March 17, 2005

Excerpts: Mother Leads Best - Part VII

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 9:04 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Myth #5: If I do take a break, I cannot get back on the fast track. The High-Achieving Women 2001 Report stated, Fully twothirds of women who left their careers would like to go back to work. (National Parenting Association, 2) While many high achievers want to return, some fear that theyve lost too much ground to get back on track. It is a myth, however, that getting off the fast track means that you cannot get back on it. When you decide to become a mother, you do not condemn yourself to mid-level or below positions when you return to work.
Again, the medias fascination with this topic has helped foster the illusion that, once you leave work for family, it will be difficult to pick up where you left off. Article after article warns of the difficulty of making up for lost time or convincing bosses that you are sufficiently serious about work to be considered for an important role.
In reality, you must battle to stay on the fast track no matter what your situation might be. More significantly, organizations dont view time off with the same suspicion as they did years ago. CEOs often take breaks in their corporate climbs without penalty. Jamie Dimon was fired as president of Citigroup and took 16 months off before being appointed CEO of Bank One. Ed Zander became CEO of Motorola a yearand-a-half after leaving his COO role at Sun Microsystems. Ann Fudge was appointed CEO two years after voluntarily leaving Kraft. And Brenda Barnes, who left a top position at PepsiCo in 1997 to spend more time with her children, returned as the COO of Sara Lee after a seven-year break.
I heard many wonderful stories about corporations who went out of their way to support their talented senior women executives during and upon return from breaks. In addition to taking maternity leave, many of these executives have taken a break for family and balance purposes at one time or another. In my case, AT&T paid me a full salary to perform public service. It is not the only company to do something like this. One of the strongest women leaders Ive known was at Sun Microsystems when she took a sabbatical to spend more time with her teenage daughter who was struggling with depression. Scott McNealy was so supportive, she said. He wouldnt even put me on a leave of absence. He paid my full salary while I took the time I needed with my daughter. Scott has three kids. He understood how important it was for me to be there for her.