along. I had the fantastic opportunity to work for Liberty Global in Amsterdam. My children and I had been relatively home-bound for the three years of my mother’s terminal illness, and we jumped at the opportunity to participate in a new adventure and sold/gave away almost everything we owned to move to Europe.

That’s when I started learning all over again. In Europe, work-life balance issues weren’t just about women, nor were they necessarily issues at all. The “R” in PAR – “Resources for work life balance” had a whole new baseline in Europe.

What I had come to accept in the US as “the way it is” didn’t have to be like that at all.

Here is what I’ve learned from my time in Amsterdam:

  • The basics of “R” in PAR (work/life integration) are just phenomenal in Amsterdam. Pregnant women begin maternity leave on their 8th month of pregnancy.
  • In Amsterdam, the company pays the wages for the 4 weeks before birth and the 12 weeks after birth (the company receives compensation from the government for that benefit). In addition, paternity leave is paid for 5 days after birth. 
  • There is a “parent day” concept in Amsterdam that allows parents who have children less than 8 years old to take a day off work a week, and still retain full-time status (although their pay is reduced 20%).

While I know all these benefits in Amsterdam cannot be offered in the US, it certainly gives perspective and showcases some best practices that help achieve stronger gender diversity. WICT’s PAR research and benchmarking metrics show that finding ways to improve gender diversity within companies greatly improves work culture, boosts innovation and positively contributes to the overall success of the organization. But with everything, there is still work to be done.

The 4+ years I have spent in Amsterdam went by quickly for my family and me. I think that has to do with adapting to a culture that embodies work/life balance. This experience has given me wisdom and appreciation beyond compare. I also was fortunate to be part of the group that helped launch WICT Europe in Amsterdam. That has been one of the most satisfactory contributions in my career – to work alongside women and men here to create another international chapter for WICT. To know that they will create benchmarks to set goals and see an even better future for our daughters and sons and the parents of the future.

Women and men. Moms and Dads. Humans. I have learned that it is possible.

So just when I know what it means to pay my Aansprakelijkheidsverzekering, and have stopped gawking in astonishment at the things people do while biking (breastfeeding tops the list,) our time in Amsterdam is coming to a close. Starting in July, my family and I will be looking for our next adventure back in the US. My fabulous employment here in The Netherlands will be ending, as the company has successfully divested most of its holdings to another company. My kids will be starting high school and middle school next year, and the timing is right for a new “planting” back home to my beloved USA.

I am active in the job search mode, and thankful for the contacts and networks that WICT and this community has afforded this single mom. I look forward to continuous learning and engagement with the WICT community and finding the next chapter of my journey. After all, there is still work to be done with gender diversity – and I’m just getting started.

SHINE THEORY, SHOES, AND A NEW EUROPEAN CHAPTER FOR WOMEN IN CABLE TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Too often when I talk about WICT my female colleagues look uncomfortable. They’re not against advocating for women, not as such, but they are reticent about associating with a women’s movement because (apologetic cringe) “I’m not into all that feminism!”

Apparently, I grossly overestimated the reach and influence of the third wave of feminists such as the British journalist, author and broadcaster, Caitlin Moran or the American podcaster, Ann Friedman. But even if you managed to miss Moran’s thought-provoking and hilarious How To Be A Woman (you surely can’t avoid the film later this year) it still surprises me to learn so many of my female peers still believe that studying and working hard is the only way to earn their place at the table, and that a ‘feminist’ reputation is potential career suicide.

@caitlinmoran, on how to be a woman (summed up in one tweet):
I guess it would be “Different but equal to men, and with more shoes.”

Whatever your views on this point (and my collection of impractical shoes), it’s immediately evident that the ladies (and gents) of WICT aren’t foaming at the mouth or tearing at their hair. Our bras are firmly in place. WICT is a powerful B2B network helping advance women in the cable industry. A catalyst for industry change through research, development, advocacy and educational programmes.

This year, our 40th anniversary, and the launch of a new chapter for Europe, our call to action is Women shine. Now. More than ever.

Shine Theory is a simple idea coined by podcaster Ann Friedman: “I don’t shine if you don’t shine” (now immortalized, for better or worse, by The Killers in Read My Mind).

“True confidence is infectious.” – Ann Friedman.

The premise is that it’s far better to support your female colleagues than compete for recognition, praise and career advancement. In our especially male dominated industry it can feel intimidating to share ideas and find your voice, so instead of a race to the bottom, you can ask the support of those around you to build confidence and friendships. And you can be on a team that helps you feel comfortable approaching accomplished colleagues who in turn help and inspire you to shine.

Why now. More than ever?

It’s by now irrefutable that gender balance on boards encourages better leadership and governance, but while most business leaders know a diverse and inclusive culture is critical to performance, they don’t always know how to achieve that goal.

Liberty Global is supporting the launch of Women in Cable & Telecommunications Europe to to help our industry level up. So to my female colleagues and all friends of diversity I say, you don’t have to go it alone. Come in your craziest, cutest or comfiest shoes, and shine with WICT Europe.