Women can have it all—but it takes balance. Media InSite CEO Allison Demas made the declaration before a roomful of female professionals at the latest monthly meeting of the Association of Female Executives of T&T (AFETT) on October 18 at the bpTT Box at the Queen’s Park Oval.
Demas was a panellist alongside UTC executive director Eutrice Carrington and Scotiabank director Giselle Marfleet. The three discussed the theme, Priorities: career, family or both? Their personal stories, which they candidly shared with the audience, encompassed details of their family and work lives. They shared the lessons that their journeys had taught them. Former YWCA president Keisha Cruikshank moderated the discussion.
Carrington showed a PowerPoint presentation illustrated with photos of her home, garden and private life. “Know yourself,” she stressed, saying this was critical in order to maximise one’s strengths and supplement weaker areas. She said women needed to build support systems and nurture relationships over time; to pay attention to health factors like diet, exercise and seek medical attention early; and to work continuously on building their technical competence and broadening their knowledge and skills base.
“Remember, your career is not forever. What happens when it’s over? You have to build balanced lives, and be sure to water your garden,” she said. Carrington disclosed that she had been working on a personal project—a bed and breakfast—for more than two and a half years. She said the project has gone slowly, “because I don’t believe in borrowing money,” to the amusement of the audience.
Having it all
Demas spoke next, saying she had opted not to show a slide presentation and would instead simply tell her story. She said she had grown up the child of professional parents who encouraged her academic goals. She said her mother, a doctor, had sacrificed her own career advancement to support that of her father, but in her own experience of married life she was lucky to have the support of her spouse—a factor that had allowed her to study for her master’s for a year abroad, to stop working when she needed to, to start her own advertising monitoring business, and to almost never have to cook.
Demas said when, after seven years of marriage, her daughter Aisha was born with learning difficulties, new and complex challenges came up. She had to balance her own desire to work outside of the home with her child’s needs, while ensuring that she was expending her energies in the right places. While addressing an international forum on copyright while serving as CEO of the Copyright Organisation, she realised she needed to walk away from that position and attend to Aisha. She home-schooled her daughter for a year. “I had to make a choice,” she said. “People ask if women can have it all. I say yes, but you have to find your balance.”
No perfect balance
Giselle Marfleet said working women often felt they were not getting the work/family balance right. “We are so hard on ourselves,” she said, “but perfect balance is unattainable.”
She said working women should remember there was no ideal and the standard of balance had to be a personal one.