Women need to protect and value their careers as well their families. This involves speaking up for yourself and accepting that you will need to ask for help - at work and at home.
I am ardent about encouraging women to ‘have it all’, how to keep going up the career ladder without compromising their family values – but I know first hand that it is a struggle and not easily done. It has taken me a long time to work out how to achieve it myself. However I do believe that with the right support and the right attitude it is possible to have a career without having to watch your children’s lives from the sidelines.
Many women leave their careers when they have children because they find it too challenging trying to manage both. They start their careers fuelled by ambition (and even a bit of feminism) and are often unprepared for the emotional tug that becoming a mother brings, the havoc that hormones can play and the guilt and exhaustion that can overwhelm. This combined with the cost of child care and the expense of commuting means that many women run an emotional and financial equation through their minds and the result is that it seems to make sense to put their careers on hold for a bit. The ‘bit’ is well intentioned, but then the gremlin of increased lack of self-confidence and self-belief from having been out of the work place takes hold.
Research shows that the Confidence Gap between men and women is not a myth and that it exists even before a woman dips out of her career. Having a career break can turn the Gap in to a Gulf. The result is many women don’t return to their careers but take ‘lesser’ jobs or set up their own businesses (and this is not the easy option it might appear). This exacerbates the issue of too few women in senior management and compounds the lack of female role models and mentors and the problem of gender imbalance is self-perpetuating.
I agree that women should ‘Lean In’ and ‘go for’ their careers as a man would, but not at the all or nothing choice of career or family. Women need to take a longer-term view of their career and be more strategic. I see a possible solution for women is to somehow keep the company door ajar whilst they have a young family. Women should value their jobs as well as their families; they must protect their careers and keep investing in them for the future. Children grow up and you do get your energy back and reach a point when you do want to resume your career. But sometimes other circumstances force the issue, a partner who has been made redundant or having to support yourself after a divorce and returning to work is no longer a choice. If you haven’t kept your career on track, even in a small way, resentment sets in that you ‘gave up your career’, as you struggle to get a foothold on the ladder again.
Yes, companies need to play their part and in particular support part-time and remote working practices and have active women’s networks and a mentor/sponsor programme, but there is so much women can do to help themselves. They are in an increasingly strong position: with the pressure to improve the numbers of women in senior roles, companies are adopting ways to maintain their pipeline of female leaders. Ladies, you ‘matter’. Your skills, knowledge and client relationships matter (are important and valuable) to your employer but your needs also matter.
So, the individual solution that works for you starts with a conversation about the flexibility and support you need – both with your manager at work and your partner at home. It’s also about delegating routine tasks, standing up for yourself and saying no – one woman I know kept ironing her husbands shirts because she feared the acerbic tongue of her mother-in law!!
Women who keep a foot (or even just a toe) on the career ladder and persevere through the guilt and sheer exhaustion of juggling a demanding, responsible job and motherhood, get to maintain their professional knowledge, confidence and financial independence and are in the right place and ready to go for top positions when their ties at home diminish. In return, businesses get their commitment, loyalty, and ultimately more women at board level, which has been proven to mean better financial results.
How can we help? At Voice at the Table we are zealous about supporting women to fulfill their dual potential and roles as successful professional and mother.
We offer women New Generation 1:1 Coaching which gives them a safe place and a thinking place to step back, view their challenges from a fresh perspective and pin-point what they need to make their careers and home life ‘fit’ together and what courageous conversations will have to take place to make that happen. New Generation Coaching offers the best of non-directive, non-judgmental coaching with the added benefit of a trusted and experienced mentor to share their expertise.
Personally I don’t regret my career break to ‘be there’ for my children, but I do regret how complete the break was and not having been brave enough to have the conversations about how I could have stayed involved with my employer in some way, not just in terms of pushing for flexible working practices but also considering different roles that would have been easier to manage for a few years. Coaching would have helped me realize my worth and helped me see my career as less ‘on or off’, my career progression as less linear and help me come up with workable solutions to stay in the game. It would also have helped me be more assertive to ask for help at home from my husband, see my career as equally important as his and realize that not only did I not have to do ‘everything’ but that ‘everything’ also didn’t have to be perfect.
So, please take a long lens to look at your career and don’t sacrifice it for short-term respite, which may unwittingly sabotage your future.
* Cara Moore is a life coach who is passionate about helping women progress. Cara is an associate of Voice At The Table. Read more about Cara here.