“And will all that travel be ok with a small child?”
A question posed to me by a recruitment consultant rather than anyone I’ve worked for - or would wish to! But in this single question, I glimpsed a tiny window into the set of assumptions that come with our gender. Safe to say, I didn't like it much.
To assume women are too busy to want to excel in their professional lives is to make a whole series of lazy assumptions that do both women and men a huge and damaging disservice. Unpacking them for this blog has felt a bit like taking a Russian doll apart!
It’s to assume that the burden of childcare, elderly care and domestic work falls to women. While there’s research showing that even in ‘equal’ households, women do spend more hours on these tasks, to move from that to an assumption that all women are too busy for career success is a huge leap. It’s as damaging to men, for whom we risk not taking the demands on their time outside work as seriously as we should, as it is for women who risk being side-lined in their careers.
It’s to make a whole series of assumptions about my life choices that are none of anyone else’s business unless I choose to make them part of a conversation.
And it reflects society’s obsession with putting the demands of parenting – or should I say mothering - on a pedestal that I don’t personally think they deserve. Before having my son AND since, I’ve firmly believed that we ALL have demands on our time, energy and emotions outside of work. I shout this from the rooftops as loudly and often as I can, and people look at me as though I've turned the world upside down.
But looking at me and a male colleague recently, it would be easy to imagine that with a toddler at home I’m the one under pressure and short on time. Actually, I happen to know he’s been supporting his parents through a challenging period recently - way more draining, physically and emotionally. Incidentally, neither of us has been too busy for work.
We can all play a part reflecting on some of our own lazy assumptions, and being 10% braver in calling out others. I said nothing in the interview above, whilst feeling thrown by a question asked in caring tones, but revealing assumptions that made me furious. I’m totally committed to challenging anything like that I hear again, no matter what the circumstances.
Our #HeForShe colleagues have a huge role to play here too. Talk about what your commitment to equality means in terms of the rest of your life. Shout about the time you spend parenting, caring and having a life, whatever that means for you. Stand tall and negotiate flexible working to accommodate your needs.
Leaders: treat us all as unique individuals, with a unique set of circumstances.
If having a boringly conventional set of circumstances makes me ‘too busy’ to do a good job or to take the next step in my career, the problem’s with the job… The more headway we make on issues of wellbeing and workload, the more we can consign this myth to the bin.
And a last thought: what if those things I’m busy with make me better at my job? Let's celebrate all the things that make us busy AND brilliant.