Investing in a career can be hard work. It takes time, dedication, and commitment. Trying to progress in your career whilst also raising a family presents a whole new set of challenges. Many workplaces, even in 2020, aren’t equipped to support working mothers despite the fact that in the UK, 75% of Mothers with dependent children were in the workforce in 2019.
The pandemic has intensified the challenges that women face in the workplace. Working mothers have always had to balance the ‘double shift’: going to work followed by looking after children. With 2020 completely changing the way we work and live, many people who regularly work in an office-based job are now remotely working, blurring the line between work and home. Mothers are three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for the housework and caregiving during the pandemic. So not only do working mothers have to adapt to work-related changes caused by the pandemic, they also have to look after their children, possibly homeschool, and keep on top of housework. It is not an easy balance, yet Mothers across the globe are facing this daily.
A study by McKinsey found that since the pandemic, over one in four women have considered downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely. This could be a complete disaster for the corporate world that may lead to losing women in leadership and could unravel years of work towards gender equality. A study by the Fawcett Society shows that women in their 30s may never see the gender pay gap close in their working lives. Are the social norms of our society in fact slowing down the progress that has been made in gender equality?
The world is clearly at a turning point. This could be the disaster of a generation, or it could be an extremely positive opportunity. Workplaces need to become more flexible and empathetic to allow these changes to happen. Companies can achieve this, allowing them to “retain the employees most affected by today’s crises and nurture a culture in which women have equal opportunity to achieve their potential over the long term.”
An ExP poll showed that 24% of women found the biggest challenge to advancing in their career was work-life balance. We should give women the opportunity to choose to have a family and have a successful career. A new government-backed study for Zurich insurance suggests that women are 20% more likely to apply for senior roles if they offer flexible working hours. With part-time, work from home or flexible working hours available, women are given the opportunity to have a better work-life balance. This isn’t just a benefit for women either. There are many fathers who are now taking on the role of caregiver and would benefit from flexibility at work.
More and more ‘companies are being forced to allow people to work from home, which is a step in the right direction in terms of allowing for more flexible working hours. That’s how we work as much as possible at Sales Impact Academy … you don’t have to be working a traditional nine to five to get all your work done.’ – Alexandra Damgaard, co-founder of Sales Impact Academy.
So how can corporations take action? By re-setting norms around flexible working hours, making work more sustainable, reducing gender bias (which is especially common in cases where there is only one woman in the room), creating better parental leave policies and so on. If you’re a leader in your company looking for some suggestions as to how to combat this, we would highly suggest you read the full McKinsey report.
The changes that need to take place will not happen overnight, they will require strategic planning, strong leadership and creativity, but they will be vital in creating a sustainable and equal workplace.
Keeping this in mind, what actions can we take to minimise the challenge this presents with advancing our careers, but also maintaining the work-life balance we want?
Evaluate what your priorities are and make sure that your work-life balance reflects that.
To make work-life balance easier, ask yourself what your number one priority is. This of course, will ebb and flow as your work and personal life evolves. For some people, work is displaced as number 1 when they have a family. For others, work continues to be something they continue to allocate a lot of time to. The point is, how you choose to prioritise your time and energy will be unique to the environment and situation you’re in – there is no universally correct way to prioritise your life – but you will want to have your priorities reflected in the way your work-life balance looks.
‘I think you have to look at your life and weave your work into it. That’s the way I chose to do it. I did not choose to make work number one in my life. Family, for me, was number one. And then, you know, work was probably number three underneath you know health. And so my career has been circuitous at best, but it’s always been within the confines of what I felt I can do, do a really good job, keep my sanity and deliver on whatever I promised I would deliver.’
Although it may not make balancing things easier, knowing where your priorities lie will help you make suitable choices for your work-life balance.
‘You know, for me it’s always been a struggle, always always always always, because, in the first part of my career, I was a single mother with a kid and two dogs. It was very difficult for me to balance, anything really. The reality was I had to switch careers and not be client-facing because I couldn’t travel, I couldn’t go anywhere. I had to pick a role that would allow me to get work done while the kids were sleeping or, you know, between running them back and forth to school or whatever it was. But… as they grew older, I moved into these roles where I could be gone or I was in front of clients. So, I’ve really ebbed and flowed between a purely technical position, and then one where I’m travelling all the time (pre-COVID).’
When you can, try to look for companies that align with your personal priorities
‘I think it’s good to really know who you are as a person and what your priorities are because that has to align with the company or the firm you’re working with as well. And those are the kinds of conversations you’re going to want to have when you’re coming on board to make sure it’s a good fit for you.’ – Marylou.
Marylou is an outstanding example of someone who has balanced her personal life and a family alongside an extremely successful career. She has also actively sought companies and roles that could provide her with the flexible working hours that she needed to maintain that balance. It’s very difficult to know when it’s the right time to move, but if you are considering changing jobs or moving to a different company, here is some advice that may help you figure it out.
It would be completely amiss for us not to recognise that choosing where you get to work, and how you get to work (flexible working hours/ remote working), is not an option for everyone. As we’ve explored above, still today, companies are failing to provide good company policies that encourage a supportive work-life balance culture. But, it is improving, and the hope is that with the rise of flexible and remote working the pool of companies providing these kinds of benefits will only get bigger, which means, more choice.
If you want a leadership position…go for it!
More and more, companies are realising the importance of having women in leadership roles. Both for company culture, and because more women in leadership = more revenue. If you’re a woman with their sights set on leadership, look for companies who are actively seeking and recruiting for women to fill these positions.
Rachel Arts, Director at Talentstorm, has been a successful businesswoman and mother for many years. She gives this advice “don’t be afraid to progress, as the more senior you are, the more control you have over your schedule”.
Whilst you’re looking for positions, do some research to see if those companies have policies in place that will actually help support women in leadership roles. Ask them, for example, what they intend to do to help keep women in leadership once they get there, do they have gender bias training? How many employees are actually taking advantage of their flexible working hours (you don’t want to arrive and suddenly that there’s a massive stigma around taking them), do they have good parental support schemes?
If you’d like access to a resource we’ve created to help women fight the challenges they said they most commonly face with advancing in their career (based on our Women in Sales Leadership webinar attendees), download it here (download it as a PDF).
Learning to stop (especially when you’re working from home)
Although remote working can provide tremendous benefits for work-life balance, it can also swing the other way, with a recent study showing that an average working day in lockdown is 48.5 minutes longer. When the boundaries between work and life are so blurred, it’s easy to spend an extra hour on your laptop finishing work that you probably would have left if you’d been at the office.
Alex’s advice for those who are struggling to find the boundary with remote working – ‘That’s the other thing I guess, to realise is there is always more that you can do, there’s always another task, or you can always do a little bit more on that project. That’s when you have to tell yourself and let yourself stop doing what you’re doing and do it tomorrow.’
As a working mother, you don’t always have the luxury of getting your work done in sociable hours. Sometimes you look after children all day, and the laptop only comes out at bedtime. If this is the case, you still need to allow yourself some time to look after yourself. So, even if you are working evenings, choose a time to put your laptop away and stick to it.
Rachel shares how she juggles work and family life – ‘It is something I do continually, all day every day, juggling work commitments and family commitments. The trick is to not sweat the small stuff, never get stressed about not being able to complete something you had decided you wanted to complete in your head when there is no real deadline.’
Ultimately, creating a better work-life balance for you will probably take some consideration and conversation. Conversations with your family, your partner, anyone who’s important in your life, your colleagues and your leadership team at work (here is a good article about how you may go about negotiating for better parental rights from your employer). Discussing what you need to make your life easier and to feel more supported so you can bring your best self to every situation.
It is important to note here, there is no ‘right way’ to do work-life balance. What the amazing women in this blog have done has worked for them, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a one size fits all solution, and in a time like the pandemic – where we have had to relinquish so much control – the best thing to do might be to let go of the idea that there is a ‘perfect’ balance to find.
If you’d like the recording to the Women in Sales Leadership webinar we hosted, please email: [email protected]
By MR & JT