Women enter the workforce for many reasons. I’m sure a significant reason is financial motivation but I also think that there are women out there who for whatever reasons want to have a career outside the home. Whatever your reasons are for working outside the home, I do think it’s important to have the home/work life balance that YOU want and are able to live with.
Over my career I’ve had a lot of conversations with women about the balancing act, both as a manager and as a fellow employee. My observations are that the people who are the happiest have made a commitment; a commitment to be content with doing a good job but not look for promotions or a commitment to make the sacrifices necessary to move up the ladder. Either way they own their decision and adjust their thinking accordingly. For those women who do not make a commitment to be content with where they are at or make the sacrifices necessary there is a constant daily struggle between purposes.
When you make a decision to be satisfied with where you are at, typically you can go into work every day and be successful in your role and understand that you may not be given opportunities or compensation that other may be offered. You can commit to an eight-nine hour work day and then leave at the end of the day to manage the household or whatever else it is you want to do outside of work. There may not be an opportunity for more money but at this stage in your life having a little more balance towards home is what you want and need. Depending on your field of choice you may be able to start climbing the ladder when your personal situation changes and you are able to make the sacrifices. There are many professional and non-professional fields that fall into this category.
If you need to move up the ladder for financial or self-fulfillment reasons and are constantly reaching for the next rung then you need to understand that there are sacrifices that come with this. This may mean working longer hours, being available at nights and weekends, checking in when you are on vacation, taking your laptop home with you, etc. Typically with a career you aren’t committing to an eight hour workday but to a workday that will allow you to get your work completed. Understanding the sacrifices you are making and being able to live with them. My experience has been that for peace to exist in the household all members need to be on board and rowing in the same direction.
Let me give you some real life examples of women that I know and their current situations;
Woman A entered the marketing field right out of college with the intent of having children right away. She saw what was necessary to move up in the marketing department and was not able/willing to make that commitment. Being home with children every day at 4:30 was important for her, especially with her husband’s rotating schedule. Woman A shared with her boss that she was going to work her hardest when she was at work but that she would not be available except occasionally to put in additional time. This decision has affected her ability to make more money and get promotions, but not having the stress of additional hours was worth it for Woman A and her family. Almost 20 years later she’s still doing the same job (for a different company) but is glad that she’s made the career sacrifices for her family.
Woman B entered the financial field right out of college already married with a child. Being very financially motivated Woman B took a job that typically required 50+ hours per week. However, being home every day at 5pm was critical to Woman B. Since she was constrained by commitments at home (morning and evening), she wasn’t able to work much more than 40 hours per week. When problems arose that required her to stay late, Woman B’s husband would put a lot of pressure on her to leave and get home immediately. Additionally, the 40 hours that she was at work wasn’t solely dedicated to work because she was so worried about what was going on at home and how she would accomplish her household responsibilities. Woman B was trying to balance a position that needed more commitment from her than she was willing to give. Not truly understanding what she wanted and accepting the sacrifices (i.e. less money) to get what she needed for a balanced life is causing her quite a bit of stress. At this point she is in the same role but her lack of focus is causing issues with her performance. If she would truly examine her options she would probably be able to find a different position making less money but have a higher level of satisfaction with her work/life balance. As a side note, I understand making less money is difficult. However, if the issue isn’t “are we able to feed our children” but “should we skip Disney this year” I think it’s an option that needs to be considered.
Woman C’s life plan was to be a secretary until her first child was born and then quit her job to raise her children. However, the first child came sooner than expected and the decision was made that she would keep working since she carried the insurance and made more money than her husband. As the years went by, opportunities kept coming up that Woman C accepted, unwittingly putting her on an unplanned career path. Seeing this potential career path that would lead to significant jump in income, Woman C and her husband discussed what the right road would be right for their family. Together they, including the kids in the discussion, decided that she should pursue the career knowing the sacrifices that would be made. Woman C’s husband and kids stepped up to the plate taking on a lot of the household chores, the kids got to spend time at their mother’s place of employment (which they thoroughly enjoyed) and the family worked together so that Woman C wouldn’t be completely overwhelmed by carrying the household while focusing on the career. When problems came up at work that required extra hours there was no complaining from the family or pressure to get home immediately. As of right now things are going fairly well albeit not perfect.
There is no right or wrong answer to the question. The point of this is that you need to really decide what it is that you want in life and make the necessary sacrifices to get it. You may be sacrificing money and career opportunities to spend more time with your family or your may be sacrificing time for more money but something has to give and you need to be comfortable with your decision. It’s also important to remember that whatever you chose you are making a contract with your employer. Your employer is counting on you to do whatever it is that you agreed to so making sure you can honor your commitment is important.
In case you didn’t figure it out, I’m “Woman C” in the above scenarios. While I didn’t start out planning this career I’m very happy with where I’m at. When I was promoted to Director last year, prior to my accepting the promotion we discussed it together as a family. Together we decided that this was something we all wanted and the family was willing to pitch in so that I could accept the job. In fact, my husband was even willing to go part time to help out more at home. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) he was offered a promotion that wouldn’t allow him to work part time. Since I didn’t want him to sacrifice his ambitions either he took it and we’ve been doing the best that we can on the home front.
I’d love to hear your story, please feel free to share it in the comments or link back to your blog.
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