“Birth, death, illness…sometimes they have to take priority. And you need to try and be OK with that.”
There is a lot of pressure on women to be everything. Have you noticed? If you’re single, you’re constantly asked why. If you don’t have kids, people want to know why not. If you take time out of your career to have a child, people want to know when you’ll be back. If you come back quickly, people ask “but how can you leave the baby?”.
Of course, there’s also the incessant pressure to be thin and beautiful and young AT ALL TIMES which hums along in the background.
But mostly, the biggest pressure on women comes from ourselves. Internally. To be everything. To do everything. And when we can’t (or don’t want to), we feel ashamed or guilty. We freak out.
In the past few months, I’ve had so many conversations about this with friends and women I work with. All of them are smart, talented and ambitious. They love their jobs and they’re bloody good at them. But life has thrown them some curveballs in the past year and they’ve been forced to take an unexpected step back from work.
Some of these curveballs have been happy – new babies or pregnancies both expected and unexpected. Others have been more challenging – the illness of a family member or their own mental health challenges. Then there are those who’ve just been hit by the reality check of having small children and trying to work full time or part time and realising something has to give.
Without exception, all of these women have spoken to me in hushed tones of their concern, their fear, their frustration and their reluctance about stepping back. “I just want to be able to do my job the way I used to at the same level as the other women at work,” one friend told me sadly. “But none of them have one child let alone three.”
Another confessed she was worried about the impact on her career after having to move interstate so she could look after her sick father. “I don’t want to change jobs but what can I do? My Dad needs me.”
We employ more than 90 women of all ages at Mamamia Women’s Network and we’re constantly recruiting more, so I have these conversations every day. The women who want to work full time but can’t because they are caring for young children or elderly parents. The women who want the job or promotion they’ve been offered but have to say no because they know their family situation or their mental health won’t allow it.
These women have all read Sheryl Sandberg’s brilliant book Lean In where she exhorts women to keep their foot on the accelerator of their careers instead of slowing down in anticipation of a future life where they may not be able to sustain that higher speed.
I couldn’t agree more. I loved that book. I keep it in my office and it’s full of underlined paragraphs. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Women SHOULD lean in when they can. Sheryl Sandberg is spot on.