Giving Up the Unhealthy Ideal of the Perfect Work-Life Balance
As a female leader in the technology industry, I have recently become embroiled in the conversation about women “having it all.”
Following Indra Nooyi’s candid remarks on the difficulties of balancing work and family, a slew of commentary emerged from working women at all stages of their careers, each of whom has expressed an immensely varied perspective on the matter. While some agree with Nooyi in her claims that “every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother,” others adamantly dispute this theory, calling her response stereotypical, negative and disheartening.
For years, we have spoken of the importance of empowering women, breaking through the glass ceiling and rightsizing female representation on executive boards. In recent years, we have, in fact, made immense strides in the business environment – women have grown to make up 46.8 percent of the overall United States labor force. Yet, despite this progress, only 16.9 percent of corporate board seats and 14.6 percent of executive officer positions are held by women. What’s more is that merely 4.8 percent of women hold the role of CEO.
These numbers clearly suggest that gender disparity is still prevalent in the working world. However, the problem is not just a matter of inequality, but rather ties back to our deeper-rooted need to meet the unrealistic, externally defined standard of “having it all.” Women are increasingly pressured to prove that they can juggle a successful, high-level career as well as a family. A recent study conducted by Pew Research Center found that among young women between the ages of 18 and 32, 59 percent said that being a working parent makes it harder for them to advance in their job or career. Conversely, only 19 percent of men agreed.
After fifteen years as a female leader in largely male-dominated industry, I have learned that while being a working parent is difficult, I do not need to sacrifice my work in order to focus on my family. Nor do I need to give up my family in order to pursue my work. This is not because I have mastered the art of “having it all,” but rather because I have recognized that I do not need to prove to anyone that I “have it all” in order to be happy and successful.
Currently, I serve as the Chief Customer Officer of a fast-growing social marketing company, Spredfast, where my job entails frequent and unpredictable travel. This means that sometimes I am FaceTiming with the kids at night instead of in person at the dinner table and even when I’m home, they are not eating four course meals cooked from scratch.
It is absolutely a complex and busy life, but one my husband and I chose together based on what we felt would be right for our family at this particular juncture in our lives. In the last ten years we have made other choices – balances between our jobs & travel, where we lived, and how much help we required – all in the pursuit of happiness.
The hardest thing to do along the way was to be present enough to admit when those choices didn’t work any more, and then change them. This may involve shifts in how we organize work-life priorities, and we understand that this may not be how other families schedule their time, but we also recognize that our preference is to focus on our family’s health and fulfillment — and not how others might view us.
Women and men alike need to work together to shift from the notion that we need to be perfect and “have it all.” Our roles have shifted drastically in recent years, with many fathers taking on more active roles at home and more mothers pursuing high-level positions in the workplace. These changes should serve as a reminder that there is no “ideal” way to achieve a work and family balance, and overall there cannot be a universal formula for how to “have it all.”
My husband and I have repeatedly observed how the routine that we consider to be normal varies greatly from the day-to-day lives of our peers – and while this was at first unsettling, we have learned that it is, in fact, okay. Travel, FaceTiming, and work obligations are all factors with which we grapple, but in the end, we have allowed ourselves to bring the focus back to what is best for our family — rather than pushing ourselves to meet an unachievable, super-human standard as defined by others.
Ultimately, in fact, we have stopped striving to “have it all.” Instead, we recognize that we already have everything that we need to truly meet our own standard of happiness — both within our careers, and in our everyday lives.
Written by Virginia Miracle, Chief Customer Officer14