I teach the Women in Leadership class at the University of New Hampshire, and I believe that women are stronger when we listen to each other’s point of view. The following blog post is written by Jessica Ogden, Women in Leadership student, University of New Hampshire.
In everyday society, women are viewed as the weaker sex when it comes to leadership. Men hold far more leadership and management positions in large companies than women do. Is this because women don’t possess the skills necessary to be strong leaders? Of course not. It has been shown by countless studies that women are strong effective leaders, and that it benefits a company to have females on the team. So why aren’t women stepping up in management positions?
One of the main reasons is the imbalance in child care responsibilities in families. It is no surprise that bringing children into the picture of any family will require some adjustments and compromises from how schedules and time management have previously been handled. Children require a lot of time from their parents. As surveys show, women make much larger compromises to their work schedules than men. Think of the number of women who you have seen exit the workforce upon becoming a parent; now think of the number of men. The difference in the numbers is drastic.
The needs of children are endless. From the minute school aged children get off the bus in the afternoon until bed time, they require constant attention. The child must be picked up from school or met at the bus promptly when school gets out. From there, it is racing between little league sports practices at various fields and piano lessons three towns over with the best instructor in the area. Back at the house, homework is a daily battle which demands one-on-one time with sounding out words and explaining math problems. All the while, dinner must be prepared by a reasonable time to allow for a sit down meal as a family. Likewise, the mornings are just as demanding. Getting the kids up, showered, clothed, hair done, fed, teeth brushed, lunches packed, and out the door is no small task. On top of all of these direct needs of the children throughout the day, there are still all of the general household chores such as laundry, grocery shopping, dishes, and cleaning of house that must be completed.
With two parents in a relationship it would make sense perhaps that the responsibilities would be split equally between the two of them. However, this is an exception to the rule. Most commonly it is the mother whose career is compromised and modified. She will take on the majority, if not all, of these new family and household responsibilities. Mothers take time off from their work day to pick the kids up when they are sick or to rush a forgotten lunch to the school. It is seldom that it is the father who is responsible for such tasks.
Today’s workplace commends those workers who are able to go above and beyond with their hours and commitment to the workplace. Employees in top leadership positions tend to be those who are able to work exemplary overtime on a regular basis. For many families, this expectation is just unrealistic. There is not enough time in the day to be able to work such hours while still being able to give the children the time that they need, which results in many women not even considering taking on such a position.
Many mothers get scared of the idea of holding a leadership position at work. They fear that they are already taking on so much by raising kids while working, and wonder to themselves “how could I ever take on yet another responsibility?” For each mother it is different, but how does one figure out how much is too much? The same thought process can be seen in women who are not yet mothers, but who are contemplating motherhood in the next few years. They don’t want to set themselves up for failure by taking on more than they will be able to handle further on down the road. So, while women are advocating heavily for companies to include females in their top leadership positions, when presented with the opportunity, many women are fleeing from it without much consideration.
In order to get women into these positions, we need to re-evaluate the distribution of family and child care responsibilities. If a mother wants to take on the majority of the responsibilities on her own, then that is perfectly fine. The issue arises when mothers are taking on all of these family responsibilities and compromising their careers simply because (she thinks) society expects her to do so. It needs to become the norm for family responsibilities to be split evenly. A society that welcomes the idea of mothers and fathers sharing family responsibilities will be a society that sees a much higher percentage of women accepting leadership positions. Employers need to be understanding of the work-life balance that may be demanded by mothers and fathers as they begin to share family responsibilities.