Each April we celebrate Families month at Microsoft, and our theme this year is “Empowering everyone through every stage, phase and season of our personal and professional lives.” The Families Employee Resource Group (ERG) has a vision to support employees in whatever family role they play. Collectively, we discard the idea that one can leave one’s personal life at the door when coming to work, because the modern reality is that our work lives are no longer fully separate from our personal lives. Being our whole selves means balancing a wide variety of personal and work responsibilities that all come with a host of expected and unexpected challenges. With the right support, our home life and work life can become symbiotic, empowering us to thrive as family members and as employees.
There is no playbook for how a family should be. Each of us holds unique views and perspectives about our own family, but the one thing that is constant is that every one of us has a family, regardless of whether it is a family tree that connects us or the ties of human devotion. My own family story fundamentally shaped who I am today. I was 2 when my parents divorced. Shortly after my father gave up his rights to me, leaving my mother to raise my sister and I alone in Las Vegas and later Reno, Nevada. My mom, and the care and love she provided, serves as a huge inspiration for me. Both my mother and my father have been married a few times and I have two half-sisters, a half-brother and an adopted brother.
Later in life I re-connected with my father, finding a path to that relationship through my own adult maturity and understanding. You might wonder how I could have a relationship with my father since he gave up his rights to me, but as a teenager I was interested in reconnecting. I was curious to know more about his story and who he was, and that led to a wonderful father-daughter relationship for many years.
This influenced who I am today, happily married to my incredible husband of 29 years, with one beautiful daughter and a dog. One fond memory for me is when we gathered for our first Thanksgiving together in 2006 with my father and extended family. I love seeing generations celebrating together, and even though we did not all know each other well at the time we came together as a family and continue to do so to this day.
My evolving definition of family has led to an intimate understanding that family trees come in all different species — some grow tall, others short. Some are evergreen, and others lose their leaves, only to grow them back. When I had the opportunity to be a co-executive sponsor of the Microsoft Families ERG, I couldn’t have thought of a better opportunity to get engaged in a topic so universal and relevant to every person.
At Microsoft we believe family life is not an impediment to success. This belief fuels our culture and the Families community. I am extremely proud of the work our community does to recognize the range of needs and dimensions of identity under the umbrella of family. Our team provides resources across numerous topics such as mental health, parenting challenges and caring for aging relatives. We focus on helping families with and without children; create meaningful connection opportunities so our community can build and leverage networks; inspire learning; share common experiences; and amplify impact. We focus on programming that develops skill sets for resiliency, grit and stress management in the context of family crisis. And we promote the understanding of others’ lived experiences.
We all structure our lives and define families in many ways across cultures, generations and circumstances. Personal needs and work goals are fluid as we move through phases of life, career and family. That’s why at Microsoft we believe it’s so critical to have tools and products to leverage that help increase our well-being and enable us to be most effective in both our personal and professional lives and across all the roles we each hold. We’re focused on this inside Microsoft and beyond; from our gender-neutral caregiving benefits, to our principles and apps for online safety and responsible gaming.
These last two years as the world navigated a global pandemic, we have witnessed challenging demands on families, caregivers and children, from extended school closures, to public restrictions, to impacts on elder care. During these times we have opened our homes to each other while working virtually, built our empathy and grown our ERG over 40% just in the last six months!
We have heard stories of hope, resilience and inspiration during the pandemic. The impact on people’s resources and well-being has been significant; at the same time families of all types have leaned on one another, strengthened connections and discovered new ways to engage. At Microsoft, we will keep strengthening these connections. This time has offered a reminder that we must all continue to support each other, because this is life, and family — in all its variations — is integral to our lives.