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International Women's Day Panel Q&A

Catherine Adams

For the second year in a row, Prosek Partners celebrated International Women’s Day by hosting a lively and frank discussion with fellow Prosekians on topics relevant to the year’s theme. This year’s theme was Balance for Better, so the panelists had the opportunity to share how they balance their personal and professional lives – whether that be work, school, kids, other passions, etc. The panelists explored how they’ve managed to tackle their busy work life while dedicating uninterrupted time with their family outside of the office. 

The panel featured Jen Prosek, Managing Partner and mother of an 11-year old daughter, Kate Dillon, Senior Vice President and mother of six-month-old twins, Emily Tracy, Senior Vice President and mother of a four-year old daughter and 15-month son, Hillary Ziegenhagen, Senior Vice President and mother of a three-year old son, and Netanel Spero, Account Supervisor and father of a 10-month old son. Below is an abridged version of the panel discussion.

What do you wish you told yourself about work life balance in the early years?

Emily: I had a working mom growing up, so I thought I knew what to expect. The biggest struggle for me has been that my identity is now limited to three things. I’m a mom, a wife and an employee. I’m not able to be a friend or a couch potato like I was before; there’s just not enough time.

I would have told my past self to enjoy my 20’s and early 30’s and all the free time that came with it.

Hillary: I would tell my past self that having work life balance isn’t just for parents. You deserve it when you’re 22 and you just want to stay at home and hang out with your cat or go to spin class.

You deserve a break to have dinner with girlfriends. We get too focused on what’s happening in our work life now as we think it’s going to define our entire life. But, you shouldn’t let your work take away from your life.

Netanel: Becoming a parent has introduced so much structure to my life. The best advice I would give is to treat life as if you already have a child. Commit time to the things that actually make a difference. Having structure doesn’t have to take away from your free time; it will enable you to dedicate your time to things that are more meaningful.

Jen: I would say that you should know yourself and be more confident than you probably are. I never put the backpack on and did three months in Europe when I was young. But life is long. You have to take advantage of the years when you don’t have as much responsibilities to others.

How do you define ‘work life balance’?

Jen: I’m in control of my life and work and schedule. You see that I work on the weekends, some of you get my emails, but I work on the weekends when I want to work on the weekends. If I want to play Monopoly with my kid or see a movie then I do it, maybe I’ll work that evening but, in the end, I control my day.

Kate: I think the mistake is thinking that a successful work life balance means it’s a 50/50 split. It’s not 50/50, it never is. Yesterday was the first time that my nanny called in sick, and that day I needed to give more of my time to my family. Other times work might win. For me, it’s less about achieving work life balance, and more about integration; you can find ways to make your job and life work together.

Hillary: When I told my husband that I would be talking about work life balance, he laughed at me. Even when your son runs naked through a video conference call, you have to take a step back and look at the week and month and determine what your balance looks like.

What are your non-negotiables in life?

Emily: There’s no better feeling for me than putting my kids to sleep. My second non-negotiable is me-time on the weekends. My husband gets up and takes care of breakfast for the kids and I stay in bed.

Hillary: I leave for work before my kid wakes up and I work on a few projects after he goes to sleep but I have two hours out of the day that are for me and him. It’s our uninterrupted time to spend together.

Jen: I never had a non-negotiable before I had kid. But looking back, I should have had one. I didn’t realize the amount of time I had before I had kids.

Culturally, how do you feel that the culture of companies has changed over the years?

Kate: Even just ten years ago, people didn’t really talk about their home life at work. Now we see that it’s important to create a culture where you can bring your whole self to work.  

Hillary: There are things in everybody’s life that are different. It’s okay to say I had a stressful week at work, and something fell through the cracks. We are knocking down the rules about what you can and cannot say. We have people at Prosek who leave work early to pick up their kids or go to little league games – that’s a conversation that you can have now.  

Who has been a key influence on your life?

Emily: I had a mom that climbed the corporate ladder growing up. She was an inspiration.

Kate: She’ll hate me for saying it, but Caroline (Harris) is a role model for me. Caroline and I share an office and, before I had kids of my own, I sat next to Caroline while she went through the process of starting a family and coming back to work. I saw that she could be a Partner at the firm, a mom and a wife, and make it all work. It’s one thing to talk about how it’s possible, and another to see it.

Netanel: My mom is my role model. She was a stay-at-home mom and then she went back to work when I got older. My mom has progressive ideas but was also a stay-at-home mom. I often reflect on the role she has had on my life, how her value has truly been instructive.

What are your non-negotiables outside of child care?  

Kate: I’m a little bit of a nerd and really like academia. Prosek allowed me to flex my schedule so that I could become an adjunct professor at Fairfield University and pursue my passion.

Hillary: I’m still working on having moments where I remember who I was before I had my child. I love going to the movies by myself. I still like to carve out those 2-hour moments when I can. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it makes a difference.  

Parting thoughts or advice?

Jen: I’d say that having young children is actually the honeymoon stage. Once they hit homework, you’re cooked! I had this ‘guilty mommy syndrome’ when my child was young, so I didn’t want to travel. Looking back, they (young children) don’t know and they don’t care if you travel for a few days. In the end, you may not have quantity of time, but quality is everything - so live in the moment.

Net: Your balance needs to constantly be evaluated. You can think there’s balance, but when you step back, it’s not what you hoped or thought. Constantly evaluate.

Hillary: They say it takes a village but it’s really about building a village. Find people that are a positive influence on your life and can help make your quest for balance easier.

Emily: Establish boundaries. Mandate what comes in what goes out.

Kate: It’s important to find your tribe and accept support when you need it.

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