I recently met an incredibly motivated and driven female leader. She is dedicated, loves the company she works for, thrives on feedback to improve and wants to achieve top performance status every year at her annual review. In discussing her career and future plans – she stopped mid sentence and admitted that having a baby was on the horizon and having a family as well as a career was very important to her. “Can’t I have it all?” She looked at me desperate to hear of course you can! But can we?
Managing an all-female business for the majority of my career, this is a topic I have observed, managed and lived myself. It is a topic that is constantly debated and depending on what publication you read, this week women can have it all, last week we couldn’t and the week before that we can as long as we don’t have more than two children! Even the box office is cashing in on the topic with Sarah Jessica Parker staring in I Just Don’t Know How She Does It. I haven’t seen the film (yet!), but I’m pretty sure it is a similar account of what I have already observed over the years.
In my opinion, yes you can have both BUT three things. One – what are your expectations? Two – how will you logistically blend the worlds of career and kids? And three – the balance will constantly change and evolve as you do; your career progresses and the children grow up.
I’ve been blending the worlds for 7 years and even this week I said to my husband I just want it all – I always have. My first role model of being able to achieve both was my mum, who had a teaching career combined with that of a homemaker. I didn’t see a skewed approach to either career or being a stay at home mum. What I saw was that being able to have the whole package was certainly within my reach and my control.
Wanting it all isn’t being selfish, greedy or unrealistic – it is purely an attempt to gain satisfaction from different facets of life. So having it all is certainly a challenge and not something that just happens because you want it to. It requires a planned approach, with realistic expectations combined with the right mindset and flexibility.
Quick tips to make it work:
- Expectations – in my experience if you think that you will be able to do the same job, the same way, with the same level of intensity, you are probably setting yourself up to fail. The truth is that once there is a little person in your world, it becomes nearly impossible to physically operate at the same capacity. Those 12 hours days with a networking breakfast in the morning and a client dinner that night is not only impossible to sustain, but you probably won’t have the same desire either with your thoughts elsewhere. Being realistic about what you can take on and how you manage your time becomes an essential priority.
- Accept change – you will potentially see things differently after having children. When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember my boss saying to me “don’t worry your personality won’t change, but you will become softer”. As a driven type A personality, I couldn’t see how it would make me softer in business and I saw this as potential negative. However, having children has made me ‘softer’ in the sense of being more aware and not so reactive to situations and people. Children can actually help by holding up a mirror………monkey see monkey do! It’s okay to change, to see things differently and learn from experiences – it can actually assist business decisions and career plans.
- Support networks – juggling work life and family life in my experience means there is always one parent who is the “fallback”. This is the person, who carries the extra load with the family when things get busy, or the kids get sick or the official childcare arrangements fall through. In an executive role in the corporate world, I do think this is extremely challenging and nearly impossible to be both. In most circumstances, women in senior leadership roles have great partners, families, and nannies behind the scenes supporting their careers. In my case, my husband is the glue that keeps everything together even when I feel that it might all be falling apart! I certainly would not have been able to achieve what I have in the business world without this support from him.
- An employer who gets it – an employer who actively supports flexibility, blending of the worlds and genuinely believes it is possible, is critical to achieve success for all involved. Just recently, a female executive went to an interview and when she asked about leaving early a couple of days per week for school pick ups, the potential employer said sure, because you’ll come back to the office straight after that won’t you? At that point, of course she knew it was never going to be match because there just wasn’t the level of understanding to make it work without it becoming a major issue.
- Remember me? In blending the worlds, there is little time left over for women as individuals. The all-important time to yourself is critical to continue being able to perform at work and at home. I learnt this lesson the hard way and wrote about it here (Health 1st, Family 2nd & Work 3rd….What’s your order?). Planning this time and booking it in like you would a business meeting is a necessary commitment.
To give yourself the best chance of “having it all”, be realistic and understand that life is going to be different. Your priorities will change and some people will understand and support you, while others will frown upon your choices and from time to time you will feel the turmoil of “mummy guilt”.
Being a successful corporate woman with a thriving business career as well as an engaged, active and present mother is possible. The systems, support networks and your personal approach are what make it possible to achieve in both worlds.