Mythbusting #Digimeet - Women are too busy


“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. 

Author Profile

Anna Ambrose

Anna Ambrose

Associate Director @ Ambition School Leadership, supporting school leaders at all levels.

5 stories


Kiran S Kiran S @kiran 2 months ago
Wisdom running through this blog is powerful. So glad you have written this for the myth busting series. Questioning these assumptions is definitely the first step. Thank you - brilliant blog @annaambrose x

check out @misswilsey blog would be great if you were part of these events coming up
A Alexander A Alexander @andream656 2 months ago
A great blog Anna and highlighting the he for she issue is important. My husband does an incredible job in running his business, taking care of our daughter and caring for his elderly parents. He does this with little complaint, I probably complain about being more busy than him but in truth it balances out. On reflection I think I'm very guilty of assuming that women have it harder than men in the work place. A very thought provoking blog. Thank you
Anna Ambrose Anna Ambrose @annaambrose 2 months ago
Thank you @kiran & @andream656, really appreciate the kind comments. Definitely planning to get involved in October! And Andrea, your comments have made me think how important it is for girls that young boys see men taking a fair share at home - changing behaviour & assumptions.
Hannah Tyreman Hannah Tyreman @hannahtyremancpd 2 months ago
You're so right about assumptions and labels being lazy. They cause such damage when they pervade society's outlook in this way though. It reinforces both views and behaviours damaging to both genders and progress that can be made. Thank you for writing and drawing attention to this issue.
Hannah Wilson Hannah Wilson @misswilsey 2 months ago
This is brilliant - like with other labels - how often do you hear a man say he is busy or be described as busy? Busy and bossy need to both be banished to Room 101. I am productive. I live a full life. Don't judge me. I don't judge you for not taking full advantage of the plethora of opportunities out there. If you want something done, ask a busy person. I have read so many interesting articles recently that have made me think - how we judge single people, how we focus on doing rather than being, how we focus on time management rather than energy management. Some many subtle changes we can make to our lives.
Anna Ambrose Anna Ambrose @annaambrose 2 months ago
Thanks @hannahtyremancpd @misswilsey & @naz08.

Thinking about this today has made me think there's an age dimension too. How easy is it to assume if younger colleague is 'busy', it means they're out having fun, whereas if it's someone older it must be about their family life? And speaking for myself here, I only catch myself doing it when someone shares something of their private life that makes me reassess.
Annemarie  Williams Annemarie Williams @awilliams 2 months ago
This raises some brilliant points @annaambrose. We are all busy and we all have personal lives and commitments. A positive and supportive attitude to the needs of everyone should be encouraged.
Anna Ambrose Anna Ambrose @annaambrose 2 months ago
Thanks @awilliams! Whenever anyone says "But you must be really busy/tired with a toddler" I try to remember to say "I'm sure you've got plenty going on too". I just can't get over how much it surprises people, and opens up some great conversations.
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