The Federal Reserve: A Case Study for Work-Life Balance

By Elaina Koros

With books like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In prompting a nation-wide discussion on the family-work balance that many women struggle to manage, Julie Stackhouse, Senior VP of the St. Louis Federal Reserve, wonders if Type A women with careers at the Fed and responsibilities at home can really succeed at both.

                                                                 Julie Stackhouse 

                                                                 Julie Stackhouse 

“I’m not so sure that you can do both if you’re intention is to have that Type A behavior and want to be the best all the time,” she said “There are always going to be tradeoffs.”

Stackhouse began her career at the Kansas City Fed in 1980, immediately after graduating from college. She worked for the Fed for 15 years before leaving in 1995 to stay at home with her children. During her time as a stay-at-home-mom, Stackhouse immersed herself not only in her children’s lives but also in her local community. After five years of staying at home, Stackhouse re-entered the workforce at the Minneapolis Fed, as her husband took on the role of a stay-at-home-dad.

“It’s a different career path in that it precedes three Feds and five years as a stay-at-home-mom, but even so it’s worked out fabulously from my perspective because I’ve been able to do what I needed to do and what I wanted to do at the important times of my life,” she said.

Stackhouse said that in taking time off to raise her young children, she was able to succeed professionally without feeling guilty about missing out on family life or sacrificing work opportunities. Stackhouse believes all men and women with families must make active choices in order to achieve the balances that work best for them.

“There’s no right or wrong in this issue of work-life balance or work-family balance, but it needs to be intentional,” she said. “For many women, if you choose to devote less time to work and more time to family, that’s a great choice, but it may affect your progression just because someone else is putting in more time, more energy and by the nature of the commitment they’re making getting more opportunities.”

Stackhouse said that the Fed’s unique environment facilitated her reentry into the workplace. She is unsure if she could have followed the same career path at another organization or company.

All 12 Federal Reserve Banks across the nation provide family benefits including paternity and maternity leave and limited subsidization for emergency daycare. Additionally, with increased technology, employees now have a greater ability to work from home if there is a family conflict.

“They do provide an incredibly supportive environment for working moms,” Kathy Breiz, Assistant Manager at the San Francisco Fed, said. “They have always been supportive of me in terms of my career but also in terms of balancing my career and my family life.”

Yolanda Gonzalez, who joined the SF Fed in 2007, looks to Janet Yellen, who raised a son while rising through the ranks of the Fed, and hopes that Yellen’s story inspires working mothers to strive for leadership positions.

“Her story might motivate women who have taken a step back,” she said. “Sometimes, women will feel like they have to choose between family and work. By seeing Janet do both, it might convince more women that they can do it too, so maybe that will indirectly result in more women working in management.”