I asked a few of my female coaching clients for their opinion on the biggest issues confronting women leaders in technology. I got some stunning responses. Here’s one of them from a senior executive in Germany:
“I strongly believe we must influence the work culture to really support women and men to combine career with family. Some weeks ago I attended a women’s leadership conference in Munich. There were several women in the plenary discussion sending out the message that ‘as a woman professional, if you want to pursue and advance in your career you need to work hard all day, and then, after putting the kids to bed, continue into the night. And you better count on working weekends.’
This is total bullshit! This is how we currently cut women out from pursuing careers, especially in technology!
The question is rather, ‘How can we influence the work culture so that men and women can work more effective? How do we create a culture where we do not force ourselves into hundreds of meetings and emails every day, working 12 plus hours a day.”
Her input has been very powerful as I think about the challenges women as leaders face, in general.
Here are three “stages” that immediately came to mind when I think about professional women moving from victimhood to powerful victor as they integrate (and even enjoy) career and family:
1. Get Past The Pissed-Off Stage
The first book on feminism I ever read was Women’s Reality: An Emerging Female System by Anne Wilson Schaef. In raising my awareness, it also raised my blood pressure for about three years as I experienced and observed gender inequities that didn’t seem to apply to, say, my husband.
The Pissed Off Stage provides necessary and important consciousness-raising and is a critical step. The problem, however, is when I see women get stuck there. Anger can sometimes be delicious to chew on. The problem is that the meal it’s devouring is our own soul.
2. Get Through The Sheer Exhaustion Stage
I have no magic formula for this except to encourage women to get over any Heroine Complex they’re hanging onto and ask for help. And be willing to pay for the best child care you can afford.
There’s no prize waiting at the end of your kids’ graduations for sacrificed identities. There are rewards for surrendering to the beauty of inevitable timings and knowing that you can strive to have it all as long as you know you can’t have it all at the same time. The best advice I ever received from a wise woman was “the best gift you give your kids is the best you.”
And this advice is equally valid for all the professional men I know, too.
Which leads me to a truth I think we too often miss: systems that support a woman’s career and family juggling act equally support men. It’s good for all of us, including those who employ us.
3. Enter the Claim Your Power Stage
It’s there waiting for you to notice it. Women are well-aligned with the new models of adaptive, agile leadership. Just a little bit of research will enlarge your picture of what’s possible. And what’s waiting to happen.
As soon as you know this, the benefits are there for the taking.
Some advice: find a tribe of professional women where you can grow and evolve. I personally belong to a long-standing group of women where a few of the members are 10-15 years older than me. They provide wisdom and gravitas that inspires and grounds me.
I also have the privilege of being part of a steering committee for a mentoring group called Woman to Woman sponsored by the Cal Turner program at Vanderbilt University. We’re a diverse group of female thought leaders committed to empowering women. And in the process, we not only mentor ourselves, we also move the needle on changing our cultures to be more livable places for professional women and men.