As a working mum – is it really possible to “have it all”? The women that we work with at Mumager are often concerned about how they can balance having a fulfilling career and quality family time. Many mums have worked really hard to get to where they are and are reluctant to let all their efforts fall by the wayside. Yet when they have a family they are no longer willing or able to do the hours that they feel is expected of them to be able to advance in their careers.
At the end of 2014 we were invited to attend a discussion on Prime Time about gender quotas for women in the workplace. What struck us was that on the panel of speakers, one woman had given up her career as a barrister to be at home with her children. The other worked full time and her husband was a stay-at-home dad. For us at Mumager, this summed up perfectly the two extreme choices that the majority of women are facing today in Ireland.
A recent report by the Corporate Leadership Council found that the ratio of males to females is 50:50 in general employees. However by the time you’re looking at being a manager or department head, the ratio has shifted to almost 70% male and 30% female. At executive level the number of women falls to just 20%.
This raises some interesting questions. Is it that women are opting out and taking themselves out of the running because of their family? Is it discrimination against women? Or is it because of a lack of flexible work opportunities?
According to Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook and author of ‘Lean In’ its because we “hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” Whereas journalist and writer Lisa Miller in her article “Stop Blaming Women for Holding Themselves Back at Work” believes that women don’t achieve as much as men in their career simply because they are women and that companies need to try harder to support them. Hillary Clinton is another passionate advocate of working mums and has spoken out recently that “women shouldn’t have to choose between their careers and motherhood…..we still have a lot of cultural, customary, even attitudinal, psychological barriers to equality”
More heartening are recent findings from the Harvard Business Review. Following research that spanned three generations and 25,000 graduates of Harvard Business School they found “no correlation at all between career success and decisions an individual makes to accommodate family, by limiting travel, choosing more flexible hours, or moving laterally within a company”. In fact the research found that successful individuals had actually demanded more from work in terms of flexibility.
Here in Ireland there seems to be limited opportunities to work flexibly. Many employers are reluctant to even discuss the possibility of it – forcing many women to make the choice between their family and their career – in effect saying ‘no – you can’t have it all’?
But this doesn’t have to be the case. At Mumager we believe you can have both. There are much larger economic issues such as affordable childcare and paid maternity leave have a big impact on the choices that women make about their careers. There’s also the issue of deep-rooted culture and traditions that dictate how we should be working. Taking on the culture of the company that you work in can seem daunting. But as an individual you are the culture of where you work – and the country you live in. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to find a way of working that means we can have a fulfilling career and be there for our families too.
So to help us have it all, here are some practical things to think about:
- Don’t apologise. For being pregnant. For taking time off to go to hospital appointments. For going on maternity leave. For using your parental leave to do reduced hours. Its not money that makes the world go round, its people. And as women we play a crucial role in that.
- Define what ‘having it all’ means for you. There’s no one size fits all. Once you know what this means for you and your family you can make choices about the boundaries that you have around work and home and what you’re willing to do. Be confident in the choices you’ve made and avoid comparing yourself with other mums.
- Be realistic and manage expectations. It’s unlikely that you’re going to be made senior partner in your firm by working a 3-day week, term-time only. There are certain roles or positions that will require you to show your commitment, and that often equates to hours as well as output. Think about what is going to work for you and your boss, and then what that means for you.
- Focus and be present. Whether at home or at work be fully there in mind, body and spirit. Many women say that they feel torn and are often thinking about work when at home, and sometimes vice versa. Make the most of where you are in each moment.
- Think of your career as a long-term project. The choices that you make in the next few years don’t have to define your whole career. When your children are very young, it’s easy to think that life will always be this way. As we know they grow up so fast. When they start school you may find that you have some more time, energy and flexibility to work differently.
- Ask for flexibility. HBR found that those people (men and women) who had achieved senior positions had demanded more flexibility in their roles. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Present a compelling case that showcases your value to the company.
- Avoid projecting about the future and the impact of your choices. Worrying is pointless and delays action. Often we imagine worse case scenarios – all the things that might happen if we ask for x or y. Force yourself to think about the best case scenario too. It’s likely that things will never work out at badly as you’ve feared.
- Build up contacts – in and out of work. This helps with career choices, support networks and is vital to opening up your eyes to the new possibilities. Look for role models that you can ask for advice e.g. how they got their boss to say yes to flexible working, or how they balance work and home.
- Keep your online profile up to date. You never know what new opportunities may arise by having a strong profile on sites like LinkedIn.
- Be a leader. If you are in a position at work to support others get flexible working then stand up and be counted. Just because your organisation ‘never did this before’ it doesn’t mean they can’t change. Take an active role in supporting or mentoring other women and highlight issues and challenges to senior management.