"The media loves to tell one-sided stories about supermoms having it all, or working mothers vs. stay-at-home moms," says Danielle, an independent marketing and sales consultant and mother of two who prefers not to give her full name. "But I think most of us exist in a gray area where we find ourselves playing all of those roles at different points in our lives."
To help her navigate that gray area, Danielle joined 85Broads, an organization for businesswomen that began as a network within Goldman Sachs.
"I really didn't think being a parent required compromising anything else in one's life," she says. "I think it's extremely helpful to join a women's networking and parenting group...before actually having children so that you are prepared for the emotional, mental and financial compromises."
Across the US, women network through a range of professional, corporate, political and mothers groups, all of which can help women with everything from navigating a career path to juggling home and work.
Mother-of-two Carolyn Leighton is chairwoman, founder and CEO of Women in Technology International (WITI), an organization with more than 100,000 members. She points out that organizations like WITI can be particularly helpful for women who often have to adapt their professional lives to changing personal demands.
"The most important point is to keep all options open and keep that professional network in tact," she advises. Organizations like WITI help do just that.
In fact, whether you want a group as specific as the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators or as encompassing as the Women in Communications, almost every career field has a national or international nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing that profession's stature and helping members network and stay current.
To find the professional group that's right for you, search the Internet or ask colleagues for industry-based groups that pertain to your field. You also can peruse professional organizations listed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook. If you can't find a group specifically for women, your professional organization may have a women's subgroup.
Anne Erni, managing director and chief diversity officer at Lehman Brothers was a new mom in 2002 when she helped found Women's Initiatives Leading Lehman (WILL). "Women tend to work very hard and multitask," she says. "We don't have the natural opportunities to network during the course of our days." WILL gives Lehman women an opportunity to share professionally and personally and to instigate reform within the company.
WILL's success and good press has led many of Lehman's client companies to Erni for advice on starting their own women's groups. "You have to treat this like any other business initiative," she tells them. Having executive leadership, appropriate funding and a strategic plan are key.
Find out if your company has an existing networking program by contacting your human resources manager.
Groups for Political Change
Want to ensure politicians understand the impact of the Family Medical Leave Act? Think companies could use a guide in understanding how to make flexible schedules work? Want to know what strategies work for women across industries?
Think about joining an organization committed to social change, such as 9to5, Business and Professional Women/USA, Women Work!, or the National Association for Female Executives. "Networking is crucial to advancing in the workforce, and joining a nonprofit that you believe in is an excellent way to get started," says Jill Miller, CEO and president of Women Work! "[Our group's] members become part of the nation's largest network for women's economic justice and equality."
Seeking advice on how to Ferberize your baby might not be appropriate in the workplace, but a sleepless night can bear a real impact on your professional life. To get the support you need at home, consider joining a mothers' group.
BabyCenter suggests finding a group through your hospital, the Internet or other organizations you belong to. Or start a mothers' group yourself. One nationally based organization is Mothers & More, which is dedicated to respecting individual work choices. Experiment until you find one that's compatible with your values.