As I sat down at my desk this morning and settled into reading the post maternity coaching materials that popped into my inbox asking me to think of three women I know who are great role models, I realised something quite profound. I can’t name three role models. In fact, I can’t even name one. Of course you can always call on the Sheryl Sandberg’s and Oprah’s of the world, yada, yada, yada. But these aren’t people I actually know. These aren’t people who I can actually emulate and model myself on. These aren’t people I can talk to and ask questions. This is a problem.
I have been at my current organisation for over four years, and whilst I have been here I have met and made the acquaintance of some lovely and rather fantastic women, some of whom I now call friends. Yet in all those years, I have never come across anyone that I have ever considered role model material – either as a successful woman in leadership or more importantly now, as a working mother. There are plenty of women doing well, women who are respected. But would I say they are role models, no. Because despite my organisation introducing and supporting various working parent initiatives and enabling true flexible working (it does exist!), I have not seen any women demonstrating that it is possible to have and do it all. By that I mean, be amazing at what they do and still have the time to see and spend time with their families. Of course there are plenty of working parents in my organisation, but all too often the ones that are staying at the top of their game are the same ones I have seen still sitting in the office or online beyond the hours of what would be considered bedtime for most children. I was horrified to hear not so long ago of a considerably senior woman in my department who completely overlooked her young daughters birthday and tried to arrange a client meeting on that day, only to be reminded by a colleague as to why that date probably wouldn’t work for her. I don’t want that for myself or my family. I want to be successful and respected at work, but not at the expense of quality time with my family. So it’s a bit of a conundrum, which actually led me to my very recent decision to leave an organisation that I really do love being a part of. It’s not their fault, they really have tried to enable and empower working parents. The problem I believe actually lies in the culture and fabric of Consulting. An environment which lends itself to and favours young, carefree, childless 20 something’s. I’m not saying that you can’t be a family orientated 30 something person. You can. Just don’t expect to be home for bedtime if you want to get ahead. Consulting is a world where clients expect and demand the best, at all times, and rightly so. Sometimes that means working very long days to deliver. Sometimes it means working away from home for days, weeks or months on end. Sometimes it means making and changing plans at a moments notice. Flexible and adaptable are our middle names. All these things that sounded so glamorous and exciting when I started out are the very things that terrify me now that I have a family.
Now I understand why there are so few women at leadership level in some organisations. Because certain types of careers and families just don’t mix. I am expecting a move back into Banking will be almost, if not equally as demanding as Consulting is. But I need that, because I am one of those crazy career driven women that wants and needs to work. But I move in the hope of achieving the holy grail of work life balance, and of course of finding some role models along the way, because goodness, us working mums need them!
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photo credit: Tanja FÖHR via photopin cc