Women, Work and Family: One VP’s Solution

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Helen, second from left

with rifle “consulting” in Pakistan “How do you it all?” Accomplished women with kids constantly get this question.

Helen Philbrook, married and mother of three, from Raleigh, NC, has the answer.

Your Business Blogger recently sat down with Helen and her husband David to learn the secret.

She’s a former Vice President of an environmental testing firm, and perhaps the world’s first female “Smoke Stack Sniffer.” She’s run a number of start-ups.

But Helen says she’s now “followed her passion to gardening.” Her company Tiger Lily’s is an award-winning firm that gives her what she needs most:

Flexibility.

She was well-prepared. Helen has an M.S. in Environmental Engineering and Science, studied Garden Design in London, and completed a series of international consulting assignments. In a male-dominated business. Where she learned:

Negotiation.

The greatest challenge women face in business is learning to negotiate.

“I first learned to negotiate with myself,” she says. “I made a decision to balance and to do what was really important for me: marriage and children.”

But she also negotiates with her clients. Hard. She establishes upfront contracts with the explicit understanding that her family will come first.

Family.

The tipping point was an 11-day business trip. She left her then-only child with David, who arranged his schedule to be home. Everything went well. (David is that kind of guy — with his own story.) Nothing went wrong. . . she just missed her daughter too much.

She was attempting the conventional time balance that she describes as, “Thirds, 1/3 husband, 1/3 children, 1/3 work. But something [had] to give.” There weren’t enough hours.

And Helen felt that, “Anything can happen with kids.”

She now has a new view of the family dynamic. As a total household enterprise.

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Helen, Vice PresidentShe says, “A family cannot have two corporate climbing spouses [with children].” So she re-calculated the ‘Thirds Formula’ to following Pareto’s Principle of 80/20.

“One spouse has to give 80% to supporting spouse and children, leaving 20%, if that, for work,” she says. Kids take time.

Children.

She is an advocate of “sequencing” for women — marriage, children, work. Helen says a woman can always have an “ambitious career.” After the kids are in school. She knows she will anger feminists.

Helen says about husband and wife as an economic unit that, “Somebody has to take the [minimum wage] bank-teller job,” because kids change everything.

Looking for flexibility for her family, she used her negotiation skills and started another business to fit her own needs. It happens to generate a bit more than minimum wage, but money was not the goal.

She put her family first and income followed.

Helen’s path to workplace independence with flexibility, was not smooth. Twenty-something women could learn from her.

She has advice to young women starting out. Where the fear is that they will get behind the power curve. “Not so.”

Helen says, “Your career is still waiting for you.”

After your children.

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Thank you (foot)notes:

Full Disclosure: Helen is my sister.

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No Speed Bumps has Women in Engineering.

Alas, a blog has Homeward Bound.

Basil’s Blog has Breakfast.

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