Best of Both Worlds podcast: Leadership and part-time culture

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

One of the wonders of technology is that the Best of Both Worlds podcast has listeners all over the world! And so we are also trying to have guests from around the world. Today’s guest, Sharon van Herel, comes to us from Rotterdam in the Netherlands. She’s an executive in the insurance industry — in charge of 300 people — and she’s the mother of two children.

We talked about her transition from law to insurance, and how she organizes her day to do focused work, invest in her relationships with her direct reports, play tennis, and do school pick-ups on Friday.

We also discussed Dutch part-time culture. Issues of work and life vary around the EU. The Netherlands, for instance, van Herel tells us, does a 4-month maternity leave, with many people taking some of that time before birth. This varies from some other countries (e.g. the longer Scandinavian leaves) but then Dutch women are far more likely to work part-time than women in other nations. Indeed, it’s so expected that women will work part-time that van Herel says she didn’t even question it, even though she was out-earning her husband.

But at some point, she also realized that she was spending her time “off” doing housework. This was not an economically efficient use of her skills. So she scaled back up, and as she took on bigger leadership roles, she saw the result of so much part-time work: a huge glass ceiling. For a time, the leadership team she was working with was all men. She has now changed that!

Anyway, lots of fascinating insights (including glimpses of other bits of Dutch culture, like biking everywhere). We open the show with a discussion of Sarah’s decision to scale up to 90 percent as she takes on new leadership responsibilities. Then, in the question section, we talk about a plot point in This is Us (spoiler alerts!) Why does it feel like it’s always the woman who has to bend when family issues come into play?

Please give this episode a listen, and let us know what you think!

7 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Leadership and part-time culture

  1. Your comments about being the only time management expert stopped at a bus stop waiting for kids reminded me of a similar experience I had. One day I was changing my son’s diaper, and I thought, “I really never pictured the authors of the statistics books I used in college wiping a baby’s butt.” But who knows? Maybe some of them did.

      1. Yeah – as a student I remember thinking then that all my professors (who were the only people I knew at the time who had written books) were absolutely ancient (and all but one were men), but in retrospect, I think a few were actually pretty young and might very well have had babies or very young children at the time. And the ones who truly were ancient 🙂 had been young once.

        Or maybe it’s more a difficulty of thinking of authors as being just “regular people” which of course they are.

  2. I loved this episode! Very interesting to hear a different cultural perspective that was still very applicable to women everywhere. I feel like this episode really got me thinking.

    Laura, I also appreciate you sharing that you purposely talk about utilizing a nanny and other outsourcing with great frequency as a way to share the knowledge that this is an option with listeners/readers that may not readily think this way. It took my husband and I a few years to figure out the ways we would benefit from more help and to obtain it. I think part of that delay was because we had never seen the “hacks” or outsourcing we use now when we were growing up. It has made such a difference!

    As always thanks to you both for the great work!

  3. The Q&A was interesting to me and something I think about a lot. My husband is a lawyer and I am a physician. We have 4 kids and I had those children while I was going to medical school and completing residency training. I routinely get asked how we make it all work (my husband never gets asked this, BTW). The real answer to this is the serendipitous timing of our first born just as the Great Recession was getting started. My husband was forced to bend on his career, not because of our family needs, but because of outside circumstances (he was laid off and then underemployed) and it changed the way we parented from the very beginning. Does this mean we have this whole dual-career family thing figured out? No Way! We recently had a long discussion about making it possible for me to stay late at work once or twice a week. But it changed the tenor of these conversations for us, which I think is important. I actually write about it recently for a medical forum. I’ll include the link.

  4. I just wanted to say I LOVED this episode! Thank you for featuring a non-US perspective.

    I thought the discussion of her commute was very interesting. Yes, she’s obviously in a super lucky situation, but it’s also clear that she’s arranged her life to make it that way. It’s interesting how much commutes or lack thereof can add to your quality of life. I have a much longer commute (about 45 minutes door to door) but the saving grace is that it’s mostly by subway. Having about an hour each day when I can zone out and read a book acts as as great transition ritual between home and work or work and home. And I get a lot of reading done! I wonder if that would be a good future podcast topic.

    I thought the question at the end was really interesting too and this article may be relevant to the discussion:

  5. Very happy to hear from a guest from my corner of the world (here in Belgium, Netherland’s neighbouring country!) Part-time culture is probably less strong here… at least most women go back full-time after the baby is born. Part-time would rather come in later on when kids start school and it gets more complicated to get organised with homework supervision and activities. Fortunately it is also more and more common to see fathers take parental leave and deal with these Wednesday afternoon drive-around! Overall a very interesting discussion (also with Sarah’s situation) as I was recently thinking about my intention to go part-time in two years time as my son will start elementary school and my daughter will be in pre-school (and I also want more time for myself!) But I also figured out that my job will be difficult to scale back on a 4-day work week (i will probably end up doing the same amount of work compressed on a shorter period so more stressful). Thus it would make sense for my husband to go part-time and I think he would be open to it at least for a time. So lot of thinking around that and it is good to hear others’ experiences!

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