How tech women can maintain work-life balance

Balance scale, Balance, work life balance

As a business leader it’s not always easy to turn off ‘work mode’. The temptation is always there to check emails before bed and set tasks for the team before the working day begins, and that has an impact on your work-life balance

Technology means that personal and work life boundaries are becoming blurred, and lead to an “always on” culture. Personally, I’ve become very aware of that as there was a danger coronavirus would make us all feel as if we were living at work rather than working from home. Partly it can be avoided by building that time in to your working day, for example having a regular check in time with the team so you’re reassured that there will be time to cover it and there’s no need to contact people out of hours.  It’s a struggle as there’s always that temptation to “just glance at my emails”; discipline and self-control is the answer!

Seniority affects your perspective as a leader around work-life balance, along with being a working parent.  In our twenties we all had lots to prove and there was almost a pride in demonstrating that you were working ridiculously early in the morning or late at night.  Seniority obviously allows you a bit more freedom and I am very aware of the juniors at Ballou and that I don’t want them to be infected with that “always on” culture.  I’d much rather they had an “always well” culture and that they are learning and working hard but happily and well within their own stress limits.

I have developed a few tricks to help maintain my own work-life balance and that of my team. For example, I try not to look at emails on holiday (as CEO I usually glance at my emails twice a day to keep on top of things) or just before bed. Obviously, I can’t impose that on the team but I try and avoid sending anything late at night or too early in the morning as that sends out a message that “I’m working, you should be too” and that’s absolutely not the case.  I leave my phone downstairs at night to charge and have an old- fashioned alarm clock by my bed so I’m not tempted to do that last minute terror scroll that ensures a terrible night’s sleep.   I’ve also found that it helps to set my own plan for the day, including downtime, before I turn my phone or laptop on, so that I feel in control of my own time and mood so whatever’s in the news or my emails isn’t going to set the agenda for me.

At Ballou, we really encourage our staff to respect their own time.  For me it’s all about working out when you work best and what’s going to help you get there. Staring dully at your screen at 2pm when you could be taking a revitalising walk that would actually make you more productive on your return makes no sense. It’s about trusting people that the work will get done and leaving them to get on with it.  Having said that, we do take various precautions to ensure that our teams get proper downtime – discouraging WhatsApp as a way of communicating with each other is one of them.  It’s too informal and too easy to send someone a work message at 8.30pm.  We do our best to encourage people to demarcate clear lines between work and home life, and we tried to foster a culture where we would only contact each other outside core work hours in an emergency.

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Time management methods such as the Pomodoro Technique can help increase spells of productivity, reduce fatigue and ultimately promote a healthy work-life balance.  Pomodoro, or anything that allows you to keep your brain calm and focused with the reassurance of a short burst rather than a long haul, works very well.

If ever I am concerned that a member of my team was over-working to the point it was having a negative impact on them personally, I sit them down and have a chat about what the rest of us could take off their plate. There’s a relief in that and also in being listened to.  I’d try to establish whether they were in a good place mentally too as serious overworking can sometimes mask something else. I would make sure they have taken their annual leave and if they have some owing, really encourage them to take it and get a break.  We have in the past threatened to cut people’s email off if they don’t go on holiday, but so far that hasn’t got past the threat stage.

With the arrival of hybrid working, it has become increasingly important to separate working hours from down-time. As an employer, embed it in your company policy that unless it is absolutely critical no-one should be messaged after hours. Your managers should make it clear that they are not always “on” and don’t expect other people to be either. This is vital, because unless the lines of demarcation are clear then, for working parents particularly, people can end up feeling guilty when they’re not with their family and guilty about work when they are.  That works for no-one.

Replying after hours gives the impression that the employee is expected to be working the same hours as you. It’s the responsibility of an employer to respect these boundaries.

My work-life balance resolutions are to be a little more structured in my day-to-day planning. I am constantly on my phone during the day and I do need to be a bit more strict with myself about it, carving out online time and separating that out from real life time. As a company we are fortunate to have lots of new business coming in so that’s obviously a very positive reason to be working hard, but maintaining work inside a boundary is an ongoing process that requires a bit of reflection; noticing new habits and checking unhelpful behaviours.

Cordy GriffithsAbout the author

Cordy Griffiths is CEO of tech agency Ballou, bringing in revenue of more than £4.5m a year and working with clients like Zendesk and Mozilla.  Over the course of her career Cordy’s clients have included Expedia, Egencia, Trivago, HotelTonight and Trip.com, developed Hotels.com’s PR presence across Europe and Latin America and in her time at Google, launched Google Street View.


Inspirational Woman: Gaele Lalahy | COO, Balance

Louise Newson and Gaele LalahyGaele Lalahy is the COO of www.balance-app.com which offers free support for perimenopausal and menopausal women.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

In my former role, I was a member of the Board at Panasonic UK, leading the company’s marketing communications across the product portfolio of brands such as Panasonic, Lumix, Technics and led the global digital campaign for Panasonic during the London 2012 Games. I am passionate about tech innovation, and I had the chance to set up Panasonic’s digital marketing and ecommerce arsenal from the start and work with many start-ups and progressive minds to bring a number of media first innovations to Panasonic.

And then after an amazing 20 years’ career I decided to jump and join Dr Louise Newson in her almost solo fight to improve women’s health around the world and became the COO of the caring, empowering, essential, digital health menopause app, balance.

Coming from a big corporate the fact that 31% women thought about reducing their working hours and 32% had thought about leaving ( 1 )  because of the impact of sub-optimal menopause support and treatment, completely shocked me.

 At balance, our mission is empower women with unbiased, evidence-based information and knowledge so they can instigate a faster diagnosis and demand access to the appropriate treatment.  The app is free and allows women to have access to personalised expert information, track their symptoms, download their personal health report to take to their healthcare professional as evidence, and have access to a support community of like-minded women.

 Since the launch, the response has been phenomenal. We have just celebrated our first anniversary and have already supported hundreds of thousands of women in over 150 countries, women to whom we have given the courage and the knowledge to go and seek the right treatment for themselves, get back to work, and thrive in their lives and careers.

We are really excited that we are starting to work with corporates on specific solutions to  help support and retain their female talents.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never did actually – but when I looked for my first job I looked at nuggets of joy I wanted to have in my working life. A big brand, a multicultural environment, and a way to fulfil my passion for Japan and sports marketing. It had to have some of these in it to make sure I enjoyed every day . Luckily Panasonic offered me them all so it’s no wonder that I stayed for 20 years. Panasonic had given me the chance to develop a passion for tech innovation and always was so focused on purpose which was something I wanted to put at the heart of my job. After 20 years in a multinational, I also felt the need to prove myself again and see what I was capable of in a small structure, without safety nets. I am so glad that  balance came to find me. It was just right.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I guess coming from a consumer electronics giant to a digital health start-up was a challenge.

But at the same time the drastic change was what excited me. I know many people want to shift careers or sector and it’s not always easy to find people on the recruiting side who believe that bringing someone with different skills, from a different sector can actually transform, resolve, bring a unique perspective.

How I did I overcome this challenge:

1 – I learned. the first thing I did was to train in the menopause like healthcare professionals do taking the accredited “Confidence in the Menopause” course. I had to be credible

2 – I then tried to unlearn - I was keen to avoid bringing anything from my old world with me, thinking, people, ways of doing things, and have the chance to take everything in, impregnate myself with my new environment, see how things were done elsewhere and build a totally new network in my new space.

3 – only then, I allowed myself to apply learnings and started to merge the best of both worlds together. Whether you work in a big or a small company in sector A B or C there are fundamentals that do not change and if you are a good marketer, have a good commercial and business sense, you can navigate everywhere, and I wish that more recruiters find the courage to recruit cross sector and cross industry.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In my first 6 months we multiplied by five the number of app downloads of the balance menopause app. Without a single penny spent on direct marketing.

This makes me enormously proud not only because I can see the impact we are having on so many lives and the more we grow the closer we are to achieving our mission to improve women’s health globally but also because never have i worked before on a product such as the balance app that is so strong that pure word of mouth has created the buzz around it.

Such a privileged place to be, team balance is that intangible team of advocates that I keep discovering every day because they come and tell us what they have done off their own back because they believe in our mission, we have posters  promoting balance in the Ministry of Defence Medical Services, NHS surgeries, pharmacies, hairdressers, celebrity endorsement and a myriad of men and women advocates who want to help their friends, sisters, mums, daughters, colleagues.

That one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I guess it’s remaining focused on the big, long term vision and removing all complacency or temptations for quick wins.

Looking at where we’ve got to, understanding how we got there and getting back to work.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Top 3 tips :

1 – Pick up a product, sector or brand that you absolutely love & believe in – because not only by giving your heart and soul the journey will be enjoyable but also if you are driven by passion you are going to be able to take anyone with you on the journey and get the support you need at every hurdle.

2 – Be focused but don’t be scared to pivot and adapt.  Be comfortable with change!

Our product roadmap has changed many times in the first 6 months, but we always remained focused on the long goal that is what is the most important. Sometimes the HOW is not the right HOW, and it is ok to pivot or change as long as you keep in line with your WHY.

3 – Learn, open your eyes and always be one or two ideas ahead of the curve

 At Panasonic we are working on a 100-year plan, that’s probably a bit much but you see what I mean!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

The number of women working in tech, 17% is staggering low and more worrying, that number has not moved in 10 years! luckily there are so many organisations such as yourselves doing so incredibly well to provoke change, but change is too slow unfortunately.

The crucial points for me are to get young girls and new grads to ride of self-limiting beliefs, surface female role models & encourage investment to back up female entrepreneurs.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

First of all, be open enough to recruit outside of the industry to bring in more women within. And then, promoting women mid-level is a huge issue. We know women are less likely than men to apply for a role if they do not fulfil 100% of the requirements. Companies must address this if they want to inspire women to come forward and realise their potential. In my previous company we created the Women in leadership course backed up by coaches & mentors to make sure that was addressed. So, promote your talents and do not be scared to tell them how good they are!

And of course, look at supporting your employees in their perimenopause and menopause journey to make sure you do not lose your best talents at the height of their career!

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would find a way to demystify the word TECH - I think there is a misconception of tech and many women feel that they are not techie / scientific/ enough to work in tech. I have been working for 20 years in tech, first in consumer electronics and now in a tech start up- never have I considered myself “in tech” really until you asked me this question!

I come from a brand and marketing background, and I run a FEM tech start-up. Yet, I do not code, I run a business.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Going back to my point about self-limiting beliefs one book has been pivotal for me in my career as a female in a male dominated environment and that is the fantastic Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg which gave me wings and confidence to dare more.

I find it crucial to be able to take risks and put yourself in a situation of potential failure and no one talks better about the Power of Vulnerability than the fantastic Brenee Brown. At balance we keep trying new things, based on what we hear women want. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but what is important is that we keep learning and moving forward.

And finally, I love getting inspiration from various industries and people, I have the chance to work with mentors in so many industries, cinema, sports, consumer electronics, tech start-ups and hearing their stories and perspectives always allow me to enrich my thinking. And to be enlightened by new thoughts and ideas and be inspired by creatives, outlines, misfits, rebels and crazy ones, there is a fantastic “extreme perspectives” podcast which I cannot recommend enough.


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How to balance your work and personal life as a rising tech entrepreneur

Balance scale, Balance, work life balance

The tech world provides remarkable opportunities to those willing to embrace its complexity, as we’ve seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

People fired or furloughed due to the tough conditions have turned their talents to the online world, finding ingenious ways to succeed and achieve remarkable career reinventions — but the intense pace of internet business takes its toll, and solopreneurs can risk burnout.

If you’re growing your brand as a tech entrepreneur and inching closer to your goals, you need to keep going, but you mustn’t do so in a way that threatens your long-term prospects. In short, you need to balance your professional life and your personal life, ensuring that you find enough free time to stay comfortable without taking your foot too far off the gas.

In this post, we’re going to offer some tips for how you manage this. Let’s get started.

Stick to a rigid schedule

Burning the candle at both ends can feel like the right thing to do when you’re just starting out and eager to prove yourself, and results can back that up: bursts of intense activity can really get your operation moving. But you can’t keep them up. If you don’t proceed with great caution, your working life can bleed over into your free time, leaving you working almost all the time.

To ensure that you don’t overwork yourself, you should lay out a strict schedule and stick to it. That means stopping work at your assigned time and getting away from your computer so you can get your mind off work. You only have so much creative energy, and you need inspiration from outside of work to refresh your ideas. Working 24/7 will quickly exhaust you.

Clearly delineate your finances

When you’re busy coding a website or trialing new software solutions, the last thing you might want to do is pore over profit margins, yet it’s absolutely vital that you do so. Running into negative cash flow can be enough to derail even a promising business. It’s all but impossible to run an effective online business without stacking up small payments: you need hosting, plugins, themes, task management tools, accountancy software, PPC ads, etc.

Now add in all the other payments you make for non-business purposes, and you’ll have a length list that can cause you no end of headaches if it gets too unruly. After all, work expenses must be viewed differently from a legal standpoint, and it would surely be exhausting to have to go through all your payments at the end of a month in an effort to sort them.

This is why you need to delineate your finances from the start. Accountancy software will surely help, but splitting your payment methods will be invaluable: every entrepreneur should apply for credit card cover as a matter of priority because they can get special business-account rates and they’ll need a dedicated account if/when they form a company. If you’re not sure how to approach splitting your finances, you can go online for help with a credit card application.

Outsource when appropriate

One of the reasons why becoming an entrepreneur is so exciting is that it takes the shackles off your potential. No longer do you need to answer to a boss and pursue only the ideas that get approved. You can do what you want to do and follow whatever path you prefer, however unorthodox it may be. This instinct to exert full control is powerful, but it can be corrupting.

The danger arises when you stay in control as your operation grows. One person can only handle so much work before they’re spread too thin, and trying to handle everything yourself will ensure that you start to run into problems. Outsourcing is the right way to go. You don’t need to hire any full-time employees — you can simply take advantage of online freelancers.

Make time for social activity

We mentioned sticking to a rigid schedule so you have a set amount of time to spend on non-work projects, but how should you use that time? You could relax by watching streaming media, playing games, or reading books. And those are certainly great ways to recover from hectic days of entrepreneurialism, but they’re missing the secret ingredient: social activity.

During the pandemic, many people have been highly isolated, and it’s left their personal lives unsatisfying. If you’re bored outside of work, you’ll end up being bored inside of work. Due to this, you must make time for social activities. Do whatever you can to spend time with friends, whether it’s online or offline. This will give you some much-needed contrast.

This isn’t easy, of course, as your friends may be busy when you’re free — but don’t just give up if you can’t find the right timing. If nothing else, you should consider meeting up with other entrepreneurs. That way you can share business advice in an informal atmosphere, giving you work inspiration but also allowing you to wind down.

About the author

Alistair Clarke is a copywriter who loves to delve into all matters technical and practical. When he's not working on content, he's dabbling in everything from design to development, or carefully nurturing his beard.


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