The higher up the corporate ladder you climb, the more intense the work/life balance struggle begins to feel. How do you know the “right” amount of time to designate to the office and to your family and home? How can you keep yourself and your priorities in check without becoming overwhelmed?
We got the opportunity to speak with Ellen Barker, CIO of Texas Instruments, and asked her to share with us how she has achieved a successful corporate climb while also designating family as a top priority.
4word: What has your career journey been like as a professional woman? What brought you to where you are today?
Ellen: I began my career at Texas Instruments in 1984 as a new college hire after graduating from the University of Texas. I received my MBA from the University of Dallas ten years later in 1994, while working full time and beginning my family. In my 30+ year career at TI, I have held 14 different roles and worked at three different TI locations (Houston, Dallas and California). The roles include generalist and specialist roles within Operations, Finance, Accounting, Integration and IT, across TI’s segments, business units, manufacturing and corporate.
I became the CIO of TI in July 2014. Prior to that role, I led the integration of TI’s acquisition of National Semiconductor and was also the controller of a business where I was responsible for the operational and financial success of this greater than $1 billion organization.
Women (and men) frequently ask me how I got to where I am today. There are many contributing factors. In addition to using my God-given talents, skills, and passion to achieve my professional goals, I balance my life around my key priorities: faith, family, friends, finances (aka work) and fun—I call them my “5 F’s”. If you truly commit yourself to your goals without doubt, without reservation, and achieve results, while at the same time remaining flexible, doors will open and new opportunities for growth will emerge.
4word: What difficulties have you faced as a woman in the workplace?
Ellen: Over the years, I have faced struggles (myths/untruths) around being a successful woman in the workplace. Some of the key myths include:
- I won’t be taken seriously for key roles
- I won’t be seen as loyal or committed to work if I’m committed to my family
- I’m not the same as the other leaders at the company – can I be successful?
- “They” won’t think I’m strong if I show empathy and emotion
- “They” think I’m social and engaging but not intelligent
- On displaying faith – I’ll be classified as a Bible thumper and intolerant, and make non-religious people uncomfortable
- Fear of failure
When individuals get to know me, they realize I’m genuine and authentic, with a passion for my job and responsibilities. Yes, I still face some of the same difficulties as all women in the workplace do, but I’m pleased to be recognized as a successful “leader” at TI with unique talents, insights and significant contributions to the company.
4word: How have you kept faith as the foundation for your life?
Ellen: This has been fairly easy for me. Faith is the key foundation of my life. It is part of my core being. As a Christian, my goal is to glorify God in all I do each and every day. This is foundational in my personal/family life and my work life. God wants us to be strong. He wants us to be prosperous in all we do. I take time to pray for my family and friends every day and my work family as well. If you obey the word of God completely, you will have the power to handle any situation you may face in life. In addition, I have been blessed to work for a great company whose core values and ethics align with mine. It is rewarding to be at a company that values characteristics of faithful stewards and servant leaders.
4word: Would you say that relationships are a priority for you? How do you separate time in the office from time with family and friends?
Ellen: Relationships are key part of my personal and professional life. Throughout my career, I have invested a significant amount of time and energy in building mutually-beneficial relationships and partnerships that last over time. Without effective relationships and networks, we risk poor results, not reaching our full potential and overall job dissatisfaction. Building relationships is about mutual trust, understanding other people’s needs, and asking for and giving support. The relationships I have built over the years, at TI and in my personal life, are based on trust, authenticity, integrity, and common values.
Striving for a good balance between work and my personal life has always been a key priority of mine and is, of course, challenging. When my two sons were young, I flexed my work location to spend more time with them in the afternoon. It is, however, hard to always keep a balance. Normally, family and friends are more important than work, but there are times when work issues become our priority. Keep things in perspective and make sure you are not swinging hard toward work issues all of the time.
4word: What advice do you have for women who are struggling with the “juggling act” of balancing work and life?
Ellen: Your company will take all that you are willing to give. It is up to you to set your boundaries. Early in my career, I learned that if you spend your time focusing on all the little, insignificant tasks and demands that arise, the big important items will never get done. Instead, when you focus first on the biggest and most important tasks (faith, family, work), the small, less significant items will resolve themselves.
Some strategies that have helped me with the “juggling act” over the years include:
- Saying “no” to an opportunity. It is hard to do at times, but another one will come around soon.
- Outsource as much as you can, and then learn to be okay with how they do it. It may not be the way you would do it, but you have to learn to give up the little things.
- Give up “perfectionism” to help avoid burning out. The healthier option is to strive for excellence, not perfection.
- Something that I’m personally working on is to “unplug”. Technology is great, but it has also changed our lives in many ways. The work day never seems to end. Don’t ‘work’ when you are spending quality time with your friends and family. I personally no longer take my laptop on vacation. I used to and then found myself ‘checking email’, which would then lead to much more than that. I can still keep up with work at a high level on my phone as needed.
- Understand the expectations of your family and your boss. Many times we find that we are putting more pressure on ourselves than what others expect of us. Have the “expectation talk.” I promise it will be enlightening.
4word: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Ellen: I really like this inspirational quote I read recently:
“Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes your trademark.”
I think it is very important to be authentic—to be yourself. My “go to” scripture is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” God created each of us as unique individuals, and it is important to be you. Leverage your key strengths to be the best you can each and every day. Be blessed!
As a high-level professional woman, Ellen’s advice on the work/life balance comes from a much-practiced place. As you struggle with this “juggling act” in your own life, we hope that you will refer to Ellen’s advice and ensure that your focus is where it should be.
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Ellen Barker is Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Texas Instruments. She leads TI’s Information Technology Services organization where she is responsible for IT strategies and operational management of IT applications and infrastructure worldwide that enable TI’s changing business needs. Ellen assumed the role of CIO in July 2014.
Prior to the CIO role, Ellen led the successful integration of TI’s acquisition of National Semiconductor and was also the Controller of TI’s Silicon Valley Analog business where her responsibilities included the operational and financial success of this $1B organization.
A 31-year TI veteran, Ellen joined TI as a new college hire. She has held a number of management positions within the company’s Analog, Embedded Processing, manufacturing and former defense divisions, including vice president over High Performance Analog Finance and Operations. She held leadership roles on the integration teams for TI’s acquisitions of Burr Brown and Chipcon, contributing to TI’s growing Analog presence, and has also contributed her operational, financial and management expertise to diverse operations and functions across TI.
Ellen believes in giving back and helping inspire the next generation of technology professionals. She is a stanch supporter of mentoring and during her tenure at TI, she has served as a recruiter for the University of Texas and the University of Dallas. She has also lectured on “high performance teams” at the graduate programs. In addition, she servers on the board of High Tech High Heels, a non-profit organization focused on increasing the number of girls entering a college degree program in science, technology, engineering, and math. She is a graduate of the Leadership Texas Class of 2000, Mentium100 program in 2004, and the Leadership America Class of 2010.
In addition to her TI contributions, Ellen volunteers with the American Heart Association—Go Red for Women; American Cancer Society and is a leader in her church. She has been married to her husband Alan for 31 years and they have two adult sons. She is an avid golfer and enjoys traveling and spending time with family and friends.
Ellen holds an MBA from University of Dallas and a BBA from the University of Texas at Austin.