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How hard it is to balance job and family

After decades of feminism it’s saddening to read, and have confirmed what I hear from my coachees, just how hard it is for women in particular to balance job and family. This can apply at all levels in work. I come across senior woman managers who find they cannot really go for top jobs and balance that with meaningful family time. Something has to give. Equally less senior people get by either on masses of childcare costs or the help of their parents and the extended family, for those who can access that. It’s often given as the major reason why we don’t have more female senior managers, although another reason that is also given is lack of self belief.

Yet, along with this still-continuing issue is another picture, one where women are in at least 40% of households the prime earner at present, where in Generation Y it is women who earn more and are more successful in education, and where attitudes towards childcare move slowly towards more sharing and more involvement by men. This is of course a hotly debated topic and I still find many who argue that male involvement is still too partial.

However, I’m more and more struck by the frequency with which I now see men involved in childcare when couples are out together and where it seems perfectly natural and the way things are. I compare it with my own experience of several decades ago, taking my children out for a walk, or giving them some food in some park, and getting strange looks from others as if this was totally unnatural¬† and unmasculine, and not the way things are. That may of course have also been my own discomfort in the process of busting traditional male stereotypes and yet I also know I lived in a very traditional area where male and female roles were still stuck in the ice age. Yet many men today would also say they’d like more time with their family and that the workplce today still conspires to make that difficult.

The writer in the article at the top of this page also says we need a men’s movement. Yet there’s been one, in the 90’s, and while it may seem unfashionable and New Age now, that whole trend influenced a shift that is still going on, a slow re-balancing of roles within the relationship. Our difficulty perhaps now lies in needing to influence that world of work to catch up with it and fully recognise that in the workplace we need both men and women as equal contributors. There’s already big evidence that more women at senior levels result in better performing business and so there’s a bottom line benefit too. Yet I wonder if the real gain must lie in the shared satisfaction we all get when we do all this together and where we each respect one another’s path and contribution.