Balanced Leadership: Can lifestyle and gender balance at and outside of work lead to sustainability?

Such a concentration of females as there was at the 2014 Women Entrepreneurs Festival is hard to come by in the entrepreneurial sphere, and even more rare in tech. My company, Kinvolved, fits into the rare three percent of female-led tech startups that exist. I’m proud to be a feminist, and one who comes from a long line of feminists before me. Yet, I am wary of the narrative I find to prevail at many women’s events: women must expect to make tremendous personal sacrifices, even in some ways “act like men,” if they expect to become leaders within male-dominated workplaces and fields.

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I was pleased to find that the message of WE Fest was the contrary: choose the path that makes sense for you as a female leader, and empower the men around you to recognize that they neither must fill traditional male roles. In essence, women can fill gaps in the workplace left by men who take time for their families and passions outside of work and vice versa.

The conference opened with a keynote by Anne-Marie Slaughter, currently the President and CEO of the New America Foundation. Well-known in the feminist debate for her 2011 article in The Atlantic, titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Slaughter described her personal decision to step down as the Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department in 2011 (she was the first woman to hold this post), “because of [her] desire to be with [her] family and [her] conclusion that juggling high government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible.”

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I recall reading both Slaughter’s resignation and subsequent Atlantic piece in 2011. As a daughter of an active feminist who came of age during the Women’s Rights Movement, I remember feeling a sense of disappointment. However, having had the opportunity to hear Ms. Slaughter speak in person, I understand that she of course did not quit working. She took the steps necessary to ensure she could live a fruitful, well-rounded life, while retaining the stamina to remain a committed female leader. The key to success for both genders, she said, is to support one another equally both within and outside of the workplace.

I learned from Ms. Slaughter that it takes long-term commitment to create lasting change for the next generation of women, and men. The reality is that there is more to life than work. The job title, “Startup Co-founder” and phrase “well-rounded lifestyle” seemingly mix as well as oil and water. Yet, my most trusted advisor (my dad), also a social venture founder, recently told gave me the following advice: “It takes a lot of work and sacrifice to make an idea become reality, but you can’t let your work come at the expense of your personal relationships.”

Despite the lengthy days, anxiety, challenges, recognition, and successes that come with starting a venture, I’ve recently realized that sustaining my passion for Kinvolved requires me to accept that there is, in fact, life outside of Kinvolved. It is acceptable, even necessary for founders to have external interests, whether spending time with family and friends, a significant other, volunteering, or traveling. It is the responsibility of both male and female leaders to cultivate cultures that both promote quality work and balance for both genders.

Contributor: Miriam Altman, Co-founder, Kinvolved, miriam@kinvolved.com 

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