As mum to three girls, I am aware of not only my own job as a role model but I am also conscious about who else they may look up to as they grow. In so doing, I have always had faith that there are certain issues the generations between myself and the girls’ will have figured out….one of these being the old ‘work-life’ balance.
It came as a bit of a surprise to me then, to read @TimesMagazine on Saturday which suggests many of our 20-something young women still feel isolated and consider there to be a very limited number of role models demonstrating just ‘how to have it all’. The article centred around fertility issues and the decision about when to have children, but in so doing interviewed young women who felt that there were either women at the top of their game who left it too late or were successful at the cost of their families versus women who left promising careers to be at home.
Can it really be right that in the 9 years since I left the world of ‘big law’ behind that, for a large number of young women, nothing has changed?
I acknowledge that I did not even try to make it work. A male partner in the law firm where I once worked told me, quite bluntly, that he did not think you could be both a mother and a partner in a law firm to the best of your abilities: you could do one brilliantly or both badly. At the time I married my husband, the talented and in many ways pioneering female partner in our group was struggling with the heartbreak of leaving her daughter in childcare and her own marriage was ending. Elsewhere, I saw women who didn’t see their children contending with colleagues and partners with little or no sympathy. In that major law firm, there was not one person I could identify as a role model. Maybe, at that point I should have vowed to make a change, but I didn’t. I decided to head to London to make a nest egg of money to enable me to get out and to be a stay at home mum.
And I have loved that time. But as the girls grow, I question the example I am setting them. I worry that I don’t want their own expectations, ambitions and horizons to be limited by looking at my own role as “just a mum”.
So what next then? Again, I have looked outward to find a role model – who can I be like, whose working life would I want in the context of raising a family? Still, I cannot find her.
That’s not to say there are not women I admire. There are plenty and there are many, many friends who are at the top of their game, heads of department, business owners, who are all doing amazing things, but they have made decisions about childcare that I did not want to make (and for a time, was fortunate enough to not have to). I say this without any judgment at all. We all do the very best we can and we all respond to our own needs and desires. But the question remains, is it just not possible to ‘have it all’?
I cannot believe that. And now, as I personally seek to find myself a working future, a role in which I am more than “just a mum” (the hardest job of all), I do find that there are options out there.
I have written before about the growing number of “returning mums” which I consider myself to be. I have also written about the growing number of entrepreneurs and about working as a consultant and the flexibilities that can bring. 9 years ago, there simply was not the same number of self-employed.
In my steps back into law too, I find people really changing the landscape and challenging the way legal services are delivered, meaning that yes, in actual fact, you can be a corporate lawyer and have flexibility, independence and life balance, all without judgments made. The limiting factor for me to date has been my own mind-set and my own confidence.
So if, in my own little corner of Yorkshire, I can feel a change and find opportunities, why do the girls in London 20 years behind me feel just like I did as a newlywed, despite the liberties offered by technological advances?
Do we still have to ‘go small’ to realise the life we desire? Is that still the real problem? That despite the equality officers, despite the many investment programmes, despite the many conferences, in the larger organisations, the change is still not felt at your desk if you are a young woman still growing in confidence and experience?
If not, why not?
In my blog ‘Honesty’, I wrote about how, in order to appear professional, I was encouraged not to talk about my childcare requirements, not to mention that I couldn’t do a call at 3.30pm because I was on the school run. Equally, it is said time and time again, that women manage their work-life balance but they do so in secret, haunted by the notion that if a woman leaves the office early, she is slacking, rather than simply being a responsible parent.
Are those women who are ‘having it all’ simply not shouting loudly enough? Is it time for the many high achieving women out there to be more visible? To be proud of the juggling act they are doing rather than to hide it? Should they be flaunting it more: “Look at how impressive I am! I am doing incredible things at work and at home!” . My hope is that there are plenty of role models; just not enough of them are known to enable us to all find our own personal one, that one that speaks to us.
As for me, this small article in @TimesMagazine has given further fuel to the growing fire in my belly, to do ‘my thing’. To really put the effort into shaping a future that works for me and that works for our family. If there are still not enough examples out there for all the bright young women, including our 3 fantastic daughters, well I’d better get going. It all starts at home.
Ps I must stress that this piece is not a criticism of either stay at home mums or working mums. As I have said, we all know that we are all doing our best and I am in awe of all we do. Being a mum really is a challenge (and a reward) I could not have expected. Let’s face it, no matter what any of us do as a mum, we are our own harshest critics, and we will never believe we have got it all right!
Pps thanks to Pinterest for the image.