Ditch the brain washing of expected roles!
When I was in my late twenties, the good old biological clock starting ticking louder and my thoughts started to turn towards making a decision about having children. I found it very difficult being the only female member of the senior management team in an automotive company, to even contemplate this. So I put it off for a few years, changed company first, and even then started my own business because I didn’t think I could work for someone else and bring up children at the same time. I didn’t think work would be flexible enough to support me, and working in IT can be notoriously tough – I ran a team responsible for keeping IT systems fully operational for around 700 employees spread all over the world – which meant calls in the middle of the night along with trips to the office if something major failed.
Having just read Sheryl Sandberg’s views in her book ‘Lean In’ it made me question whether it was MY subconscious guiding my behaviour because I thought I was expected to not get pregnant. I guess partly my views were based on the many discussions I’d been party to over many years, about how much of a nuisance it was to employ a woman to then find they’d get pregnant and go on maternity leave, leaving the employer to have to keep their position open yet find and fund someone else to fill their role. And fear. And having no mentor.
The thing is, I think actually, that it’s down to attitude: whatever situation we think and aim for to happen, does. We look for signs to confirm our thoughts.
In an environment of mutual respect and trust, women absolutely should feel comfortable enough to have children if they want to, when they want to. Employers should recognise the benefits of having a diverse workforce that includes women with children knowing that they not only rank probably amongst the highest in loyal employees, but also why would you want to lose the skills and experience that person has?
A great deal is down to the company ethos, education and open communication. And as women, we owe ourselves a duty of care to speak up and have the confidence to know that our position in a company has been reached because of our skills and experience. That skill does not suddenly disappear when you have a child, so why should an employer have a problem with this? Why not openly talk about the subject instead of having the usual stand-off dance of both parties not saying what they think and what their real fears are? I’ll never know what effect it would have had on my career had I done this or what it would have been like to have had children in my twenties, instead of waiting until I was 33. If I could have given myself one piece of advice back then, it would have been to not be afraid of starting that conversation with the people I worked with and for.
What else do we condition ourselves to not do; what promotions do we not go for; what new career do we not look for all because we think we shouldn’t. We need to stop letting past times dictate the future and we need to break some moulds about what women are capable of doing and how they’re perceived. And some for men too!