Leadership – Can working parents ‘have it all’?

A recent article in The Times by Camilla Cavendish on why Barclays will never have a female boss along with the announcement of Yahoo’s newly appointed female CEO (who also happens to be pregnant) have re-ignited the age old debate of whether working women can ever truly ‘have it all’. The definition of ‘having it all’ appears to be reaching the top and maintaining status in the workplace whilst successfully bringing up well rounded, emotionally stable children. No pressure then…….. As a mother of two young children and having recently set up my own business (not quite power female status but striving!) this is a debate close to my heart and many working mums I know.

Is it possible for working women to ‘have it all’?

As Marissa Mayer takes her place at the helm of Yahoo, the focus is less on how her expert leadership skills will turn the troubled internet giant around but rather on her plans for maternity leave and how she will possibly balance being a new mother with her new role. Do any of us really care?? If she were a man about to become a father, would we be asking the same question? I think not. But yet again we are faced with the question of whether she and every other working mother can ‘have it all’. Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department and first ever female dean at Princeton is firmly in the NOT camp recently declaring it impossible.

The words ‘having it all’ have become attached to the ‘working mum’ title both of which are dated and frankly irritating. Are there any situations in life that allow us, male or female, to have it all and if there were, what does having it all even look like? The debate is tired and forces us to question and doubt our choices.

When I look at my own situation and why I choose to work whilst also being a mum the answer is simple, I like to work and I feel like a more fulfilled and better rounded person when I do so. Setting up my own business is something I have always hoped and strived for and I feel very proud and privileged to be in a position to be able make it happen. This is also exactly the same way I feel about having children, so for me it was never a one or the other – it always had to be both.

 

How can women take control of their career progression after having children?

According to The Independent, fewer than a third of Britain’s most influential jobs are held by women. And barely 16% of board members on the UK’s top 100 listed companies are female. I can relate to this. When my first child was born I worked for a fast paced global consultancy and as much as my employers strived to be supportive and flexible it was inevitable that my career slowed down a gear – trying to fit five days work into three, I soon became frustrated and lost confidence. I decided that I wanted to take control of my career progression once again and feel happy and confident in my position in the working world.

For me, motherhood seemed to focus the mind and things I had always seen as ‘something I’ll get round to in the future….maybe’ actually became a priority. I know I’m not alone in deciding to go it alone and that the trend for ‘mumpreneurs’ – new mothers setting up businesses is very much on the up. I truly don’t believe this is because women simply want to work less hours. Let’s face it, setting up and running a profitable business in this financial climate is no walk in the park – there’s no holiday or maternity entitlement, sick pay or extra benefits. It’s starting from scratch and using your communications and business development skills in a whole new way.

Why should work and parenthood be a female issue?

As for the ‘have it all’ debate there’s no doubt it will continue for a long time to come. There’s no right answer and there are so many factors to be considered that are personal to the individual. I, along with my very supportive network manage to make it work. Sometimes that can mean a bit of muddling through here and there but that’s life and I certainly don’t think my children suffer in any way as a result. For me it shouldn’t be a gender issue – ‘working mums’ are women who work and also have children but we never talk about ‘working dads’ who are in exactly the same boat. The BBC2 documentary on ‘Babies in the Office’ showed that it is increasingly important for men to be part of their childrens’ upbringing – and they face the same issues as women in trying to combine that with a successful career.

If you take away the labels, you take away the pressure to conform to the perfect business person/parent ideal – and let everyone focus on being more productive and having a more balanced, well rounded life.

 

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