Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you ~ Misty Copeland
I have the privilege of knowing a young woman who is exceptionally successful in her chosen career: capital investment. Last year, she initiated a women-only networking event that she calls the roundtables. It is always a delight to sit down with like-minded women for a relatable chat about the whys, hows, and wherefores of navigating the twists and turns of life and career.
At one such event, the conversation turned to how it can sometimes be overwhelming to be everything at work and everything at home and how men are ‘lucky’ because they can focus on certain things like their career when they need to and be assured that their wife will attend to the home. This is a very familiar conversation to a lot of women. What was unexpected for me was one of the ladies responding, “why don’t you just get your own wife?”
She got the concept from a Nigerian businesswoman turned author Nkiru Olumide-Ojo who wrote a book called “Pressure Cooker – Lessons from a woman at work.” In her words, her inspiration for the book was “From my daily struggles; from waking up in the morning, all dressed, with a line-up of meetings and even a well-planned trip only to hear the domestic staff announce quite casually that ‘she was leaving’. From having to want to be a good daughter to my parents, a good wife to my husband, good mother to my children, a good friend and of course, a stellar worker all at once! It constantly felt like one was in some sort of pressure cooker. The good thing about cooking in the pressure cooker though is that your outcome is usually finer!”
The book gives a lot of interesting insights and lessons but the idea that inspired this post was this: women need to get over the idea of bemoaning the “advantages” that men have and set about creating solutions to the issues that they face in trying to balance career and home.
While rushing home from an unavoidable work engagement so she could be in time to cook and then receive some important guests her husband had invited over, she realised that her husband’s working system was delegation. Why could she not do the same? Who says women cannot do the same? She decided to ignore the psychological barriers to seeking support created by the unrealistic fantasy of the woman who can do it all from scratch on her own at home and at work and she set about deliberately creating a support structure aimed at making her life easier so she could focus on what mattered most to her and her family.
While I believe that every working woman needs that support structure, what that little village looks like differs for every individual. For her, that meant speaking up about her needs to her husband and having an adult conversation about expectations versus the mechanism to get there. It meant a supportive spouse informed of what support he needed to give. It meant investing some time in teaching her domestic worker to cook just like her or to prepare everything she needed to hit the ground running when she got home. It meant hiring an executive PA who could effectively handle all of her administration so she could attend to the core needs of her business. It meant having a driver so that she could put the endless hours in traffic to effective use. Her assertion is that we work for money so that money can work for us.
Michelle Obama underpinned just how important her village in the form of an excellent baby sitter was on her recent book tour. While explaining the desperation that led her to take her baby to a job interview for the role of Director at a major Hospital ready and prepared to turn down the job even before it was offered, she said, when your husband says he can’t make it to an event, that’s ok. When your babysitter can’t make it, that’s a catastrophe. In addition to her babysitter, Michelle made friends with fellow working mothers with whom she shared the experience of trying to do all she could. A community of people experiencing what you are experiencing helps you make sense of the human experience and helps each person feel like they are not alone. That is vital for your sanity. Nkiru puts it this way, “I wrote the book to remind us on this side of the continent that we are not alone; also, that you don’t have to find all the answers yourself. Other women have gone through this road and you can learn from them.”
As you can see, different social contexts, different means and different needs inform who makes up each woman’s village. What matters is that she has one. Success is not success if you are strung out, over-extended, stressed and exhausted all the time.
A final nugget from Nkiru, “If you are keen to go through this route (juggle career and family), best to glean a lesson or two from those who have been through it. Deliberately seek it out.” “It” being the experiences of women who have gone before you on that same path.