With more women occupying high-profile corporate and government positions than ever before, an honest discourse about work/life balance is beginning to unfold on the public stage. From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talks going viral to former Obama administration official Anne-Marie Slaughter’s June cover story in The Atlantic, the central question at the core of this dialogue is, Can women have it all?
Putting Balance on the Back Burner
Lisa Jones, a Managing Director and Global Head of Sales and Distribution for Morgan Stanley Investment Management, and married mother of two, knows all about the daily struggle women face when they strive to have it all. “For the first few years of a woman’s career, we tend do extremely well,” Jones explained when I sat down with her in June. “Yet, about 8 to 15 years into our jobs, a lot of women walk away. Navigating the growth of your career with the growth of your family is extremely challenging.”
Jones contends that the goal of achieving work/life balance was not a useful one for her. “I was able to prioritize more effectively when I accepted that there really is no such thing as balance. The crucial thing is to focus on what is most important at that very moment.”
By dropping the quest to achieve so-called balance, Jones was able to accept that sometimes her family would have to come before her work and vice versa. “It wasn’t easy,” Jones said. “There were times when I couldn’t pursue positions I wanted because it would have been too disruptive to my home life. But I always tried to expand my career so that when those opportunities came up again, I would be able to take advantage of them.”
Be The Most Prepared
Jones went straight from college to a sales position at EF Hutton. “I was so ambitious when I was young. I always made sure I was the most prepared person in the room,” Jones explained. “The financial services industry was incredibly male-dominated back when I was just starting out in 1984. I knew that some people would just see me as an inexperienced young woman, so I tried to be as knowledgeable as possible.”
Even though her ambition and tenacity were mostly recognized and rewarded, Jones did encounter some resistance. “There is a type of discrimination in style that existed when I started out, and may still exist today. Women who are really tenacious and type A, can come off as being too aggressive. I’m more mindful of it now than I was back then. I have not changed who I am or how I present myself, but it is crucial to learn to read your audience,” she said.
Escaping the Comfort Zone
In 2010, when Jones was deliberating a major career move, she sought out the counsel of her most trusted advisors – her two teenage daughters. “I was offered a really great position at Morgan Stanley,” Jones recalled. “But, everything in my life was going great. I worked for a fabulously successful company. My job and my family were thriving. Why in the world would I want to change anything?”
Jones’ family was based in Boston and the job was out of New York, so it was crucial that she consult her children and husband about the possibility of taking the job. “I sat down with my family to go over the options,” Jones said. “And my youngest daughter, who was 12 at the time, gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. She said, ‘I know you. If you don’t take the job, you’ll always wonder if you made the right decision. It’s better to try something than to never have had the experience and live with the regret.’”
Jones laughed, “Remember this is my 12 year-old. But she was totally right! It is easy to stay in your comfort zone. It is hard to make a change, especially when everything is going really well, but that is when it can be the most beneficial. That is how growth happens and how success follows.”
Keys to Success
Jones, who is on the advisory board of Morgan Stanley Women’s Business Alliance, is thoroughly involved in mentoring emerging executives and sponsoring women executives. “As I travel all over the world for business, I’m always sure to connect with whoever heads the local chapter of the Women’s Business Alliance, so that I can talk with my female colleagues all over the world. And, back in New York, my door is always open to anyone who has questions about how to advance their career or juggle family and the demands of their job.”
When I asked Jones to list what skills she encourages emerging executives to develop she said, “Number one – you must be absolutely passionate about what you do. Number two – always bring your A game. Be completely prepared for every meeting and every scenario. This industry is very competitive and it is very hard to change the initial perception that someone has of you. And finally, take risks and get out of your comfort zone. Once you feel comfortable you have to push forward because you’ve outgrown the opportunity you’re in. When everything is good, it can be hard to make a change. But, I’d say, that’s when you have to do it.”