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Part 4: For women in public sector, supportive attitudes help achieve work-life balance

Women building careers in government find a work environment conducive for raising a family.

Positions in the public sector can offer more flexibility to take work home at night or leave the office to care for an ill child, and many executive positions can require less long-distance travel than at a large private-sector company with far-flung operations.

Some women also credit having more women in management in government with creating a child-friendly work environment.

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Supportive workplace attitudes are more important than any formal programs offering flexibility to women, says Hydro One Inc. CEO Laura Formusa, a lawyer by training who had two children while climbing the ranks at the Ontario Crown corporation.

"I think we are fortunate in the attitudes that are in our workplace," she says. "So if you do take a full maternity leave, people aren't dumping on you or stealing your clients, and you come back and you've got your job and the opportunities are still there."

Michelle Carinci, CEO of Atlantic Lottery Corp., says it is getting much easier for women to balance work and families today than in past decades.

Ms. Carinci, 57, recalls a time 30 years ago when she sneaked out of the office to attend her older daughter's school events or pick her up when she was sick, fearful of being tagged as uncommitted or lacking a strong work ethic.

"I used to leave meetings and go to the concert and slip back in and hoped nobody noticed. I wouldn't say anything, I wouldn't tell," she says.

She had her next child 30 years later, and found big changes in the work environment the second time around. She no longer feels the need to be discreet about attending her nine-year-old daughter's events.

"We actually almost promote those kinds of things," she says.

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But women in the government sector are also unanimous in insisting they do not believe they have worked fewer hours over all on their route to the top.

"I think once you hit an executive job, whether it's public or private [sector] the demands aren't any different," says Karen Kinsley, CEO of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. and mother to two teenagers. "But I think if you stay focused on what the tradeoff is and what really matters to you, and you work hard at both, you may not get it all, but you'll get what you want."

Rosemarie Leclair, CEO of Hydro Ottawa, says she tried to spend evenings with her now-adult daughter when she was young, "and when the child goes to bed, the books come back out and the work resumes."

"There were times I had absolutely no balance, for months on end I had no balance. It was way too much about work," recalls Marilyn McLaren, CEO of Manitoba Public Insurance Corp., whose three children are now grown. "But it wasn't forever."

Pat Jacobsen, a former Ontario deputy minister who later ran Vancouver's TransLink transportation authority, says her daughter, 26, tells her she appreciated having a mother who "set examples of what she could do."

Still, Ms. Jacobsen acknowledges there were sacrifices. "All I can say is I'm happy I'm retired now so I can be at her horse show, because I wasn't at a lot of things when she was younger," she says. "I think I paid a big price in terms of time."

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