In working with thousands of career women who also have children, and being a parent myself, I’ve experienced just how challenging it is to balance contributing as we wish to in the professional world, with how we want to mother, parent and caregive in a present and loving way.
Personally speaking, when I was forging my corporate career years ago, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I didn’t want the CEO track. My top priority in my life was to be in the fabric of my children’s lives in a meaningful, enriching way when they were young. I didn’t want to blow that or have serious regrets later in life. “Calling in” on the phone from another state (or coast) each night to read them a bedtime story or hear the highlights of their day (because I was traveling for work) was not how I wanted those years to pass.
To be clear, I’m not judging anyone who has different priorities – we all must choose our own. What’s key to your success, I believe, is to identify your own unique life priorities, and live from that knowledge each day. (Learn more about how to honor your own life priorities while balancing the needs of others.)
Most women I know want (and need) to build a fulfilling career and an enriching life outside of work. They want BOTH, not the either/or that we’ve been told are our only options. But to do that, research has shown that women, as a first step, must adjust their mindsets, their limiting beliefs and their openness to committing to working AND balancing outside life. That’s not all that’s required to modify our current competitive career model that doesn’t find a majority of women, but it’s an essential step in women taking charge of their lives. This requires women doing the inner work of overcoming key obstacles in what they believe is possible, and revising 5 hidden, limiting assumptions they’ve come to make.
To learn more about this need to reframe the possibilities and shift away from these constraining assumptions, I connected with Jodi Detjen, Co-author of The Orange Line: A Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family and Life. A professor of Management at Suffolk University, Jodi teaches management at MBA, Undergraduate and Corporate Education levels, and writes and trains about the skills required, and organizational aspects related to, living an integrated life. She also is a principal partner of a boutique consulting firm, the InTrinsic Group, delivering outcome-focused leadership development and coaching to foster effective performance.
Jodi explains: “In our research of 118 women (college educated, middle class), women who were successful at integrating career, family and life, had reframed five key assumptions about what it means to work and participate in family life with the highest degree of success, fulfillment and happiness.”
Jodi shares the 5 hidden assumptions that keep women from balancing work and home more successfully:
Assumption 1: “I am solely responsible for home and family.”
When women in dual-parent households believe this, they feel overly-pressured and burdened to own it all: children’s development and the domestic responsibilities including the laundry, food preparation, shopping, cleaning, home repairs, etc. They may delegate some chores (e.g. garbage) but they tend to grow weary from the conflict that emerges around delegation and are often more comfortable just doing it themselves to get it done more quickly. For women with a partner at home, reframing this assumption to “we are both responsible for home and family” opens up all sorts of important possibilities. Now, we can say: “My career is important and so is yours. How do we figure out how to get the necessary chores done together?” Jodi’s interviewees hired help, shared care, switched off chores, held their kids more responsible and accountable, or gave up doing school projects. The key is to stop over-functioning and involve everyone in the family in a healthier, more appropriate way that builds self-reliance and independence.
Assumption 2 and 3: “I must be perfect in all I do and I am not good enough.”
These two assumptions combined together keep women from seeking advancement, promotions, raises and embracing growth. Jodi has experienced many women sharing their beliefs that they simply were not ready for the next level or that they preferred to stay as an individual contributor. But in looking beneath these statements, Jodi found a need to be perfect and a prevalent feeling that these women weren’t living up to their perfectionistic ideals.
Reframing this assumption of “I’m not good enough” to “I am a work in progress, and I am ready for growth” allows for new pathways to open and new opportunities to be embraced. Rather than berating herself for having a messy home, one woman declared that her messy home was an emblem (that she was proud of) of her commitment to her work. She believed her house was perfectly fine, mess and all, and didn’t feel “less-than” because of it.
Another woman, when asked to take on a new role, at first thought “I’m not ready for that” but then reframed her assumption. She looked around at her male peers doing similar roles and realized that she indeed had all the qualifications and experience she needed to succeed and thrive in the role. She negotiated a new title, a raise, and took the job.
Assumption 4: “I’m afraid to negotiate if I don’t have permission.”
Everyone tells women to negotiate more and so many women don’t. Research has found, however, that when women have permission, they DO negotiate – and often out-negotiate men. For example, if a job has been advertised that “salary is negotiable,” three times as many women will apply for the posting than they do when there’s no mention that wages are negotiable. When women believe they are invited to negotiate, they do so much more readily than when they fear they will be seen as “pushy” or “demanding” to get what they want. (Sadly, there’s some justification to their fears – research has shown that success and likability are positively correlated in men and negatively correlated in women).
Jodi’s tip: Forget permission. Women need to reframe this assumption toward, “I will be paid what my skills and contributions are worth and not less.” Tell the world what you deserve. Do this based on data you compile from a thorough evaluation of compensation trends in your field. Send a strong signal that you value yourself, and understand the importance of the contributions you’ve made, and will continue to bring to the table.
Assumption 5: “If I follow the rules, good things will happen.”
Women have learned from their school days that when they follow the rules, teachers will like them and reward them. But in business, the rules are quite different. Following these school-based rules — keeping your head down, doing all your work and doing just what’s ask of you — won’t get women promoted. Instead, they must take responsibility for themselves and their careers, and ask for what they need, want, and deserve. Create a regular forum to share with your managers what you’ve accomplished and contributed, and the value you’ve provided. Talk about your accomplishments, not in a bragging way, but as a way to let managers and teams know how the enterprise is moving forward, and how you’ve facilitated that growth. (Check out Peggy Klaus’s book Brag: The Art of Tooting Your Horn Without Blowing It, for tips.) You’re in the driver’s seat of your career. Expecting good things to occur without actively facilitating these positive outcomes is a recipe for disappointment, or worse, failure.