AEM's Megan Tanel – Mastering the Balancing Act
January 20, 2012
Try calling Megan Tanel a superwoman and she'd probably just laugh in your face. But whether she'd want to take the credit or not, this hardworking mother of four daughters could be seen as a role model for women who want it all: a successful career and a satisfying family life.
And, although the vice president of exhibitions at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers has her work cut out for her, with a substantial portfolio of domestic and international construction equipment trade shows and association seminars to oversee, she appears to have established a work/life balance that fits.
ﾓMy husband stays home with the kids, and I work,ﾔ Tanel said. ﾓWhere we live in Wauwatosa, Wis., it's completely accepted and normal – and it's even cooler that it's a dad staying home with four girls. We laugh all the time that we're accepting offers for a reality show because we think we have some really good fodder on a daily basis in our house.ﾔ
Even though Tanel always knew she wanted a big family, she said she had no aspirations to work in the trade show industry. In fact, before landing an internship and then a full-time position at AEM after graduating from college in 1995, Tanel had no idea what a trade show was. But more than a decade and a half later, Tanel said her job not only satisfies her people-person personality, but has also given her a deep respect and appreciation for the industries her shows – including the triennial behemoth, CONEXPO-CON/AGG – represent.
ﾓI believe in the importance of manufacturing, job creation and safe infrastructure but I also completely believe in the value of face-to-face interaction,ﾔ Tanel said. ﾓWhile a desk job was never my goal, the onsite energy and personnel connections are definitely the right fit for me and specifically the trade show side of this association.ﾔ
Like most working mothers with high-powered careers, Tanel said she deals with her fair share of parental guilt, especially when traveling for work.
ﾓWhen I travel my husband's got all four on his own all the time, and you carry that guilt with you, like here I am sleeping alone in a king size bed, going out for dinner, having adult conversations and there's no spit up on me or dirty diapers,ﾔ Tanel said. ﾓThe other challenge is that I also nurse my kids. Since I travel globally, I'm either on an airplane, in some crazy bathroom, in the back of the taxi or at a business meeting. ﾅ I've pumped around the world! I have fun talking to other working mothers in the industry and sharing laughs about that.ﾔ
And in a male-dominated industry that has been slow to change, being a woman, let alone a working mother, can have its challenges, Tanel said.
ﾓYou can face gender bias and some age issues, too,ﾔ Tanel said. ﾓTypically, people have been dealing with a middle-aged if not older man and then you walk in and you're in your twenties, early thirties or as I am in your late thirties and you're a woman and they're like, ﾑwhat's your experience?' or ﾑhey, kiddo, this isn't a situation for you.' I can appreciate that respect is earned, but I think you do have to prove yourself more than others and you have to stand on your own two feet. You've got to come out as a strong person who's comfortable in her own skin.ﾔ
And, while she's learned to deal productively with the occasional annoyances that sometimes come with the territory of her job, Tanel said one of her biggest challenges is getting out of work mode while at home with her husband and girls.
ﾓLife is different now with BlackBerrys, iPhones and iPads,ﾔ Tanel said. ﾓYou don't ever say no to work, so you have to consciously turn that part of your life off. It's so just hard to find that balance between: when do I turn this off, when can I stop doing this, when do I focus on me, my life and my family? It's a daily struggle and it's something I'm personally working on.ﾔ
But like many working women who have had to sacrifice substantial time with their families to meet the needs of demanding careers, Tanel believes that in the end it will have all been worth it.
ﾓI want to be able to look back with no regrets as to the times I was away from home but instead with happiness about all that I was able to participate in with my family,ﾔ Tanel said. ﾓIt's a different time now, and it's okay to be a working mom. The best career you can have is one where you can blend life into what you're doing. It doesn't have to be one or the other and you can make things work, it just depends what your priorities are.ﾔ