No limits on getting ahead for today’s top businesswomen

C-suite women tell Fiona Reddan how they can help themselves and each other

Fri, May 16, 2014, 10:02

Before Marie Joyce took on her role as chief financial officer (CFO) with publicly listed renewable investment group NTR, she took some time to consider it. Historically, her role had involved quite a lot of travel, and with a child, she had to think carefully about taking it on. “I was initially apprehensive about the role. I could easily have thought, I can’t be away for long periods of time, but I gave the job a go and it was fine,” she says. And now she has the support of her colleagues to opt for shorter trips.

Taking time out to have a family is also a challenge many women will face. While no-one can ever fully understand how they will feel once they begin – or

increase – their family, planning can help the time away from work to go more smoothly. “If you want to stay in business, you have to plan around having a

family and keep your career progression on track,” says Joyce, adding, “if you plan well for your absence, you can maintain a level of trust.”

This turned out to be the case for Sonia Flynn, head of Facebook’s Irish operations. She had her first child last year, and returned to work in October. She took eight months maternity leave, keeping in touch intermittently, not realising at the time, that as head of Facebook in Ireland, people were watching her example. She says that on her return other women in the organisation found her approach “very refreshing”.

“It set up a positive message that you can have your family and then come back to work. My husband gave me a very good piece of advice. He said, ‘You’ve spent all this time talking about how good your team is. Now give them a chance to show you how good they are’.”

But perhaps there is also a message about having realistic expectations. Flynn is now firmly back to grips with her role, but she concedes that there was a period of adjustment. “My confidence was a bit low when I came back. We don’t talk about it enough but it takes time to get back up to speed. It is normal to miss your child and it is normal to feel highly emotional – but it does come good in the end.”

For women hoping to return to work on a part-time basis, they should be aware that this might impact on their career opportunities. “It comes down to choices. Think about your choices and think about what you want,” says Lennon, adding, “There would be no point in me saying I could do my role part-time when I couldn’t.”

In this respect, one element missing from Sandberg’s Lean In treatise might be that to allow women to lean in more, and engage further in their careers, men, as partners of such women, need to “lean out” a little more, and take on more responsibility at home.