Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Is Flexibility the Key to Having It All?
Happy new year! And may 2019 be a stellar year for you all.
With the benefit of a little more downtime than usual, I’ve just finished Becoming by Michelle Obama – the fascinating story of the life and career of America’s former first lady. It’s a hefty read – or should I say “listen” since I opted for the Audible version – but well worth the investment of time for the interesting perspectives it offers on being the other half of the Obama force; on the power of education to change one's destiny; and the insights it provides on the challenges and rewards of balancing work and family.
Although her perspective on parenting in the White House is one we couldn’t begin to imagine, many of Obama’s personal stories – of carrying the mental load, of shifting up and down career gears, and ultimately of the scramble to hold it together – will resonate deeply with many working parents.
And while we’re seeing more dads stepping up to share the load, it’s true that in most families there’s a primary carer who shoulders the majority of the parenting load on top of their workload. And in most cases, that primary carer is mum. Which is why our obsession with women “having it all” seems to endure; despite their being no comparable expectation or curiosity for men.
Michelle Obama’s recollections of the demands, the expectations and in the inequity of work-family demands reminded me of the now-classic study by Sylvia Ann Hewlett published in Harvard Business Review called Executive Women and the Myth of Having it All. This study found that:
- 49% of ultra-achieving career women aged 41-55 are childless;
- 33% of high-achieving women aged 41-55 are childless and 57% are unmarried;
- By contrast, the more successful a man is, the more likely he has a spouse and children.
- Only 19% of ultra-high achieving men are childless
and 17% unmarried.
Hewlett’s thesis is that women don’t have it all; while men apparently do. But for those women who are working and parenting, it’s perhaps no surprise that what they value most at work is the gift of time: be it reduced-hours, career breaks, or the ability to work flexibly.
Of course, flexible working is not just for mothers returning to work but for those with other caring commitments, health reasons, sporting interests, people looking for an alternative to retirement and those pursuing side projects. If you're a leader of people, or seeking to achieve more flexibility in your career and life in 2019, you are most welcome to join the Brand You webinar hosted across Australia by Women in Banking and Finance on 18th February, 12.30-1pm AEST. We'll explore the theme of Achieving Flexibility at Work, with guest expert Christina Smerdon from Work180.