One question I get asked a lot is, “how do you manage it all?
32% of women felt if they did less around the home, they wouldn’t be taking care of it properly getting stressed about everything they needed to get done. Finding true balance between work and family seems impossible; we’re always worried we’re falling short on one front or the other. It is dizzying and unsustainable. Women’s dissatisfaction originating from the “aggregating over their multiple domains.”
In the Pew survey of millennial working mothers, 58% said that being a mother made it harder for them to get ahead compared with 19% of millennial fathers. The reason for the disparity is obvious. Just as women reach middle management and their leadership responsibilities at work increase exponentially, they are simultaneously starting families and taking on the larger share of labour at home.
It is a cruel confluence of a highly intelligent woman and career and her biological clock. By the average age of 30, whether it’s part of a team at the office or caring for a baby at home, women are shouldering more responsibility than ever before in their lives. This collision of bad timing then combusts with two other external forces.
First, workplaces are still organised around the myth of an ideally supported worker. The professional world assumes that every full-time employee has someone else managing his or her home.
Second, the heightened demand of modern child-rearing makes the burden of parenting and household management heavier than ever.
Common Sense Solutions
The most common-sense solutions to the work-home conundrum are national affordable childcare, paid family leave policies, evolved workplaces, and a culture that values caregiving.
Anne-Marie Slaughter makes a powerful and persuasive case for this in her book Unfinished Business. Iceland, along with many European countries, has subsidised nurseries and the longest parental leaves of any nation. It is ranked as the best place in the world to be a woman.
In contrast, the rest of us can’t find the time to exercise, let alone to wait for the politicians to pass this type of forward-thinking legislation that would support working families.
Instead women and men are left to solve this problem for themselves.
The most traditional solution is to drop out of career pursuits altogether. Women who choose this path are a small, affluent group representing only 5% of married mothers. This solution is economically impractical for the vast majority of women whose families rely on their income. In fact, women are now the sole or primary breadwinner in 23.3% of UK households with children under 18 (2019 figures).
The second solution involves slowing down career pursuits. 17% of women reduce or adapt their work commitments so that they will have the bandwidth to take care of demands at home. The Mummy track working part time or reduced hours or taking advantage of flex policies – which carry the stigma of noncommitment in most working cultures today.
In recent years, slowing down solution has been referred to as the “nonlinear track.”
In a Harvard Business School alumni survey, 37% of millennial women and 42% of those already married said they plan to interrupt their careers for family. By age 30, nearly half of them had already chosen more flexible careers or had intentionally stepped off the fast track. 9% had declined a promotion because of family responsibilities.
The third solution is to not have children at all. Millennial women who choose not to have children as their career success strategy, or who can’t have children, do have a precedent: at this point in time, 49% of women at the highest levels of corporate leadership have never had children, compared with only 19% of their male counterparts.
None of these solutions worked for me
I tried the part-time flexible working option for 8 years. In reality, I worked full time but was paid for part-time hours which gave me the authority to have flexibility in my working pattern but left me feeling undervalued and disrespected.
Trying to do it all
That left me with the recourse that most women take: trying to do it all at work and at home. Unfortunately, these attempts take their toll, on our health and mental well-being. Those of us that are committed to our careers and our families, who are unable or don’t want to pause or slow down our career pursuits, end up more exhausted, stressed out, depleted and sick than any previous generation of women.
Today I can report that I am flourishing in my business and I am doing work that deeply matters to me. I’ve maintained my health and relationships. It wasn’t easy or automatic to get to this place, but the results have been life changing.
My life is far from perfect and I don’t always get it right, but I no longer feel the burden of guilt and anxiety that many working mothers feel and that I once felt myself.
This is not an individual problem, it’s a collective one
The research is unequivocal: the most complex problems are best solved by a diverse group of people. Yet the highest levels of leadership are glutted with the same type: male, white, straight, able bodied and wealthy. Don’t get me wrong, many are highly accomplished, smart and well meaning. It’s just that their lens is too narrow to address gigantic problems like inequality, climate change, terrorism or decline of education systems.
If we care about these problems, we have to care about the women whose help we need to solve them.
100 Years to Catch Up
Today, women make up half of the workforce, but at our current rate it will take one hundred years for women to be half of our leaders. The very future of our society rests on women’s ability to get past middle management (or for those in academia – to go beyond the postdoc) and to thrive in the process.
We now have a generation of women who believe they can be anything they want to be but they are still the primary managers of their families and homes.
This expectation is a setup for feelings of failure, stress and guilt. And these feelings come with dangerous health effects. The status quo within our families simple cannot be sustained.
We need to put our own needs first – not just prevent working mothers from crashing but to fast forward history.
Everything starts with replenishing your energy. What does bold self-care look like to you?
PS Skipped straight to the bottom? Don’t blame you, it was a long one! In short, the way I manage it all is to put my own needs first. This is bold self-care and we need to prioritise it – not just to prevent burnout but for the future of our society
PPS Everything starts with replenishing your energy. What would bold self care look like to you right now? Hit reply, let me know and commit to it.