Women are often stretched in opposite directions, faced with urgent demands from their personal and professional lives
At 28 years old, I constantly find myself juggling the various roles that I play: woman, professional, student, wife, mother. At the present, I own three of my own businesses, have a day job as a director of HR, I’m an MBA student, I am married, have two toddler girls (under four years old), and am also expecting another child later this year.
As I navigate the course of life, I often find myself becoming too wrapped up in either the identity of “professional” or “mother.” There hasn’t been a fitting way to successfully merge these identities, two of the most major parts of my life that define who I am.
Lots of women, not just myself, are constantly faced with this battle and the consensus really finds us only one solution: satisfy one identity and neglect the other.
Women work hard — there’s no doubt about it. And when we work, we invest our whole selves into our jobs. But, unfortunately, we still live in a world where most household and childcare responsibilities disproportionately fall on the women.
The pandemic has only heightened these disparities in households. Working mothers, like myself, then find it hard to balance the attention and care they need and desire to devote to children, versus the attention and care they need and wish to dedicate to their careers and ambitions.
It’s the working mothers who almost always feel as if they’re being stretched in two, pulled in these opposite directions. Sometimes I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t. We need to be afforded the flexibility to make it all work.
If mothers, professionals, and all women, are given the flexibility they need to devote all of themselves to both their professional and personal lives, I believe that the workforce will finally see the change it needs, specifically for female inclusivity and female leadership. We need to be able to change the way mothers and professionals view and live their lives, not as either/or, but as one cohesive identity.
Defining the arrangement
Women can have it all, and right now we are uniquely positioned to start defining the terms of this arrangement ourselves. I believe this starts with transforming the traditional work models. Flexible work schedules are the future.
A flexible workplace accommodates different workstyles and individual needs. The traditional 9-to-5 workday doesn’t work for all — and it really doesn’t work for the breastfeeding mother who was up with the baby until 4 am and will need to spend two hours pumping from her desk while trying to take a conference call.
Depending on the industry, employers may be able to offer flexibility in a variety of ways. Flexibility in schedules could mean offering non-traditional work hours or unfixed work hours entirely. It could also mean compressed or decompressed workweeks, job sharing, longer or alternative break periods, or unlimited paid time off or vacation time.
There are also, of course, the remote or virtual workplace options that give workers the opportunity to work from home, in the nearest coffee shop, answer an email while watching their daughter’s gymnastics class, or taking a call from a beach family vacation half-a-world away.
Studies have proven that there is a very strong correlation between flexibility and productivity. Workers that have the autonomy and freedom they need to get their work done tend to not only be more productive, but also more creative and more satisfied. High performers are more focused on results than the hours punched into a timeclock anyway.
To make this feasible in the workplace, employers need to build and establish trust with employees, though mothers tend to have a deepened sense of their own personal responsibility. Employers should allow them to manage their own schedules to best suit their strengths and accommodate their lives. Then, measure them on their outcomes and not the process. This is a results-driven performance management concept.
With a little bit of communication, supportive workplace policies, clear boundaries and expectations, and a healthy, non-toxic workplace environment, we can tear down the “maternal wall” and foster an environment for working mothers so they can thrive all the way up to the highest leadership positions in organizations.
All too often (especially recently), I’m hearing the term “flexibility” used as a buzzword at organizations, where it’s not actually about flexibility for the worker, but flexibility for the employer. So, the critical question becomes: who has control over this, and whose needs are really being met?
I believe that the future is flexible in the workplace. Flexible work environments foster female inclusivity. How can you transform your organization to be more flexible?
Natalee Ovbiagele is a part-time HR director at Dickmann Manufacturing Company and owner/founder of HR Brew in Milwaukee. She can be reached at [email protected] or visit www.hrbrew.com.