How can women succeed in the engineering field while making room for other priorities such as caring for family and finding time to exercise? Gunjan Aggarwal, global head of talent acquisition for Ericsson, addresses the work-life balance in a recorded IEEE Women in Engineering webinar.
Aggarwal considers it her life’s work to help people grow in their careers and personal lives, and she practices what she preaches. She and her husband have busy careers while raising two active boys, ages 7 and 11. She has been able to find success in the workplace, she says, while staying true to her needs.
Achieving an equable work-life balance, she says, requires internal and external focus, meaning you must look inside yourself as well as outside to find the opportunities available to you.
The internal focus starts by asking yourself questions such as “What would maximize my satisfaction in work and in life, whether it be every day or over a period of time?” and “What are some tasks or activities I want to accomplish on a regular basis that are non-negotiable if I’m to be happy?” Aggarwal recommends breaking down the answers to manageable goals—which she points out is important to do to “stay centered.”
For Aggarwal, being satisfied in her career meant being creative and innovative. That goal not only benefited her ambitions but also her employer.
For example, as a manager at the Unilever facility in Bangalore in 2000, she led a team composed of men and women—a rarity in India at the time. She made it a point to regularly research diversity and inclusion practices, which she then put into practice. For example, she asked female representatives to attend union meetings—usually an assignment for men—and provide their perspective. She also organized a training program on time management targeted toward working women at the company.
When addressing your external focus, she says, call on assistance from different resources. The first resource to consider is your personal infrastructure: family, friends, and community. Recognize the people around you who are available to help. “Knowing who to turn to takes the pressure off in all sorts of situations,” she says, “such as when raising kids or caring for elderly parents.”
Find out what benefits your employer offers to help you strike a better work-life balance. Flextime, for example, typically lets employees adjust their hours so they can, say, drop off their children at school or take courses at a university. Other popular policies include telecommuting from home and limiting travel after maternity leave.
“Everyone would like to live a life that is more holistic,” or true to who they are, Aggarwal says.
She also suggests looking to technology as an aid. She uses the Pocket app, which allows her to save articles for later reading. She looks for articles about diversity in the workplace and other topics that meet her work and personal goals, and tags each one with keywords.
Putting your needs in a hierarchical order lets you allocate more time to what matters most to you.
That was a critical lesson Aggarwal learned after realizing that the home office she designed was not helping with her work-life balance as much she had expected. In part, this was because she was communicating with colleagues day and night. Even worse was that she never saw her coworkers in person and was not energized by communicating with them via telephone or Skype alone. In the end, she altered her calendar so she was working in the office a few hours each day to foster more face-to-face interactions.
Ultimately, she says, a good work-life balance requires focusing on the important things in your life. The first step is figuring out what those are.
The webinar, part of a series in which female engineers discuss issues they face, is available on the WIE YouTube page.
This article is part of our April 2016 special report on women in engineering.