It was one of Australia’s leading female CEOs, Gillian Franklin from The Heat Group, who once said:
Women can have it all, but not all at once.
Many of us have learned that the hard way. We have tried to keep all the balls in the air and as a result we failed to be who we truly wanted to be. Our important relationships suffered. We became irritable, anxious and exhausted. We even jeopardised our health. We did not eat well. We even missed meals. When we did eat we ate the wrong food that did nothing to enhance our energy. We didn’t get enough sleep. We never seemed to be able to find the time to exercise. At the end of the day we relaxed with too much wine or chocolate. All of this increased our stress levels and put us at risk of heart disease and stroke and all in the name of us pursuing success, pursuing it all!
Then there is the double shift we do as women – the work/family balance issue and the lack of flexibility at the level of senior leadership and management. It is not just about our children, but also about balancing time for other significant relationships while protecting ourselves from burn-out. Another way of putting this is to say that we, as women, don’t have a wife, someone who keeps all the balls in the air, that brilliant multi-tasker who ensures that everything is remembered and taken care of.
Some significant research has been done by Swedish researcher, Bodil Bergman, on the stress levels of men and women in the workplace. What she found was that when men go to work their stress levels increase enormously and that when they come home from work, they drop just as significantly. For women, however, the situation is reversed. When women go to work their stress levels drop markedly, and when they come home, and start their second shift, their stress levels rise significantly.
Women are very conscious of this when the opportunity for management and leadership positions are offered. Professor Leonie Still’s research has also shown that women are much more relational than men, and make their career choices taking into account other people besides themselves – family, children, partner, for example. Their desire for balance, however, if they dare to talk about it to senior management, is often interpreted as them being less ambitious, less serious about their career development than their male counterparts, and therefore a management and leadership risk.
So How Do We Have It All – But Not All At Once.
The short answer is:
We discover our Why.
We set goals around it.
We build a network of support that helps us achieve it because there is no way we can go it alone.
Discover Your Why.
This is your reason for doing what you do. It is why you get up in the morning. It is what inspires and motivates you. It is your big picture vision of who you want to be. It is about what you want people who interact or work with you say about how you impacted them, what it was about you that made the difference.
You need to reflect and go deep to discover your Why but when you do make that discovery, the How is easy.
Set Goals around the How.
This is more the small picture vision, where you ask what you need to be doing that sees you able to live your Why. Often when you go through that process, you discover that there are great barriers to achieving your Why while you continue to work in the organisation you do, or even in the industry or professional sector that you work in. You realise that you need to make a huge shift that is often frightening and challenging, but if you have the courage to make it, it can bring you great success. You will also experience, maybe for the first time, real congruence between who you are, what you do and why you do it.
Build a Network of Support.
To discover your Why and set the goals you need to be true to that Why can be difficult to do by yourself. This is where, in the first place, having a network of other women can be enormously valuable, women who have been where you want to go, women who have been challenged in the way you are now being challenged but have come through to new and exciting beginnings.
It can also be important to get some men in your network, to build meaningful and purposeful relationships an connections with them. These will be men who are committed to sharing the stage with women. They will be men who can help you navigate pro-actively the pathways to leadership which are still predominantly being held by men. They can help you break through.
Most importantly, women in relationships need their partners supporting them. Couples need to be willing to work together to help one another achieve their individual goals, but to also make the compromises that will sustain what they see is important to them both. If they have children this means a commitment to shared parenting.
Getting a mentor will add great value to your support network. Initially a woman will probably make the greatest contribution to you becoming the person you want to be. She will be someone who has arrived where you want to go. She has a story to tell, experiences to share and can guide and support you to get there more quickly because you won’t have to re-invent the wheel at every turn. You can learn from her. She will introduce you to her networks, help you build yours and sponsor your professional development. Most importantly, she will initially probably believe in you more than you believe in yourself, and be an empowering presence in your life that will see you confidently plan your life so that eventually you can have it all.
In summary, your Why will last a lifetime, but your goals for living it will be reworked at every stage of your life so that at the end of it you will look back and see that you actually have had it all.