Work + Life: Finding the Balance

The ATLAS Institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder is an agile, campus-wide catalyst for multidisciplinary curriculum, research, and outreach involving the content and tools of Information Technology. As Executive in Residence for ATLAS, one of the things I do is help coordinate and lead a three-week summer technology camp called DigitalCUrrents , which just ended last week.
DigitalCUrrents is a partnership between ATLAS and the Denver Public School System’s Computer Magnet Program; during the three weeks, we bring together technology students and teachers from higher-ed, high school and middle school for a unique experience centered around technology and leadership.
Although we’ve emphasized girls’ attendance in the past, this year is the first year the camp’s participants were exclusively young women. We were fortunate to welcome Jo Sanders, an internationally recognized expert of gender equity, to the camp; she worked with several middle school teachers to create an action-based research plan for their classrooms. NCWIT Senior Research Scientist Lecia Barker also participated in the camp.
We had a great time: DigitalCUrrents was a wonderful success. I always enjoy myself because it gives me a chance to hang out with K-12 students and to get a glimpse into their world. It also modernizes my vocabulary!
One morning, Lecia, Patty Cerna (of Sun Microsystems) and I spent several hours talking to the high-school girls about being a woman in a technology profession. The conversation was far-reaching, covering lots of territory. One issue that particularly stood out was work-life balance. This was not surprising, since this issue comes up over and over again in all the findings NCWIT and others compile. Cindy Goral, VP at the Anita Borg Institute , recently attended an event sponsored by Catalyst entitled “Women and Men in the Workplace; Partnering for Success” where the issue was a hot topic, underscoring that it’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a generational issue. As a former industry executive, I know this issue is familiar. And as a mother of two grown sons, I’ve had my own experience with how it affects both genders.
And yet, there’s been little real progress in our country. According to the recently published World Economic Forum “Gender Gap Index”, the US ranks 42nd out of 58 countries in the “health and well being of women,” a major component of which is the availability of parental leave and child-care. The report goes on to link the gender gap to a country’s overall competitiveness.
So, what can we do? How can we help the young women, like those who attended DigitalCUrrents, achieve some type of satisfying work-life balance? How can we help any parent raise a family?
How did I do it? I had bosses who allowed me to work a flexible schedule, who were comfortable with work at home well before it became a fashionable way to save money, and who understood if I phoned in from the sidelines of a soccer game (in fact, they cheered along with me.) I, in return, was always reachable, worked hard in a pinch, and produced excellent results. My sons always knew what product I was working on, and would sometimes come into the office with me at night if I needed to finish up some testing. Somehow, I managed to integrate work and family in a way that made it all work out. This is impossible in many professions (I’m sorry to say), but it should be possible in IT professions, right?

Lucy Sanders is co-founder and CEO of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and serves as Executive in Residence for the ATLAS (Alliance for Technology, Learning, and Society) Institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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