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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 10:59 GMT
Career advice: You asked the experts
You asked our work coaches for advice on your careers
As part of a series on women in business, two career experts answer questions from BBC News Online readers on how to hone their skills at work.
BBC News Online readers were asked to e-mail their questions for Joy Palmer, an author and career coach, on achieving work-life balance.

In addition, Don Campbell, a leadership expert, took questions on dealing with different management styles between men and women.

Click below to read advice about:


Joy Palmer, author and careers coach, offers advice to women looking to solve work-life crises.

Pamela from San Diego, US, asks:
I chose to work part-time to prevent my children from being brought up by someone else. However, I still feel that "superwoman" pressure of balancing work, family and MY LIFE. How come when hubbie comes in he sits down and relaxes, while I come in to more work, kids and housework?

Joy replies:
Pamela, your question is a good one. Have you directed it to your husband and kids? If they are unresponsive, then remember that homes and families always need attention and that women who work part-time can end up doing almost as much as women who work full-time. If YOUR LIFE is what is out of balance then when hubbie comes in and relaxes take off for a few hours and relax too. It sounds as though you deserve it.

WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Joy Palmer, author and coach
Work-life balance is about changing working patterns so that everyone has more choices, not just women

Joy Palmer
Mel from London asks:
I am a woman with no children but would love them. I have a heavy work load. I do not seriously think I could balance my job and the responsibility of bringing up a child. One would suffer and I would hate for it to be my child. How do you make that fragile balance work?

Joy replies:
Women who work and have children usually find ways to make sure that neither suffer. If anything suffers it is usually the woman herself. You need to become demanding if you want to make the "fragile balance" work. Expect some support and flexibility from your employer and your partner for a start. If you think support is unlikely then change your situation to one where you can seriously consider having children.

Jennifer from Munich, Germany, asks:
Why does the issue of work-life balance seem to affect women only? Aren't men with families faced with the same dilemma?

Joy replies:
Jennifer, men with families do face the same dilemma and many live to regret that they don't do anything about it. Fortunately, more people are seeing that work-life balance for men and women are opposite sides of the same coin. With continued pressure from all parties, the 21st century career will be something none of us would currently recognise.

Women feel huge relief in their thirties when they realise that time hasn't run out

Joy Palmer
Caroline from New Jersey, US, asks:
Are there any initiatives taking place in the corporate world to make it more acceptable for a man to leave work to care for his sick child or attend an important school function?

Joy replies:
Caroline, you are spot on. Many families now have much more even and flexible role-sharing than most employers recognise. And you are right the sympathy vote rarely goes to men. However, there are some companies that are more progressive on "male family rights" and if all the best people move to those companies, or advocate for similar arrangements, then more companies will change. The recession might be a temporary setback to this but long-term demographic trends are on the family's side.

An anonymous reader from the UK asks:
As a woman, I feel that everything needs to be pushed into the ages between 21 and 30 years old to carve out a career and make a difference before we are forgotten about when we decide to have a family. Men have this from the age of 21 until whenever they decide. I'm a 28 year-old graduate with an MSc and I should be confident of any achievement, but I do not feel I have long to go before I will be thrown onto the scrap heap. Why should we have to feel like this?

Joy replies:
It is tragic that so many women in their twenties feel as you do. Mostly though, women feel huge relief in their thirties when they realise that time hasn't run out; on the contrary this is the decade in which they finally hit their stride. In my experience this is less to do with ticking clocks and more to do with the way women mature and develop self-esteem. I advise you to relax. Tell yourself that your future is in your hands and that you deserve better than the scrap heap. Make it happen.

Lisa from London, UK says:
Employers often see work-life balance as meaning balancing work with the responsibilities of caring for children. I have no children, but I'd still like have meaningful time away from work to see my friends and family.

Joy replies:
Lisa, the wider debate about work-life balance concerns making work more flexible for everyone. Women with families tend to be at the centre of the debate because their situation is acute and they are still in the majority as care givers - to their own children and to their wider families. Employers affected by the so-called "war for talent" do see the bigger picture, however. Many have introduced sabbaticals, flexible working and increased part-time working in the last few years. This is perfectly valid and intended to benefit people with needs like yours.

Attractive people, regardless of gender, are selected for more high-profile work and get ahead more easily

Joy Palmer
Laura Norton from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, says:
I have worked really hard to get to where I am today. I believe I have gotten here because I believe I never had to fit any stereotypes. But now for the first time I have hit a problem. I am up for a promotion and am pregnant with my first child. I have been told that management now have serious doubts and I am really having difficulty on how to handle this.

Joy replies:
The most important thing is for you to decide how you want to balance work and the baby. If you envisage yourself with the baby and no let-up in your pace of work, then ask to be able to put that picture very clearly to whoever has a say in your promotion. Be well versed in your company's policies, your employment rights and the practical measures you have in mind for how the situation will be handled. Ensure that management's doubts and objections are also made explicit and concrete. You need to get clear whether you are up against substantive concerns or plain old sexism. From the way you describe your career to date I'm confident you can pragmatically deal with either.

Lyn Gilbert, West Chester, US, asks:
I'm an administrative assistant for a large global corporation. I feel as though I've learned enough in my present position and would like advice on how to prepare myself to apply for a position on a higher level. How can I make myself more visible to managers as a qualified candidate for other positions?

Joy replies:
Lyn, some companies are great when it comes to recognising talented administrative assistants and helping them onto a faster track. Other companies have much more rigid job categories and cultures that don't encourage people changing tracks. Find out which kind of company you are in. Ask some questions about the internal job market. Who, if anyone has successfully done what you want to do and how did they get started? If no one is supportive then you may have to retrain and/or switch to another organisation to reinvent yourself. My experience of senior woman who started out in support roles confirms that you wouldn't be the first.

Rebecca Elliott from Oklahoma City asks:
I am an attractive professional, how do I get men to focus on my knowledge and leadership, rather than my physical attributes?

Joy replies:
Men think about sex every 30 seconds, apparently. Short of genetic reprogramming, my advice to you Rebecca is corrective not preventative. Look on the bright side. You get noticed. Lots of people would willingly trade places. Attractive people, regardless of gender, are selected for more high-profile work and get ahead more easily. It is unrealistic to expect people not to notice your looks, so use them to leverage your knowledge. Don't be overtly sexy, but accept yourself as an attractive person that people will notice and want to have around. When a man makes a physical comment, don't be fazed or irritated. Simply return a comment to him at exactly the same level of appearances, and then move on assertively and naturally to a point about the work at hand.

Joy's latest book, co-authored with Philip Augar, is The Rise of The Player Manager: How Professionals Manage While They Work.


Don Campbell, chief executive of the leadership development company, Foundation, provides advice on different management styles.

An anonymous reader from the UK asks:
I am a junior associate in a management consultancy, and I love my job. However I constantly encounter problems from both clients and fellow consultants, of being taken seriously, compared to male colleagues of similar seniority. It probably doesn't help that I am blonde and quite young-looking. How can I get myself taken more seriously, without turning myself into a frumpy "ball breaker"?

MEN AND WOMEN
Don Campbell, Foundation
The 30-year-old man who clings to notions of innate male superiority doesn't look like a charming dinosaur these days

Don Campbell
Don replies:
First I suggest you do some assertiveness training as this will help you to learn how to get your point across without raising your voice and increase your confidence to stop seeing yourself as a "quite young looking blonde" as you may be subconsciously putting out the message that this is what you are.

Danny from London asks:
There are some broad leadership/working styles which are more common to women than men. I always found that I had a greater insight into the way men do it (being male myself). I now find it difficult working under an all-female management structure. I find my boss whilst keen to criticise does not communicate when she is pleased with my work. When I keep on asking her for comments she seems frustrated. I am finding myself descending into a downward spiral of lower self-confidence. How can I understand this management style and respond to it better?

Don replies:
Whether your boss is male or female it makes no difference to your situation. The problem as I see it is one of a lack of communication and respect between you and your boss. I suggest you take your courage in both hands and ask your boss for a one-to-one as you would like to be clearer in their expectations of you. Also I suggest you stop asking her for reassurance as it appears she finds it difficult to give you, and, the more you ask the less she respects you, which is the main issue.

An anonymous reader from the UK asks:
How do I get my boss to give me a pay rise?

Don't rely on a structure to get you where you want to go, rely on your own ambition and drive

Don Campbell
Don replies:
Interesting question! Try applying some quality thought and quality application to your work.

An anonymous reader from the UK asks:
How do I get ahead in an office where there is no defined career path or hierarchy?

Don replies:
Become more self-sufficient and more self-directed. Don't rely on a structure to get you where you want to go, rely on your own ambition and drive, a career path and hierarchy by its very nature will only limit you.


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