Thursday, 25 August 2011

Can a woman have it all?

I went to a school where we were told to reach for the sky. There were no more barriers for women. You could get married, have children and still reach dizzying heights of professional success. If you tried hard enough, the world would be yours. I have believed this all my life. I now realise that, whilst combining these three things is still possible, it is pretty damn hard. Discovering that these things were not in fact my birthright was a bit of a shock.

I am still hoping against the odds to do all three. I am however discouraged by the realisation that I may have made a strategic error in my selection of a husband. Not that I don’t love my husband – far from it – but his alpha male ambition is a bit of a hindrance.   What you really need is a husband willing to take a secondary role, be able to pick the kids up from school every day, and take a day off when they are sick. The mistake ambitious women make is not having children, but marrying a similarly ambitious man. I ponder this issue as I contemplate my husband’s unexpected departure to Benghazi in a few days time (a career booster) and my month home alone with the boys. But the truth is that I don’t want to go to Benghazi right now (or possibly ever), I would be miserable if I did not look after my boys at this early stage of their life. And therein lies the rub – I want to raise my own children, and do it well. But I also don’t want to give up my career. So whilst I hate to admit it, perhaps the alpha husband isn’t the main issue.

To do really well professionally means competing with people without children, or those with stay at home wives. So in the end it comes down to a question of time. Part-time work, flexitime all sound great, but there are only so many hours in the day, and if you can devote less of your time than your competitors then they will eventually pull ahead. Professional success and being a mother will only sit well together if unpaid leave, part-time work and flexitime in high profile professions become a non-damaging (in career terms) thing to do.  And that means they need to be a normal thing for successful men to do, not just something women do whilst trying to juggle work and a family.

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