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Career Woman vs. Family Woman: Can Female Leaders Have It All?

Pursuing a career and building a family are both personal choices for women. Many women wonder if it’s possible to have both a leadership role in a thriving career and be a supportive partner and hands-on mother. 

Although much of the leadership world today is prominently male, women have a lot of value to bring to C-Suite positions. 

By acknowledging that women have a place at the table and identifying and utilizing available resources, female leaders can work to find the balance between a thriving career and a supported family that works for them.

Lingering Inequity Between Female and Male Leaders at the Corporate Level

Most often, conversations that revolve around “having it all” are targeted toward female leaders. We are continually questioned as to whether or not we can be career women and family women at the same time.

I believe that as women, we are tasked with more of the logistics of creating a family. Most often we grow the babies and birth the children in our families. Additionally, there are basic differences in how men and women want — and choose — to nurture their children, and much of the time, caring for children falls on the women.

Women are most often the ones forced to adjust their ambition and make compromises to meet the needs of their children and other family members.

Data tends to show that there is an unbalanced reflection of “having it all” between men and women at the corporate level; a recent study found that in the United States, of married senior managers, two-thirds of men had children compared to only one-third of women.

Why is it often harder for women to feel like they can be successful in both the C-Suite and at home?  

While both men and women in high-level positions likely work long hours and face many of the same work pressures, women usually have additional stressors to face in their work environment, some of the biggest stressors, mentioned below. 

 

An Unbalanced Environment

The Harvard Business Review conducted research that found that not only are women in leadership positions perceived to be just as effective as men, but that women score higher than most men in leadership skills assessments. 

Still, less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 2% of S&P 500 CEOS are women, with those numbers declining.

Women at the corporate level are working in an environment that isn’t balanced. They are mostly surrounded by men, leaving them to face the challenges of not having many “like” people around them. 

Ultimately, fewer women in the C-Suite means fewer peers who are experiencing the same things in the same environment.

 

Responsibility for the Women Coming Up the Ladder Next

Although women account for nearly half of the U.S. population and hold 57% of undergraduate degrees and 60% of master’s degrees, they are missing from leadership roles in America.

Men hold more leadership positions in the U.S., forcing women to continually work hard to prove their worth in the C-Suite — paving the way for women coming after them.

Men simply don’t have the same burden of this responsibility as women.

I believe that as a woman in the C-Suite, not only are you learning for yourself, but you’re creating a journey for the women who will come after you — and that’s a big job to fill.

My generation, Gen X, was still pioneering women in the workplace at corporate levels. Naively, I thought that by the time my daughter, Gen Y, entered the workforce, men and women would be on the same playing field. Unfortunately, there’s still a huge gap and we are still learning how to mitigate that.

 

Can Women Have It All?

One survey done by the Pew Research Center found that of 2,002 adults, 59% of women 18 to 32 years old believe that being a working parent makes it more difficult to advance in a career. 

When it comes down to being a career vs. family woman, the million-dollar question is this: Can women have it all?

The answer is not straightforward. As women, we are all on a unique journey. We get to decide what that journey is and how we want to live it.

 

Every Woman’s “All” Is Different

Female leaders need to acknowledge that one person’s “all” will be different from another’s. 

For one woman, having it all may mean working a C-Suite position while also never missing a kid’s ball game. For another, it may mean holding a leadership role while also being the parent who steps out to take care of a sick child when they can’t go to school.

Women should also remember that one’s “all” can and likely will be different at different times. It can change — it’s fluid depending on seasons of life and ever-fluctuating priorities.

 

Women With Corporate Careers Will Likely Not Have It “All,” All the Time

It’s difficult to be a leader. It takes hard work, dedication, and time to be a part of the C-Suite. The stress and difficulties of leadership positions can be all-consuming.

To think that a woman can be a great leader, a perfect friend, a perfect mother, a perfect spouse, and anything else she strives to be — all the time — is unrealistic in the corporate world. 

Of course, women should strive to be great in all that they do, but putting the stress on themselves to be perfect in every aspect of their lives at all times — especially while holding a corporate position, will likely set them up for failure.

However, it’s possible (and hopefully the case) for a woman to be surrounded by people and environments that are supportive, appreciative, attentive, and encouraging. A female leader needs people and communities she can lean into, that remind her she’s not alone, and that encourage her to open up. 

With this, women can achieve the “all” they’ve defined and strive to have.

 

Nothing Is Permanent – The “All” Will Change

One major fear many women have is that change is permanent. I believe this is simply not the case. 

A woman in a leadership role with children will know that children change constantly. As they grow, their needs evolve, their schedules become busier, and their dependency on their parents might lessen. 

Careers are also always evolving, whether by day, by month, or over the years. Life will always throw unexpected (or expected) curveballs that require change. 

A decision made today to support the “all” of the moment, does not have to be the decision that governs the rest of a journey. As the “all” changes, so will life and career priorities. 

 

How Can Female Leaders Navigate the Career vs. Family Woman Challenge?

It’s possible to be a female leader who is both a career woman and a family woman — I am one myself. When it comes to navigating these waters, women need to find a healthy balance to navigate both worlds. 

So, how do they do that? 

 

Define Priorities

Being a female leader is demanding and women have to put in a lot of time, effort, and work to hold their own in leadership roles. However, to navigate the career vs. family woman challenge, women need to clearly define their priorities.

What are some hard stops when it comes to balancing work and home life? What things matter the most?

It could be children, family, or self-care. Maybe it’s never missing a child’s bedtime routine or being there to put a kid on the bus every morning.

Priorities will look different for everyone, but taking the time to clearly define them is important.

 

Accept That There Will Be Sacrifices

Being both a career woman and a family woman will not come without sacrifices. There were many times I didn’t have it “all” all of the time. I’ve made mistakes. I haven’t been where I should have been many times. You can only juggle so many plates before some start to hit the ground.

To better balance my career and our home life, something had to give. Ultimately, my husband chose to step back from his career which, for us, was the right decision. 

Oftentimes, on the journey to finding joy and success in your career, sacrifices have to be made. 

 

Create a Support System and Lean In

Women are often not surrounded by “like” individuals at the corporate level, so creating a support system outside the workplace — and leaning into it when necessary — is important.

In an ideal world, women are able find a group or environment that fulfills this role. 

Maybe it’s another woman in a leadership role with children. Maybe it’s people at the gym you attend. It could be extended family members. 

A support system is crucial. As a woman in leadership, having people around you that push you and encourage you to go after things, that support the changes you want to make at work or home, and who listen when you want to vent or bounce ideas around, is key.

 

Find Reassurance in the Long-Term Benefits for Children of Working Mothers

Women in leadership roles sometimes feel guilt around working while simultaneously raising children — they think their children might suffer long-term.

But that’s not the reality. A Harvard Business School study showed that women whose mothers worked outside the home were more likely to also have jobs themselves, hold supervisory responsibilities, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time.

My own daughter’s current career trajectory has followed mine, even with my husband being the full-time at-home parent while I was the working parent. Our family’s dynamic wasn’t without hurdles — there were many times issues would come up that we’d have to sit down and address as a family; but, with no intentional outside influences, my daughter is a successful career woman, as well.

 

K. Parkin Consultancy: Helping Women in Leadership Find the Balance That Works for Them

Finding the balance between being a career woman and a family woman in leadership positions is an ongoing struggle for many women. K. Parkin Consultancy exists to support women in leadership roles by providing executive coaching to help women feel confident in their careers.