There is so much tactical talk about what it means to be women in business – from what we do, to who we are, and how we define and achieve our ambitions. From ‘leaning in’ to rocking the ‘girl boss’ thing; there are a lot of ways a working woman’s life is turned into bite-sized catch phrases of go-getter-isms. What’s often overlooked, though, is the unique complexities that come with the other roles women take on. As caretakers and supreme multi-taskers, there is an enormous emotional burden that comes with the reality of being women in business.
According to the US Department of Labor, there are 74.6 million women in the civilian labor force; 47% of the workforce is women; but, interestingly, 39% of women work in occupations where women make up about 75% of the workers. So clearly we are about half of the workforce but clustered amongst a few key industries. And the industries are ones where we traditionally ‘expect’ a woman to be in the role. For instance, 93% of dental assistants are women; so are 82% of social workers. While the number of lawyers who are female has steadily grown, women are still only 36% of those in the field. Of course when it comes to CEO’s we are just 27% of the total. And more abysmally, we are a paltry 7% of construction managers.
Many of Us are Mothers and/or Caretakers
According to the same report, 70% of mothers with children under 18 are in the workforce, with the majority in full-time employment. And this one will strike a cord in many: mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40% of households with children under 18 today; compared with 11% in 1960. Putting it all together… women in business are nearly half of the workforce, fighting over jobs in just a handful of industries all the while paying the bills in nearly half of the households with children.
Women in Business: Let The Juggling Begin
No wonder women feel as if there are few opportunities overall (there are) and far fewer at the top. And it’s no surprise we feel tired and pulled in so many directions. Leaving aside for the moment the lack of opportunity, once you have a great career it can be derailed by the cost of childcare. Luckily it’s one of the few issues that has unified the nation. According to advocacy group, Child Care Aware® of America, a 2017 poll of voters found that 80% of Donald Trump voters and 79% of Hillary Clinton voters wanted help from the federal government to provide more affordable and high-quality care childcare.
Thankfully the ball has started to roll with legislation introduced to address the issue. First introduced in 2017, the legislation sponsored by Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Bobby Scott was re-introduced in 2019. Entitled “Childcare for Working Families,” the legislation subsidizes childcare on a sliding-scale determined by a state’s cost of living. By doing this, the legislation takes into consideration how childcare is an economic strain to across a geographic and socio-economic spectrum. Even in higher paying jobs, workers in cities with a high cost of living can end up paying up to 80% of their household income on childcare.
We Bring Home the Bacon and Take Out the Trash
Addressing the issue of affordable childcare is absolutely key, but it’s not the only answer is to why women in business are so stretched. Women still do the majority of ‘unpaid’ work in most countries. Although it appears to be American women who do the most (up to 4 ½ hours a week). Even more unsettling: a study by professor Dan Cassino, of Fairleigh Dickinson University, and Yasemin Besen-Cassino, of Montclair State University, found that men who earn less than their wives also do fewer of the household chores. So, the better many American women do at work, they are rewarded with more housework at home.
Overall the issue of women in business can be complex. One aspect to why women do more is the value they place on having a well kept home. How many times have we decided to just ‘do it ourselves’ because our partner doesn’t think it’s an important a task. It’s hard to force someone do something when they don’t value the work in the same way.
We Are Chief Worrywarts
Apparently woman do all of the ‘worry work’ too. And it is a thing. Sociologists have found that we as women spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about (and thereby taking care of)… well everything. A wonderful poem on the Love That Max blog says it all. Here are the first few lines…it’s worth reading in its entirety.
I am the person who notices we are running low on clean silverware/bowls/plates/favorite cups.
I am the person who notices we are running low on coffee pods.
I am the person who notices we are running low on clean underwear, unless you count the pairs with holes which some people do.
I am the person who notices we are running low on toothpaste/dental floss/mouthwash/anti-cavity rinse in bubble gum flavor and NOT the one with SpongeBob on the bottle/soap/shower gel/shampoo/conditioner/that detangling spray that supposedly wards off lice [insert product critical to good hygiene].
Sociologist Susan Walzer published a piece of research in the late 90s on the ‘invisible mental labor’ that goes into parenting and the imbalance of this labor. So it’s not just the physical aspect of housework and childcare that women do, it’s the intellectual, mental, and emotional work. Women also learn, adapt and process information more readily (e.g., how to pick a doctor, what are the best schools) than their male partners.
It’s Lonely as a Women in Business
Women are stretched (and it’s not just as mothers; all working women we know care for someone) and that means we can often feel lonely. Whether it’s some version of imposter syndrome where you feel less than adequate at work or home. Or you feel that you don’t have the support network in the workplace to succeed. We tend to go at it alone. Sometimes we don’t have the time to connect with friends or there isn’t a moment to make new ones.
There is also the issue of isolation that comes with either a packed schedule or even a flexible entrepreneurial one. Starting a business can be tempting after decades in industry. Because it allows for some (perceived) flexibility to raise a family it’s a popular choice for women. But the tireless and isolated work of being an entrepreneur can take its toll.
Dr. Sandi Mann, Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire says that, for middle aged women, loneliness is the ‘last taboo.’
The Body Rebels
At some point, physically, it can’t be denied…we are not superhuman. Stress, lack of sleep, poor diet; it all will catch up with the overextended woman.
Katrina Alcorn, author of ‘Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink’ tells the story in her book of having it ‘all’ and then having a breakdown; forcing her to reevaluate her life. The reason is simple she says in an interview with The Week:
“We’re expected to do our jobs as if we don’t have children — and then raise our children as if we don’t have jobs,” she said.
We don’t really need a reminder as to why and what happens, but in case you need a cheat sheet, here is one from The Cleveland Clinic. A short list of symptoms include: depression, poor memory, increased alcohol consumption, negative thinking, feeling overwhelmed or helpless. And the result can be: accidents, headaches, bowel disorders, poor digestion, skin disorders, eating disorders, emotional disorders, asthma attacks, high blood pressure/strokes.
If any of the list looks and feels familiar it’s worth talking to your doctor. Even something as simple as a bath, reading a book or beautifying can have a surprising impact on your health.
It’s all good and well stating the problem; a quick look around at our households, workplaces, families, and in our bodies and minds… we know something has to give. Famously, academic, Anne Marie Slaughter proclaimed via The Atlantic in 2012 that no women cannot have it all. Cue outrage: How could she say such a thing? Did it not put us back? Well, no, it’s the truth, but the reason why tops our list of how to tackle the issue women in business and women in general face.
Defining ‘All’ is Personal Not Institutional
‘One man’s trash is another’s treasure’ the saying goes. How in the world did we ever get to a place where the definition of ‘having it all’ has become the same for everyone. We’ve actually written on this subject before. The key is that you must decide what having it all means to you, and only you. Do this and you are halfway there. Write it down. For some having it ‘all’ means a big house and picket fence, for others it’s living in the city’s center. Some want the flexibility to spend time at home and others to travel. There is absolutely no one ‘all.’ So remember what you are striving for.
Women worry and take on the ‘worry work’ as we illustrated. The insidious underside of both is how we then run over the details again and again and again. Mental rumination is when you run over the same problem or issue in your mind without resolution. It can cause further depression and anxiety. In simple terms it’s that voice in your head saying ‘did I handle that situation right’. It’s also the ‘did I sound like a fool at work’. And in all cases it’s working over the details incessantly to no avail.
Decide What Matters
Slightly different to defining ‘all’ is the idea that we need to prioritize the little things. For instance, the house is a mess but is it worth a fight? Could you instead go out and have fun? There is a good read on the Scary Mommy blog regarding picking your battles with your kids. But it’s not just about kids, you need to ask if it matters that your nail polish is chipped or paperwork organized.
It Takes a Tribe
Ask for help. Are you having operational problems at your start up and don’t know how to fix them? Find a friend-of-a-friend and ask for feedback. Sick? As someone to pick up your kids from school. Make a list of the people who have our back and will understand and lend a hand. Join a networking group of like-minded individuals. Volunteer at your kids schools. Find your tribe. This isn’t just about making friends, it’s finding a community that can come to your aid.
Don’t roll your eyes, we aren’t your doctor, but know the power of exercise. When you find something you love, whether it’s yoga, running or hitting the gym, it’s time for you. Exercise feels good, it makes you strong, it helps you focus and carve out ‘me time’. It’s also a great way to connect with a tribe. It’s another something you might have in common with a new friend. Shared passion that can make for great friendships.
Women in Business Need a Network
You can see a theme as to how each of these tips actually is inter-related to one another. To network can be an opportunity to connect and build a tribe. It feels painful sometimes but if you are an entrepreneur it’s also critical to building your business. Men have traditionally held the chips when it comes to building a network and women need to do the same. Networking and mentoring can be combined as well. Because if we don’t help the next generation we are passing on the same issues to our daughters.
Don’t Worry About the Joneses
Coming full circle is the idea that you are not anyone else. In addition to finding what ‘all’ means to you, ensuring you don’t compare yourself to anyone else is paramount in importance. This piece on Medium shares a lot of facts regarding the one thing we all know well – women can be competitive and kinda mean. It’s not an affliction completely owned by us as a sex, but we can feel quite insecure and lash out. You don’t need to look far to find one of the best examples. Hillary Clinton is one of the most accomplished women in history. She won the popular vote during the 2016 presidential election at a record level. And yet the vitriol thrown her way can take your breath away.
So where do we go from here? We keep striving and try our best to take care of ourselves and those around us.