How women can ‘have it all’

Posted on Friday, April 19th, 2013 at 11:19 am.

How women can ‘have it all’ and companies can stem female attrition.

“To achieve more women at the top of business, women need to protect their careers as well their families and companies need to value and nurture their talented women.”

I am passionate about encouraging women to ‘have it all’, how to keep going up the career ladder without compromising their family values. I know first hand that it is a struggle and not easily done. It has taken me a long time to work out how to achieve it myself. However I do believe that with the right support and the right attitude it is possible to have a career and enjoy motherhood.

Many women leave their careers when they have children because they find it too challenging trying to manage both. Sadly, when their children are older or their husbands have been made redundant or they have to support themselves after a divorce and the women want to/have to return to work, they lack the confidence to do so and furthermore they are no longer on the same career rung as their male contemporaries. The result is they don’t return to their careers but retrain or set up their own businesses. This fuels the issue of too few women at the top of professional services and engineering firms and compounds the lack of senior female mentors for mid-career women and the problem is self-perpetuating.

This is a hot topic, following to release of Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’. I agree that women should ‘get out of their own way’ and ‘go for’ their careers as a man would, but not at the all or nothing choice of career or family. I see a possible solution for women is to somehow keep ‘a foot in the company door’ whilst they have a young family. Women should value their jobs as well as their families; they must protect their careers and keep investing in them for the future. They need to ‘lean in’ (network, get noticed, etc), get the appropriate support at home (both practical help and buy-in from their partners), stop trying to do everything themselves, stop striving for ‘perfect’ and realise the value they add to their employers. Companies need to play their part too and in particular support flexible working practices and rid themselves of ‘unconscious gender bias’, which unwittingly promotes men who are younger versions of the board members.

 It is in a company’s interest to implement initiatives to retain their talented women. If women can keep their careers on track whilst raising a family by working for ‘women friendly’ companies, it is a Win-Win situation. Companies will not waste their significant investment in their talented female graduates; they get to keep their valuable professional skills and client relationships in house, and they will have a larger pool of women to promote from for management positions. This will enable them to meet their gender diversity targets and with more women at board level, this should generate even better company results (It is well documented that companies with women in their management teams fared better during the recession than male only boards) and provide a pipeline of female mentors for the future.

Women who keep a toe in the working water and persevere through the guilt and sheer exhaustion of juggling a demanding, responsible job and motherhood, get to maintain their professional knowledge, confidence and financial independence and are in the right place and ready to go for top positions when their ties at home diminish.

How can I help? At Inspirational Coaches we are passionate about supporting women to fulfil their dual potential and roles as successful professional and mother. We do this in two ways; firstly by offering women coaching intervention which enables them to step back, view the issues and challenges from a fresh perspective and come up with a workable plan that fits their job and family life. (Show women how they can ‘have it all’, but accept that they can’t ‘do it all’). Secondly we work with organisations to overcome indigenous blocks to the female career path such as inflexible working practices and unconscious gender bias at times of promotion. Introducing specific initiatives can help organisations retain their valuable women and meet their gender targets.

Cara Moore

(This blog is full of stereotypical generalisations, for which I apologise and I do appreciate that there are exceptions to the norm.)