Balance supporting International Women's Day: Achieving work / life balance


Carat’s new forum, Balance, organised a series of events in celebration of International Women’s Day on 8th March.

Balance International Women's Day

We wanted to hear how people at Carat pursue their own work and life balance. We invited three members of staff, all with varied responsibilities and aspirations beyond work to discuss how they find their own equilibrium and the challenges they’ve faced along the way. The panel was chaired by Jay Tallon, Lead Legal Counsel for Dentsu Aegis Network UK and Ireland and was introduced by Cate Hardiman, Head of Insight at Carat who is a founding member of Balance.

Our first panelist, Vivien Leung, who works as an associate planning director on a global account, told the audience how she launched and now runs a successful health and wellbeing business alongside her demanding job at Carat.  Vivien openly shared that, at times, juggling these two major commitments had left her feeling overwhelmed which had a detrimental impact on her health.  One of the most important steps she took to prevent this occurring again was to talk openly and honestly with her line manager to ensure she had the support in the office to help her manage her workload.  

Secondly, she identified the importance of taking time out every day to step back from the pressures and focus on her own mental and emotional health. She said that might take the form or making time for a long bath, meditating or doing yoga.  Vivien also stressed the importance of not being too hard on yourself. She emphasised the need to accept that things something might go wrong and that’s ok. Her advice was that we shouldn’t fear failures but rather try to learn from them, which will provide us with the skills needed, including resilience, to achieve great things.  One of the most interesting points Vivien made was that she felt she was now better skilled at doing her job at Carat as a result of the knowledge and confidence acquired from running her wellness business. She said her life outside of Carat had actually re-invigorated her passion for media.

Our second panelist, Alison Drummond, Head of Insight and Effectiveness, talked about the difficulties of heading up a large team as a working mother of two. Whilst always comfortable with the decision to return to work full time after having children, Ali shared that it still wasn’t an easy transition to make.

She said that on several occasions trying to juggle the responsibilities of being a parent and the main ‘breadwinner’ for a family of four resulted in her experiencing feelings of guilt or self-doubt that she was doing a good enough job in either place.  

Ali mentioned two things she uses on an ongoing basis to help keep perspective and manage the pressures of both areas of her life. The first is exercise and the second using a technique called “compartmentalising.” This involves visualising leaving her work ‘to do’ list and issues outside her front door when coming home in the evenings and, conversely, her home ‘to do’ list on the train on her way to work.   By doing this she enables herself to mindfully focus on the environment she is in without the distraction of the other area of her life.

Like Vivien, she also stressed the importance of talking openly with line managers about what you need. She also encouraged the audience to be sure to take advantage of any coaching available through work. 

Matthew Knight, Head of Strategic Innovation, was our third panelist. He gave another interesting perspective as he has always worked a four-day week both before and after the birth of his two children. He discussed how this enabled him (pre-children) to pursue personal projects and (post-children) to spend time with his kids. In both cases he believes this helped invigorate his life and encouraged creativity and which made him better at his job.  

However, he acknowledged that only being in the office four days per week can be difficult and can lead to a sense of ‘missing out.’ To help overcome this he talked about the importance of understanding yourself and being true to your values both at work and at home.

Matthew felt that trying to create a separate work and home “persona” can lead to an uncomfortable clash of two personalities. Matthew talked about the importance of fluidity of work and how it was important for companies to adapt if they wanted to get the most out of their employees.  He reflected on how he had learnt how important it was for him to have an “off switch” – a time where he was not constantly doing or thinking but instead taking time to re-charge his batteries, be that by spending time with his children, watching mind-numbing TV or reading a book.

It was incredibly inspiring to hear these three successful people open up about the challenges of trying to achieve a balance and to accept that it is impossible to always get things right. Jay then directed a few follow-up questions to the panelists and especially tried to draw out their best advice and top-tips for the audience.

Each panelist was refreshingly candid. Each mentioned times when they had taken on too much and felt overwhelmed or insecure about their abilities in the past. Each shared their techniques for preventing this going forward.  The key outtake for me was the realisation that having a “balanced” work / home life is something that you have to actively manage. Finding balance requires calibration -  it needs to be frequently assessed as what works now may not work in the future as commitments change.  

The key to managing everything seems to be linked with having a great support network. This is underpinned by having regular, open and honest conversations with line managers.  Interestingly, whilst all our panelist have additional commitments outside the office, all felt that the skills they learned there helped them become much better at their jobs.   All agreed that fundamentally it is essential to take care of yourself both mentally and physically. Each encouraged the audience to take time to unwind and to not feel guilty about being “kind” to yourself, because when the balance goes it can affect your work performance as well as your home life.

The question and answer sessions was wrapped up by Vanessa Cox, Carat’s HR Business Partner, who invited the audience to come see her for more information about agile ways-of-working or if they wanted to chat about their own work / life balance.  After a massive round of applause, Cate thanked everyone for attending and invited the audience to join the Balance forum.

Balance International Women's Day
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