Women spark a better work-life balance for all
"I said to my whole team at the beginning of the year: 'He's a hockey player, 45 games. I'm not missing a game,'" said Riley, 50.
That meant she often had to leave meetings early. She flew home mid-business trip and flew back after the game. It was important to be there for her son and, as a leader, to help create a culture at Ally that supports a work-life balance.
"It set a tone for my team, especially for the other women," Riley said. "You really have to have the bravery to just do the things that are important to you."
The 10 Leading Women who took part in an Automotive News roundtable this summer agreed that striking a work-life balance is a challenge for men and women. But they say men are less honest about it, creating the impression that women have a special need.
Many women in senior positions say they have made career sacrifices for their families. But in doing so, they also felt that as leaders they were helping to shape a culture for the next generation, one that allows employees to set boundaries.
FCA executive Marissa Hunter, 41, said there are two components to a work-life balance.
"The first are the programs or parameters that your organization is going to put in place," said Hunter, FCA US' director of brand advertising and head of advertising for Ram. "Call it institutionalized work-life balance. The other side of it, especially as women, is to give yourself permission to balance your life."
"You can't put the BlackBerry down or the iPhone for an hour," she said. "You need to show your value and that you're on top of your game."
But, she added, "give yourself permission to get a pedicure."
Self-permission is part of mentorship, the panelists agreed. Magna International's Carrie Uhl advises younger women to set boundaries early.
"Know what you can live with, what kind of mother you want to be, what kind of wife, what kind of daughter. Once you know exactly where your lines are, the rest will come," said Uhl, 42, Magna's vice president of procurement for the Americas. "You'll know when it's time to put the phone down and that's the life you want to lead."
That's what happened for Janet Barnard's daughter.
"I was pulling in my driveway one night with my 16-year-old daughter," said Barnard, president of Manheim North America. "It was after a long day at work and then an evening event of some kind, which happened all the time. She said, 'Mom, there must be an easier way.' And I said, 'You know, I hope you find it.'"
Her daughter, now grown, is a pharmacist.
"She found a way, and that's really what we want for our daughters," Barnard said. "It doesn't have to be that they do it the way we did it."
"I'm not sure men are allowed to be honest about it -- that they're missing their kids' activities and they don't like it," said Barnard, 56. "Socially, men are expected to be the breadwinners and give up a lot to do that, and somehow women maybe are seen as being given special treatment around that."
"It implies that women have some special need," said Sonia Rief, 39, director of vehicle program management at Nissan Technical Center North America. "That's where the opportunity still is for us: How can we make that an acceptable part of the culture?"
Sometimes, it means being willing to say no.
Ford Motor Co.'s Kimberly Pittel declined a promotion that would have meant going overseas to the detriment of her husband's career and her family's finances. The second time she was up for an overseas promotion, she said yes. She was willing to leave her family behind. But a family emergency prevented her from taking that job.
"But here I sit as a vice president," said Pittel, 56, Ford's head of sustainability, environment and safety engineering. "Did it affect my career? I want to say no. But who knows the conversations that went on. For all we know, I could be president right now."
"Those kinds of things are tough to do," said Lieblein, 55, now GM's vice president of global quality.
But the rewards for the sacrifices are fulfilling. In Andrea Riley's case, it came in a text message that her hockey-playing son sent her after his final game: "I love you so much mom. I'm sorry it had to end. Thank you for being my biggest single fan every year and being there for me in the ups and downs when no one else was. I can't express my gratitude for how thankful I am."