As women, we all have a personal story concerning the road we have taken to achieve work life balance. I have a career saga to tell – as you have your own unique story. All of the challenges and frustrations that we have experienced, are certainly ours to own and share. Of late, I am optimistic that we are moving to a new stage in the evolution of work for women, supported by the changing tide of culture and transparency. As organizations become increasingly open about who they really are and what they have to offer us, we might finally become more comfortable expressing who we really are and what we can realistically offer them.
Transparency, a force which has swept the workplace off its proverbial feet, is on course to set the stage for real communication in the employee-organization realm – and I am glad for it. Hopefully, this developing transparency will have a positive impact upon the unique set of challenges and stereotypes women face in the workplace. It remains, that many women would like to spend time at home at key points in their work lives. They should be able to freely to admit this, and have this need met without fear of reprisal or career suicide.
If you have had the opportunity to read the Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, you’d know exactly where I am going with this. With a healthy dose of work life transparency, there is an opportunity for women to know what they are really up against when entering the world of work. We all should discuss the realities openly – because the essence of being happy at work, might lie just as much in being honest about what we cannot do – as much as what we can do.
In the early days of my career, I saw manifestations of the “super woman” myth on a regular basis. As a research manager at a large telecom company, I recall the story of one of our vendors placing business related calls from her hospital bed, shortly after giving birth. Everyone seemed impressed and remotely amused by the story – but I found the behavior perplexing. I thought to myself; Why did she feel the need to do such a thing? But, the answer was really quite obvious – she had to prove to everyone that she was committed to her career, even though she chose to have a family. I am hoping that we won’t hear such stories in the future – and that there are less heroic displays of career loyalty required.
As Slaughter goes on to discuss, young women today are becoming more open about what their role will look like, in comparison to their spouse or male co-workers. I believe that subtle, yet real differences will remain, and it is wise to validate that difference. Offering women accurate information about combining work and family won’t necessarily predispose them to take on a less challenging career – it simply offers them the option to realistically plan for it.
In today’s world, young men and women have similar expectations concerning holding roles with increased responsibility, and opinions concerning the division of labor within the home are also evolving. Men appear to be developing a stronger role within the home – a trend which will certainly augment honest work life planning going forward. But, other issues need to fall into place as well. This includes the help of organizations to wipe out stereotypes in the workplace – a much-needed, deep-seeded cultural shift. Slaughter describes that problem perfectly, and open discussions concerning gender parity are in order. (In this regard, I am anxious to see how the career of Melissa Meyer develops as she embarks upon her journey.)
In the past it seems that the question posed to women as they embarked upon a career was, “what are you willing to give up to be a great success”. Going forward, I am hoping this becomes a thoughtful and honest discussion, with advantages to be reaped by both organizations and employees alike. Possibly a dose of transparency concerning the roles ahead, provided by those of us who speak from experience, can lead to more effective outcomes.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and coach. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.