Place, Power, and Priority: 10 tips for the woman trying to “have it all.” Or some.
Ample research shows that women are still burdened with the decision of making a choice between raising a family, pursuing career advancement, or attempting to do both a.k.a “have it all”.
The news about Jacinda Ardern, former New Zealand Prime Minister, quitting her day job due to burnout came as a surprise to many of us earlier this year. Ardern did not see the need to hold on to power to prove “anything”. She knew she was done and was willing to let go than run on an empty tank.
In her own words:
“I am not leaving because I believe we can’t win the election but because I believe we can and will, and we need a fresh set of shoulders for that challenge…I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind, but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. And that you can be your own kind of leader — one who knows when it’s time to go,”
— Jacinda Ardern, former New Zealand Prime Minister
Her resignation spurred a global debate about women in leadership and re-ignited the popular question, “can women really have it all?”. Actually, this is no longer a question.
Our generation has heard it over and over this past decade. In different tones, words, and vibes: Women cannot have it all.
‘Having it all’ was always a poor measure of success, Anne-Marie Slaughter, President of the New America think-tank, opined in response to the news about Arden’s resignation. Having made a similar decision herself to quit a high-powered job at the US State Department about a decade ago (and despite the backlash that followed), Ms. Slaughter’s voice is still a force to reckon with when it comes to the topic of women’s place, power, and priority in today’s reality.
In fact, she encourages us to banish the phrase “having it all” from our vocabulary.
“We must stop pitting women’s careers against bringing up children. It is long past time to move on to the far more interesting question: how can we rejig the metrics of success for all of us — whether individual leaders or entire economies — so that we can make room for care and well-being alongside competition and ambition,” Ms. Slaughter wrote.
So, as we wrap up the 2023 “Women’s History Month” I curated some content covering 10 areas that I believe are of interest to the women trying to have it all (not a homogenous group) and everyone interested in seeing her rise.
We might not be able to have it all. But we can at least rise to the challenge of bringing our best to places, be willing to share power and set our priorities right.
1. Remote work and creating meaningful connections with colleagues.
The pandemic has changed everything we know about work and how we do work/team operations. Not too long ago, we each struggled with the reality of creating a boundary for this new work-at-home vs. home-at-work life. Yet, while some have successfully transitioned into a post-lockdown era, many still need help finding the right balance between remote, hybrid, and complete in-person office work.
But the onus is not on our companies alone. As a woman striving to have it all, we can build meaningful connections by prioritizing regular communication with colleagues, individually and as a team. This could include scheduling regular virtual meetings or check-ins, using instant messaging or email to stay in touch, and sharing project updates and progress.
Another way to create meaningful connections is to take the time to get to know colleagues on a personal level. For example, I developed strong connections in a previous job through employee resource groups. Those personal connections created a stronger camaraderie and teamwork for most of us connecting through virtual win to work on projects from different regions/countries.
Building meaningful connections help us show empathy and understanding towards others, especially in the current challenging times. It is through these connections that we can recognize and acknowledge the unique challenges and stressors our colleagues may be facing, help build trust and foster a more supportive work environment.
2. Pursue outside work hobbies to maintain wellness/self-care.
As women, we need to pursue hobbies or activities outside of work to maintain wellness and engage in self-care. I know, if you are juggling multiple demands at work and at home, it might be difficult to manage. But simple (not time-consuming) activities such as meditation, yoga, and playing music can go a long way. And so will others such as hiking, spending time in nature, painting, cooking, or spending time with loved ones.
Engaging in hobbies and activities that promote relaxation, mindfulness, and enjoyment can help to reduce stress, increase happiness, and improve overall well-being. I like long walks, stretching at my desk, and meditating. It helps me improve my focus.
Hobbies can also involve learning a new skill or practicing creativity to promote innovation and problem-solving at work. All for better performance and/or satisfaction in all areas of life, even when we experience a setback.
3. Failure can be an opportunity. If we let it.
I don’t know many women who are comfortable talking about their failures. From well-curated LinkedIn profiles to the “strong woman” mentality to the toxic positivity culture, talks about failures are not appreciated in some places. But as a woman who has experienced failure at a personal and professional level, my understanding of failure is that it is not an end but a stepping stone toward success. Failure provides an opportunity for learning and growth, and it is often through our failures that we gain the experience and knowledge necessary to achieve our goals.
Another important lesson about failure that I wish I had known in my teens and 20s, is that it is a natural and inevitable part of the human experience. No one is immune to failure, and it is essential to understand that setbacks and obstacles are a normal part of life’s journey. So, instead of fearing failure or avoiding it, as women, we can embrace it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and become better versions of ourselves.
4. The caveat for managing women.
Over the years, I have learned that effective communication is critical to managing people. This means being clear and transparent in my expectations, providing constructive feedback, and actively listening to my team members. In addition, effective communication can build trust, foster collaboration, and create a positive work environment.
But when it comes to managing women (or working under a woman’s leadership), it is important to be aware of any potential biases or stereotypes that may affect our perception of their abilities or leadership potential.
Research has shown that women may face unique challenges in the workplace, including gender bias, pay inequity, and limited opportunities for advancement. As a manager, it is important that we are mindful of these issues and actively work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace for all employees, regardless of gender. This may involve having conversations with the women we manage so that we don’t make assumptions, providing opportunities for professional development, mentoring, and networking, as well as addressing any issues of bias or discrimination that may arise.
5. There is value in mentorship.
Mentorship is highly relevant to us as women. It can provide valuable guidance, support, and inspiration as we navigate our personal and professional lives. A mentor can offer advice, share experiences, and serve as a role model and advocate for us as mentees. A mentor can also help us to navigate challenges, identify opportunities, develop new skills and knowledge, help us to expand our network, and access new opportunities. They can also serve as a sounding board for our ideas and a source of feedback and encouragement.
I’ve learned that it is crucial to be proactive in seeking mentorship opportunities and be clear and upfront about one’s goals, expectations for the mentorship relationship, and timeframe for the relationship. Sometimes the person you are interested in having as a mentor might be over-sourced or unavailable and that is okay. You can continue to explore other personal and professional networks, such as colleagues at work, professors, or alums from your school, to find the right mentor. You can also look for mentorship programs or organizations in your field or industry or seek out networking events or conferences where you can connect with potential mentors.
As women, when choosing a mentor, it is important to find someone with the right experience and expertise in our field or area of interest who shares our values and goals. For example, when seeking out a new mentor, I try to find someone I feel comfortable talking to, who listens well, and who can provide constructive feedback and guidance. In addition, I always ask if the person is willing and able to invest time and energy in my development. As a result of the many mentorship opportunities that I’ve enjoyed, I am empowered to pay it forward as a mentor to someone else too.
6. Self-advocacy or sponsorship for career advancement.
As women, we need to be our own self-advocate while also thoroughly surrounding ourselves with the right sponsors and champions. Like mentorship, self-advocacy and sponsorship can be beneficial for our personal and professional development and career advancement.
Self-advocacy involves promoting our interests, goals, and achievements in the workplace. It involves speaking up for ourselves, asking for what we want, and advocating for our career advancement. This can include setting clear goals and communicating them to our supervisor or seeking new opportunities and responsibilities that will help us grow and develop professionally. Advocate for others and not just for self.
Sponsorship involves having a senior-level advocate willing to use their influence to help us advance in life. A sponsor can provide visibility and endorsement, introduce us to influential people in our field, and help us to gain access to new opportunities and promotions.
While each of these approaches can be valuable, the best strategy for career advancement will depend on an individual’s specific goals, strengths, and needs. In sum, self-advocacy can help us take control of our careers and make the most of the opportunities available while sponsorship can provide the visibility and advocacy needed to advance to higher levels within our organization.
7. Conflict is good. If well managed.
Conflicts arise due to misunderstandings or miscommunications, and taking the time to listen to the other person can help clarify the situation and identify areas of common ground. As women, we need to develop good negotiation skills that can help us become conflict competent. So instead of shying away from conflict, it is essential to approach the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to learn from the other person’s perspective.
Another critical approach for managing conflict as a woman is to focus on finding solutions rather than assigning blame or getting bogged down in the details of the conflict. They say we are emotional beings. We can channel our emotions toward working collaboratively to find a resolution that addresses the underlying concerns of both parties, it’s often possible to reach a mutually beneficial outcome that can help to rebuild trust and restore positive working relationships.
In addition, it’s important to maintain a professional and respectful tone throughout the conversation, even when discussing difficult or sensitive issues. By staying calm, focused, and constructive, it is possible to manage conflict to minimize negative emotions and foster mutual respect and understanding.
Finally, it is important to be proactive in addressing conflicts before they escalate. This can involve setting clear expectations and boundaries, maintaining open and respectful communication channels, and seeking to address conflicts as soon as they arise rather than letting them fester.
8. He for She. Men can support women too.
There are many ways that men can support women in their lives to rise to power and achieve their career goals. As women, the onus is also on us to give space for the men in our lives to be our allies instead of trying to do it all a.k.a it is okay to ask for help.
Here are five suggestions for men:
- Advocate for gender equality: Men can use their voices and influence to speak out against gender discrimination and advocate for policies and practices that support gender equality in the workplace and beyond.
- Be an ally: Men can actively support and mentor women, helping to build their skills, expand their networks, and promote their career development.
- Challenge bias and stereotypes: Men can work to challenge and overcome unconscious biases and stereotypes that may hold women back, both in their own thinking and in the broader workplace culture.
- Provide opportunities: Men can use their positions of power and influence to create opportunities for women to take on leadership roles, gain experience, and build their skills and expertise.
- Listen and learn: Men can actively listen to the experiences and perspectives of women, seeking to understand their unique challenges and perspectives, and working to address them in meaningful ways.
As I mentioned above, creating a culture of support and empowerment for women to thrive requires the active engagement and participation of both men and women. By working together, we can create a more equitable and inclusive workplace and society, where all individuals have the opportunity to support one another and succeed.
9. Speak up.
Women — especially those coming from a very conservative background — are often not encouraged to speak up. But speaking up can be empowering because it allows us to express our thoughts and ideas, assert our needs and boundaries, and stand up for ourselves and others.
Okay, speaking up can be difficult and sometimes uncomfortable, especially if we’re speaking out against a harmful practice or challenging the status quo. But as a woman, I am learning that it is okay to feel nervous or afraid. The key is not to let those feelings hold us back from speaking up when it is important. We have to speak up even when our voices sound shaky or when it appears that no one will believe us.
Speaking up is not just about being the talker. It also requires us to practice active listening and empathy. It is important to listen to different perspectives and try to understand where others are coming from, even if we don’t agree with them.
10. Motherhood re-set. Juggling the new work-life.
When I became a mother in 2018, everything changed. The hardest part has not been juggling the multiple demands at home and at work. It has been accepting the new reality that comes with the “title”. I’ve seen friends and associates struggle with the same transition: How do I do this motherhood? So for everyone trying to find a balance and maintain physical, mental, and emotional health, here are five tips that may help:
- Set realistic expectations: It’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself and what you can accomplish in a day. Be kind to yourself and recognize that you can’t do everything at once.
- Prioritize self-care: Taking care of yourself is essential, especially as a new mom. Some say sleep when the baby sleeps. That did not work for me. LOL. Prioritize self-care activities that help you feel refreshed and energized, such as exercise, meditation, reading, or spending time with loved ones.
- Communicate with your employer: Be honest with your employer about your needs and limitations as a new mom. Consider flexible work arrangements, such as working from home or adjusting your schedule, if possible.
- Enlist support: It takes a village. Or one or two other people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your husband/partner, family, friends, or professional colleagues. Consider hiring a nanny, enlisting the help of a housekeeper, or joining a support group for (new) moms.
- Practice time management: Manage your time wisely by using a planner or calendar to keep track of deadlines and appointments. Set realistic goals and break tasks down into manageable chunks.
Remember, finding a healthy work-life balance as a woman is an ongoing process, and it is important to be patient with yourself and take things one day at a time. We might not be able to have it all. But we can at least rise to the challenge of bringing our best to places, be willing to share power and set our priorities right.
Happy Women’s History Month!
Texts and Images co-created with the assistance of Open AI Chat-GPT