When I was a young woman I wish that instead of being told “you can do anything,” it was tempered with the advice, “but if you want to have a family, plan a career that supports it.”
For the past few decades the rise of equality policy and feminism has opened doors no-one could have dreamed possible in the early 1900’s when women were campaigning for the right to vote.
These advancements in women’s rights have progressed and balanced many elements of modern day society for the better – but it’s time for us to now consider how well we are preparing future generations of women for a world in which they are being told they “can have everything”.
We need to help our upcoming women stars understand the impact that raising a family can truly mean for their careers, and help them understand that not only can they have almost any career they choose now; but they will be happier if they become masters of their own destiny, by planning well in advance ways their chosen career path can best work with the demands of family.
I used to think continuing success on my chosen career path would be as simple as hiring a full-time nanny, or sending the children to day-care once they were born. What I didn’t understand was the depth of emotion I would experience when separated from my kids, and the disappointment that goes with missing moments in their life in exchange for the allure of financial prosperity or the desire for personal success.
Driven largely by this battle of melding career and family life, modern day women are now continually proving themselves to be outstanding innovators. A generation of highly trained and skilled women have often found themselves suddenly house bound while the kids are young, and have sought new ways to use their skills in the hope of creating a more balanced career and family lifestyle. The saying “diamonds are forged under pressure” has never been more apt.
Consider women like J.K. Rowling who wrote Harry Potter whilst financially broke, while her baby slept next to her in a pram. Or Australian mum Raegan Moya Jones who, following the birth of her child, noticed a gap in the U.S. market for baby muslin wraps. A decade later her international company is turning over $40 million annually.
Or the ever growing rise of the self-titled ‘mumpreneurs’ who are not only dominating social media channels, but are rising in the ranks of financial success and creating industries that simply didn’t exist prior to now. In 2015 a UK report by Development Economics found that mumpreneurs generate £7bn for the UK economy annually.
Collectively, we can foster these innovative business approaches from a much younger age by counselling our daughters, our nieces, our students, to think about creating a career path that supports them to be flexible, that enables them to feel content with their family commitments, and that allows them to be truly in-charge of their lives.
And it’s not just our young women, it’s our young men, our fathers of the future – those with family aspirations – who can also greatly benefit from considering at an early age how their career paths can be more self-fulfilling; more flexible for family life; and which don’t rely on the outdated structure of the stay-at-home wife and mum.
These approaches will be best complemented when our organisational gender equity policies and flexible working practices are sophisticated; and when our government policies and values align and support both equality and innovation. There is much work underway, and many developments internationally to get excited about; but there is still much to be done, and we all need to play a role.
The current working models we are operating in continue to be constrained by outdated patriarchal structures of the past and the old fashioned full-time Monday to Friday work model. Technology has become a great liberator and will only continue to evolve and enable what we hope can mean greater freedoms and flexibility.
Let’s make sure our coaching and mentoring of our future parents and business leaders mirrors that innovation; and schools them towards career paths which can provide them the flexibility and balance that so much of modern day society craves.
Then we can truly know we have met our equality aspirations, both in business and in society.