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Huffington: Women need to redefine today’s workplace because ‘it’s not working’

Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of The Huffington Post, speaks at the Deloitte Women of Influence Luncheon Series in Toronto on Sept. 11, 2013

Tom Sandler/Tom Sandler Photography

It's time for women to radically change the way they work and to make it more realistic for people to climb the corporate ladder while still caring for themselves and those they love, says Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post.

Women have been through two revolutions: the right to vote and the drive toward workplace equality, she said earlier this week at the Deloitte Women of Influence luncheon series in Toronto.

"The third women's revolution is about changing the workplace and it is going to be led by women. It's going to be led by women because you guys designed it and it's not working," she said, getting a few laughs from the overwhelmingly female audience.

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"When we redefine the workplace, men are going to be unbelievably grateful," she quipped. "Because right now we equate sleep deprivation with virility."

After a recent dinner with a man who bragged about getting a mere four hours of sleep the night before, Ms. Huffington wanted to say: "You know what? If you had gotten five [hours] this dinner would have been a lot more interesting."

"We now operate workplaces that are fuelled by burnout, sleep deprivation, exhaustion – and we're paying a heavy price," she said, resulting in anxiety, stress, burnout, destroyed friendships, marriages and families.

Ms. Huffington said we need to redefine how we judge success – beyond just money and power – to include what she calls the third metric, which is our own personal well-being.

When women do that "we will find it easier to break through the glass ceiling," she said. We also need to change our mindset because taking care of ourselves "is not a tradeoff," she said, and it doesn't mean that "we're not as committed to our work, we're not working as hard."

Ms. Huffington recounted her own "rude awakening" in 2007, two years after launching The Huffington Post, when she fainted from exhaustion, smacked her head on her desk, broke her cheekbone and needed stitches.

"That started me on this journey of re-evaluating success, our working lives and led to the third metric," she said. "I've never been more effective or productive than when I've gotten seven or eight hours of sleep," or after she meditates or does yoga.

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"I've found that if I'm in a place of strength and wisdom inside myself, no matter what happens, I can deal with it much more effectively," she said. "If I'm exhausted, run down, burned out, I'm reactive and that's when the worst mistakes happen."

Companies are losing billions each year due to employee stress and absenteeism, and most of that can be prevented, she said. People need to learn how to take care of themselves, reduce their stress, improve their outlook, prioritize their goals and try to enjoy the moment they are in, she said.

"As I get older I realize that, ultimately, you want to enjoy your life – this is not a dress rehearsal," she said.

The Huffington Post has taken steps to help workers manage stress with yoga classes and two nap rooms in its head office. At first, no one would use the rooms, "nobody would be [caught] dead going into one," she said, but now they are always full.

"The other day I was walking by one and I saw two people coming out of the nap room," she said with a chuckle. "And I thought to myself 'whatever it takes to recharge you. Just don't tell HR.'"

As women progress in their career, they need to stop being perfectionists and prioritize, she said.

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"'No' is a complete sentence, did you know that? Not 'No, because.' Just 'No.' Did you know you can complete a project by dropping it?" she asked, to laughs from the audience.

Ms. Huffington said she always wanted to learn German, but in her forties she realized that it was not a priority, so she struck it off her to-do list. "Any project that you've started in your mind drains energy," she said, and by cutting out things that don't really matter you "have the energy for the things that you really want to commit yourself to."

But in order for this revolution to happen, women need to "remake the world in your own image and your own definition of success, so that all of us, women and men, can live our lives with more grace, more joy, more empathy, more gratitude, and yes, more sleep."

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