Work-life balance Speaker, Strategist & Award-winning Author
Mom of two
Suzanne Brown is a strategic marketing and business consultant and work-life balance speaker, strategist, and award-winning author.
After giving birth to her oldest son 10-weeks early, Suzanne transitioned her career from full-time to part-time to ensure she could be available for her son's medical appointments. Suddenly, she became a go-to resource for friends and colleagues who wanted to learn more about part-time work and how they could achieve it too.
This led Suzanne to write her first book, Mompowerment, in which she interviewed more than 100 professional part-time working moms to share advice on how to transition into a new career model. She empowers moms to think differently about balance and companies to become more balance friendly. Recently, she released a new book focused on the balance between career and family, The Mompowerment Guide to Work-Life Balance. Find out more at www.mompowerment.com.
Suzanne, her husband, and their two active young boys live in Austin, TX. In their downtime, they can be found hiking local trails or finding some new nearby or far away adventures.
The Returnity Project: Tell us about your personal journey from full-time to part-time work, and your experience returning to work from maternity leave.
Suzanne Brown: In 2011, after about 11.5 years in the marketing agency industry (I also spent 2 years getting an MBA), I had our older son. He was born 10-weeks premature. My husband and I decided I would try to negotiate a part-time schedule so that I could easily go with our son to what is usually a lot of appointments with specialists and doctors when you leave the neonatal ICU (NICU). (This wasn’t our experience, but we didn’t know this at the time.)
Luckily my employer, a large marketing agency and part of one of the largest conglomerates in the world, was OK with this transition. We eventually agreed to cut my time in half, so that I would work 20 hours per week. I worked a long day on Mondays and shorter days on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Our pediatrician suggested we not do daycare in case our son's immune system was weak, so we had help at
It was also really helpful that my employer had short-term disability, which enabled me to have fully paid maternity leave for 8-weeks since I had a C-section (6-weeks with a normal birth). I took an additional 4-weeks that was a combination of sick days and personal time, so 12-weeks off fully paid.
My return from maternity leave went well. My then employer was incredibly supportive of moms with babies. They had a pump room with two private areas for pumping, which you could reserve online (HR gave you access to the calendars upon return from maternity leave). There was a hospital-grade pump in one area and a fridge in each area for breast milk only.
And my manager, the head of finance, was very clear that I was to average 20 hours per week for the year, which I had to manage and keep track of. For example, if I worked 24 hours one week, I could work less than 20 hours each week for a few weeks to balance out at 20 hours over time. And she would also allow me to work from home if necessary, although that was the case even before having kids. The one challenge I saw was that my manager wasn’t quite sure of what projects to give me. We definitely struggled with what I should work and what I should truly own.
TRP: What inspired you to create Mompowerment and to write the books you have on women, family and work?
SB: Once I made the transition to 20-hours per week, the questions started. Colleagues, friends, friends of friends –working moms –started to ask questions. They wanted to know how I knew to make the request, what did I say, how it was going, how did I get work done, whether or not I worked a bunch of hours that I wasn’t paid for, etc. And everyone wanted my time, not just a simple email response.
About a year later, I was laid off. My role was non-billable by design in a service-based environment (i.e., most employees generated income for the company), even during the economic recession and a downturn that the company went through before the recession. But I didn't make it through the layoffs in 2012.
Instead of looking for another job, I decided to focus on what had been my side business for almost 8 years at that point. We struggled to find the sweet spot of my workload post maternity leave, so I took this as a sign to focus on my own business.
And then new questions started. Working moms were asking how I structured my day, did I make money, how I moved things along in my business on top of the previous questions. When I went to find a resource to send people to, I couldn't find one.
As an entrepreneur, I figured I could simply create a new resource to help working moms transition to a professional part-time role. How hard could that be? It’s always harder than you think when you’re creating something from scratch. I started interviewing other professional working moms to incorporate their insights, tips, and advice. It took a few months for me to realize that what I should create was a book. And so, the concept of the first Mompowerment book was born.
It took me 3 years to complete the interviews and then about 6-months to actually write the first book. And somewhere in there I also did a TED talk to introduce my topic of why now it’s the right time to create more professional part-time work opportunities for working moms.
TRP: In speaking with so many women who have transitioned from full-time to part-time work, what have been some the major takeaways you've found about how they've been successful and why part-time work has been a good solution for them?
SB: More than anything, I found that working part-time and being successful in your career is doable. You can thrive in your career and be the kind of mom you want to be when you work part-time. It didn’t depend on industry or the type of role since I spoke with working moms in all sorts of positions across industries. I’ve tried to stay in touch with the moms I interviewed and it’s been exciting to see some of them get promoted or change things up in their careers in recent years.
That said, I definitely saw different ways that the women I interviewed made the most of their time. The #1 tip I heard in interviews was to network. This allowed them to find roles within their employers that better suited their needs or helped them move to a more balance-friendly company. It also allowed them to find mentors who could provide feedback or sponsors who would take action on their behalf to get into a role that better suited their needs.
They set and maintained their boundaries. And they were talking about boundaries for work and in their personal lives. The idea was to be present in whatever part of their day they were in.
These working mothers asked for help when they needed it. This was especially the case for home life where they created carpools, engaged food shopping/delivery services, or even hired someone who was almost like a second housewife who could manage all things house-related.
They understood their motivation. This enabled them to be more intentional with their decisions. They knew how to manage energy, so that they made small shifts or big shifts, depending on the situation.
They understood what they wanted from their time and chose what activities and opportunities aligned with that motivation.
TRP: What advice do you have for women who are unable to work part-time (due to financial obligation, need to provide medical benefits to their families, lack of opportunity in their company, etc.) but seek more flexibility in their full-time roles?
SB: There are lots of opportunities for more flexibility and part-time is one of them. There are other options. For example, there is the chance to work from home or shift your time so that you start earlier or later. The idea is to understand why you want to make changes and to understand what solutions meet those needs.
There are some elements that will help, regardless of what kind of flexibility you want.
Network. This was the #1 tip in the interviews. This allows you to talk to other people at your employer and in your industry, who might be able to help you find roles that are more balance-friendly. (And, in networking, you can also do some homework on your employer or the industry in general as part of what you share when you make your ask.)
Create your professional support network. It’s helpful to find mentors and sponsors. Mentors are able to give you feedback on potential decisions and opportunities. Sponsors help open doors for you. Having both helps you work smarter and make smarter decisions.
Make the most of your time at work and at home. I don’t usually give formulas because balance isn’t formula-based, but I will share this formula: being effective with your time = time management + productivity + staying on task. You must figure out what works for you in all three of these areas to maximize your time
Make it personal. See what works for your needs and those of your family and career. When you start with your why, you can start to uncover what you want and need and how to make that happen.
Don’t be discouraged if you’re the first one. If you’re the first at your employer to ask for more flexibility, that can be intimidating and overwhelming. I was the second at my previous employer. You might need to educate your employer or manager. Perhaps you’ll need to ask more than once or ask when you get a different manager. Be patient when it comes to change,but don’t give up.
TRP: As someone who has written a book on work-life balance, how do you respond to the notion to that work-life balance is a myth? There are many new perspectives out there today about work-life integration and the idea that "balance" can never be fully achieved - the scales will always be tipped more heavily in one direction or the other.
SB: I am a strong believer that work-life balance exists when you look at the long-term. It's hard to do 50/50 each day, even if you do work in a part-time role. Think about your week, month, quarter, or year to consider your balance because you might have seasons when you lean one way or another because of a major project or even maternity leave. This long-term approach takes away the pressure on working mom.
Be present in each moment and in the season you’re in. Know that things might flow differently tomorrow or next week or next month. And stop trying for the unattainable 50/50 split.
And the second piece, which is incredibly important is that balance is personal. Each working mom has a different need and definition. We must keep our eyes on our own lane. Maybe you work like crazy Monday to Friday so that you have the weekends completely free. Maybe you get in early one or two days a week, so that you can leave to volunteer in your son's school library near lunchtime. It could be that you coach your daughter's kick ball team, so you make up the work time in the evening once kids are asleep. You must do what makes sense for you and your family and in your professional circumstances. And don’t think you’re doing things wrong because of what your neighbor, sister, colleague or friend is doing (or sharing on social media).
TRP: What are you most proud of?
SB: On a personal note, I love that I end my day early enough to pick up my boys from school. I'm generally done by 2:30 each day. So, my boys see my face at the end of their day and tell me about their day. I get to see them thrive and give them a hug when they've had a rough day.
Professionally, I'm excited to see how my words have made a difference in women’s lives. I have written two award-winning books, that working moms tell me they use to make impactful changes so they too can feel more balanced. Working moms come up to me after workshops and tell me about their aha moments. Or I get emails after someone has watched my TED talk. I’m so humbled and thrilled at the same time to see how I can empower working moms to make change happen.
Work-life balance Speaker, Strategist & Award-winning Author
Read more from Suzanne:
Mompowerment: Insights from Professional Part-Time Working Moms Who Balance Career and Family
The Mompowerment Guide to Work-Life Balance: Insights from Working Moms on Balancing Career and Family