Tuesday, 8 March 2011

International Women's Day and Work-Life Balance

Who cooks in heels?

Secretary Clinton's remarks on the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/03/157647.htm

Yesterday I attended a lecture in the Business School for International Women's Day. The speaker, Heather Jackson, was the founder of "The 2% Club", an organisation of senior executive women that encourages women in business. Although it was aimed at students going into the corporate world, a lot of her points could apply to women in any career. She spoke about the challenges of finding a work-life balance, of the desire to 'have it all' and be Superwoman, successfully juggling work, spouse & kids without letting any of those things fall by the wayside.

Her main message was one of confidence. When you're in your early 20's, single and ambitious, you're full of confidence. You're certain that nothing is going to stop you in your career, not a man, not kids, not sexist managers--nothing. But then, when those things come into your life (as they often do), you lose your confidence. It could be a comment or a judgmental look from another mom at your kid's school, or a conversation with your spouse about finances, or criticism from your mother-in-law (she gave a terrible example of this one, haha!). Whatever it is, you shouldn't let it destroy your confidence and let it stop you from following your dreams.

Even though Heather Jackson's comments were directed to an audience that does want a career, they'd be appropriate for the reverse--women who want to stay at home with their kids. They can be the object of criticism from career women, too. My sister works part-time (weekends only, so her husband can stay with the kid), and while I think that's a great compromise (keeping your foot in the door, staying up to date in your field, etc.), she gets criticised from both career women and stay-at-home moms. The career women gasp and say, "ugh, I can't imagine staying at home all day, every day with a baby--that must be so boring", while the stay-at-home moms cry, "oh, I can't imagine going to work and leaving my baby! That's awful!"

On a drastically different note, last week I watched part of the Comic Relief coverage of Kibera, Kenya, Africa's largest slum, and one woman in particular was really amazing. She lived in this shanty town, with tiny rooms, open sewers and corrugated metal roofing, etc. A single mom, she supported her three sons by going out to the roadside every morning and asking for washing jobs to do. On this particular day with the camera crew, she had to walk a couple of miles to a housing estate (where wealthier people live) and finally got a job to do--4 1/2 hours of washing clothes, linens, etc. and she made about £1.60. Some days, when she can't find a job, she makes the same amount of money by prostitution. There's no moral judgment on selling her body--she needs to feed her children and give them an education so their lives will be better someday. Stories like hers make the whole "work-life balance" debate seem very shallow. Wealthy women complain about having to give up a career to take care of their children, and this woman in Kenya would love to have that luxury.

In terms of my own life, the main point that I take away from this all is that there is no right answer to the questions of work-life balance. It's all about what works for you and your situation, and taking care of the things that truly matter to you. And maybe on International Women's Day, women should remember to support each other and stop judging the life choices of other women.

1 comment:

  1. Having a spouse with a flexible schedule is especially helpful when balancing job demands and family needs. However, it should be a two-way situation (both husband and wife) in helping the family grow and still taking care each of their job.

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