Podcast: Navigating corporate life (with a new baby!) with Parita Kuttappan

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

The Best of Both Worlds podcast is all about combining work and life. While some of our guests are authors or experts, we aim to include the stories of women in all sorts of careers. A lot of our listeners are in the corporate world, so we are definitely aiming to make that a big part of the show.

Today’s guest, Parita Kuttappan, works as a senior project manager at a major professional services firm (in the accounting industry). She and her husband, who’s a radiology resident, are raising a just-turned-1-year-old. She has a blog on the side called My Inner Shakti.

In this episode, we discussed her life and schedule, and her various strategies for making the pieces fit.

Consider alternative schedules. Kuttappan works 4 10-hour days, and then has one weekday (Friday) off. She is in the office from 7:45-4, and in order to still be full time, does some work at night from home after her son goes to bed (the split shift!). There are some upsides to this. No commute one day a week (actually more because she works from home sometimes too) and if your day off is Friday, well, many people aren’t doing that much on Friday anyway. She spends some more time with her son. However…

Alternate schedules don’t have to only be about kids. She does use her day off to see her son more, but they still have some childcare. Her husband’s residency schedule means that at least some weekends, she’s doing most of the parent work. Having one day a week to do her own thing — visiting, getting her nails done — means she feels less resentful about that.

Ask around to get ideas of schedules. If your company does have some flexibility, talk to other people who are making it work because they might have ideas you haven’t thought about. (Or, I might note, read I Know How She Does It for ideas…)

Take real breaks at work. Again, since she’s often the “on” parent in the evening, she builds in some downtime during the day. Taking a real 30-minute break to think (or sometimes work on her blog) means that she’s less resentful in the evening.

Get it all on the calendar. Expecting to remember things in a sleep-deprived state is asking for trouble. If it needs to happen, put it on the calendar. Bonus: calendars are better than simple to-do lists because you’ve already figured out when the “to do” is going to happen!

Good concealer and dry shampoo. When you need to look professional, but don’t have a lot of time (or as much sleep as you want) these can work wonders. I bought the concealer she talked about, though I am not sure if it’s meant to be under a foundation or what. As I’ve written before, make-up is a real work in progress for me.

Go to bed as soon as you can. Your morning self will thank you.

Ask…or don’t ask. We had a discussion on the merits of asking for an official flexible schedule. As Kuttappan pointed out, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. That said…there’s also some research that asking is more of a female tendency than a male one. One study of a major professional services firm found that men were likely to take advantage of the flexibility inherent in the job to just work as they wish to work, and figure it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. So, just something to keep in mind.

Anyway, please give the episode a listen and let us know what you think!

In other news: I review a book called The Ambition Decisions in today’s Wall Street Journal. More on that in a later post!



20 thoughts on “Podcast: Navigating corporate life (with a new baby!) with Parita Kuttappan

  1. Per usual – great podcast! As a frequent reader / listener (& book buyer), but infrequent comment-er, I can’t encourage you enough to try dry shampoo (per Parita’s suggestion). I have fine / tends-toward-greasy hair and dry shampoo has been LIFE CHANGING!! I’ve tried lots of brands and tend to stick with batiste dry shampoo (ordered 3 at a time subsribe & save from amazon!!) b/c it gets the job done at a reasonable price. As Parita says, it allows me to stretch washing & “styling” my hair to 3-4 days (including work outs) vs. having to wash / style it daily otherwise. And as an added bonus, it gives my fine hair a nice boost of body too!! Thanks again for all your content – you’ve really helped me (a working mom of two with a “full” plate) view things from a different perspective!

    1. @Colleen – thanks, and thanks for buying my books too 🙂
      I will have to give dry shampoo a whirl. I definitely get greasy after 24 hours so we shall see, but maybe my life will be changed!

      1. I love dry shampoo. So what I do, which I have found to be a game changer, is to put it in my hair at NIGHT before bed. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. You wake up and your hair is fluffy, clean, and ready to be styled.
        And I just bought Shape Tape concealer about a month ago based on a recommendation from somewhere and it really is the best concealer I’ve ever used. It also makes fine lines go away and so my eyes look bright and smooth.

  2. +1 to the asking, if it’s for a regular arrangement –ie I can’t just cut out of work at 2:30pm everyday to pick up kids without someone noticing 🙂 When I returned from mat leave at my very large tech company in 2010, I proposed working 25 hours part-time to my manager (in the office 2 long days, plus a handful of hours at home later.) He declined at first, then when he realized that I was going to hand in my notice, he decided to give it a try. I think this worked because I was a good performer for the prior 3 years and had a lot of specialized knowledge. I worked that schedule for 3 more years, occasionally adjusting my hours from 20 to 30 depending on what the job required and what our needs were at home.

    When we moved to California, I proposed to my manager that I continue working as a full time employee remotely, but also gave her an “out” that I could take the required 6 months off and come back as a contract employee instead. She chose the latter, which was actually a better choice for me, as I was a bit burned out and needed some time off. After recharging, I am super happy to be back at work again, remotely, for 30 hours a week. I kinda used the strategy of offering choices to little kids – give them two choices you’d be equally happy with 🙂 Obviously, my manager could have declined both, but I knew she was happy with my work, so I took the chance (again).

    Both times, I sent my proposal ahead of time in writing so they could digest it before we talked. I think that helped both managers not feel quite so blindsided, though it was a surprise both times.

    1. @ARC – I like that characterization – offering your manager two choices, like you would with a toddler!

  3. I’ve been a listener for a while but never commented. This weeks episode really spoke to me, and both Sara and Laura said things that I appreciated. I’m a mom to a 5 month old and 3.5 year old, and work full time, and life right now is rough. I really appreciate Sara “keeping it real” and acknowledging that balancing everything right now is just plain hard. And Laura, your comments on not asking for permission hit home, too. I’ve been trying to make adjustments to my schedule and seeking a bit more flexibility, and I feel guilty for not asking for permission first. So, really just saying thanks and making me feel validated right now. The struggle is real, but is just a season and will get easier. I hope !

    1. Completely agree with you, Colleen. Thanks Sarah and Laura for your honesty about the realities of living a “full” life as a parent with young kids. I love how optimistic you are about still having fun as a parent (it is fun!!) but also not idealizing it when there are tough times. I feel like so many articles, etc. either talk about the “perfect Mom” or are really, really negative and talk about stressed out Moms. It’s so ridiculous and I’m really tired of it! Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I largely quit Facebook – those articles were everywhere and even if I didn’t click through, even just seeing the headlines was always making me anxious. My kids are similar ages/age differences as yours (4 + almost 2!) and I am starting to feel a bit less frantic these days. It’s definitely not easy, especially since we both work full-time, but it is getting more manageable and so much fun. I miss the sweet baby snuggles sometimes, but am also excited about new adventures with bigger kids. And, I am so excited to get back to doing things that I haven’t done for *years* – like skiing – since I was either pregnant or with little babies and it just seemed like more of a hassle than I had the energy to deal with.

      1. @Sara- thanks! So glad you are enjoying the podcast. There are many reasons to get off Facebook, and enjoying your own life is as good of one as any 🙂

    2. @Colleen – thanks for listening to the podcast. Having a 5-month-old is tough, regardless of what else you’re doing in life. Different cultures allow for different things, but it bothers me when women put such a premium on being “good girls” that they shoot their careers in the foot.

  4. Could not agree more with your response to the reader/listener question this week!

    Not only is it prudent to push hard, build professional capital, and stock some cash away before kids, but the questioner may find that she *CAN* keep up with the challenging career once kids arrive. Why not try it, at least? Why hold herself back due to speculation? Just do it! She can always pull back later if she needs to — and again, she might find that she doesn’t need to.

    In case the reader needs a case study: I’m a mother in BigLaw who had babies as a third and fifth year associate. Each time, I came back from maternity leave at full-time status, and each time, I was able to keep up with full-time work (which is not 40 hours per week… nor is it 80, most weeks!). As a litigator, that work includes plenty of travel. Now 11 years into practice, I have a satisfying career, my finances are in order, and kids who know they are adored but also don’t flip out if mom goes away for a few days.

    Also, as you both know, the hard labor of little babies does pass. If the reader can weather the Diaper Years in BigLaw, she can weather anything her career will throw her way.

    Another consideration: would the lower-paying job have decent maternity leave? BigLaw generally provides 18 weeks of FULL PAID leave, and at least my firm allows women to use the prior year’s expired vacation days for more paid leave (often a few extra weeks). Smaller firms and government positions may not offer such sweet perks. So it’s prudent to compare maternity leave policies before making any decision.

    1. @Kathleen – great advice on checking maternity leave policies. Sometimes places known for long hours do offer sweeter leaves in order to make it easier to come back. And yes, the diaper years are hard, but it does get better.

  5. The conversation about calendar sharing cracked me up! About 2 years ago we started using a Cozi calendar for our family of 6 plus an au pair. It is color coded and everyone can add items to the calendar. My husband uses outlook at work and can import cozi into outlook. However he didn’t realize I had an evening event for work about 6 months into using the app causing a HUGE scheduling issue. It turns out he was only importing calendar items from cozi with HIS name on them–sort of defeats the purpose! When I asked why he said when he imported everyone’s items his calendar looked too cluttered!!! Yes, life with 4 kids and two working parents will look cluttered on paper…He has figured out how to make the cozi + outlook system work for him, but I don’t know what his system is–no more childcare snafoos though.

    1. @Gillian – yes, that does defeat the purposes of a shared calendar, doesn’t it? I can’t claim we have a perfect system – the calendar meetings are definitely part of it. I don’t use an electronic calendar so I’m not sure I’d like to adopt it but I do see some upsides.

      1. I actually use a paper planner/todo list for myself and work, but the electronic system for sorting out how everyone is moving around. It is nice because you can schedule regular activities all at once (“soccer practice J Tuesdays 5 pm” and it is in there for all of those dates). I keep it open on my desk top at work and our au pair has the app on her phone. Since that problem work event we have been having calendar meetings regularly–lesson learned.

    1. @June – I thought it was OK, and have worn it under my other makeup for two recent video appearances where I had to do my own make-up and it seemed to look OK but I can’t say it was life changing 🙂

  6. Hey Laura! I recommend using the concealer over your foundation but before any powder you may use. Also, I didn’t get a chance to mention this on the podcast, but it’s best when blended with a sponge.

    Anyways, thanks again for having me on. I truly enjoyed chatting with you and Sarah!

    1. Hi Parita- I enjoyed your interview! I’m not a huge makeup person, but do work in an industry where it is necessary to look professional and you named the two products I love! I just bought the tarte concealer and it’s my favorite. I also echo your advice to put it on after foundation (although on the weekends I will sometimes wear it solo). And dry shampoo is amazing!!!! Maybe less important if you work from home and just air dry your hair, but I use it in all sorts of situations!

      1. Thanks, Stephanie! That concealer is truly magical, isn’t it?! Dark circles begone. 🙂 And dry shampoo is truly my savior when it comes to professional hair. Couldn’t do without it.

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