Women in Business Top Myth #5: Women cannot have it all

 

Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed four top myths about women in Business and positions of leadership: African women are new to leadership, Men are excluded in the movementWomen are not strong enough to lead, and Women do not help other women to rise. Let’s tackle the fifth and final myth why don’t we?

Top Myth #5: Women cannot have it all

While the Western world is buzzing with movements like Gender Equality, Lean inHeforShe, Africa is still distracted with issues such as the fight against corruption, trying to eradicate poverty and rejuvenating our educational systems. In my opinion,all 3 issues can be given a boost if we change our mindset regarding this myth.

Why can’t African women have it all? We have been caregivers for centuries and have successfully combined entrepreneurship with having and raising families in the past. Let’s look at our mothers and grandmothers and their businesses, we can see that they had great work-life balance, we didn’t turn out too badly did we?

The concept of having to choose between having a family and a success business is therefore foreign to Africa.

So if African women were able to have successful businesses, and happy homes,how did this myth recently generate?

Support is reducing

In the past we were able to depend on our extended family for support and nurture but as each generation reduced the number of children we gave birth to and adopted the western sense of independence, this support structure significantly reduced. There are now fewer brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties in our support pool.

Our Mindset: Men vs Women

The most challenging aspect of the issue is our mindset.

The Men

African men still seem to believe that a woman’s place is in the kitchen or tending to the kids. Even though more African women are getting educated and literate, there is still an unconscious bias towards women who want to combine productive corporate careers with a successful family life. If a single woman is a high achiever in the corporate world, chances are that men not on the same level feel intimidated by her corporate and social position, while men on the same level may feel challenged by her and will opt for women on a lower corporate level for relationships or marriage.

The Women

On the flip side, African women also hesitate to pursue career growth, choosing to get married and have children. It almost seems like our life’s success is unconsciously defined by other women’s approval, which is- to be married and have children/a family with a successful husband. Those who do not tow this line, find their lives defined by societal pressures as failures. I have even heard of successful career women being advised to “lay low” and “not display their smarts” so they “can find husbands to marry”.

The Workplace

As more and more young women enter the workforce, the managers unconsciously or consciously envision and anticipate the time when marriage and having babies will take them away from work. If that doesn’t, they expect that family pressures will increasingly dictate that the work done by working women be minimal, as they are the primary caregivers in the home. This assumptions lead to less opportunities being offered to women, less promotions and less encouragement, as opposed to what is given to men.There are even rumors of organizations signing contracts with young working women barring them from getting pregnant within the first 2 years of employment.The work place ethics need a paradigm shift.

The Reality

It is not having a family that sets or keeps women back however, says Sylvia Hewlett, author of eleven books that include “Executive Presence”, but the pressures of having to “be as good as or better” than their male counterparts. This means they must work as men do, putting in as much work hours and being as committed. But we find that this “equality” is not rewarding to women who still have the pressures of family life to deal with when they get home.

African men may say that they have embraced the theory of the working woman, but it remains a theory still. In some cases, men hardly help out in the home, and are even known to add to the domestic burden on women who have to take it all in or be branded as bad wives by their community for putting work at par with their family responsibilities.

The Solution

Men – You need to help out more in the domestic field. Learning to cook or change diapers will not make you less of a man. In fact, research according to Josh Bersin, has proven that

couples who express more gender equality (by sharing housework, child care and work) have stronger marriages and have more sex; and Men who support gender equality are happier, have a greater sense of well-being, and have less depression.

Business/Team Leaders, Managers – As was found on other continents, African women want to be challenged by their work the same way men are. A Harvard Business School Research has analyzed that women want to develop themselves and grow careers too. Every organization interested in retaining highly talented women should realize this and incorporate new reforms into their policies. Stop thinking of women as riskier hires – they are not likely to discard their jobs after parenthood. Giving them family-friendly hours alone is not enough for them to reach their potential. Encourage a cultural change that supports partnerships, allowing the men to share home responsibilities without their own career progression being compromised.

There is a new initiative helping women return to work and get back to top jobs after a long career break. It’s tagged the “returning professional internship”, it was kickstarted by Goldman Sachs in New York in 2008, and now the return-to-work programmes exists in the US and has begun in the UK. Putting returnships in place for returning mothers will also boost the bottomline and increase employee loyalty and retainership.

Women – Consciously refrain from judging career-driven African women ( married or single). No woman with a successful career should be deemed incomplete because she is not married or has a family.We don’t regard men in the same circumstances with such harsh judgement so why do we do that to our fellow women? The myth must stop with us.

So if you ever think again that a woman cannot balance work and home, let the picture of Helena Morrissey who has nine children and is the CEO of Newton Investment Management come to mind. 

Credit: Bloomberg.com

She is one of the City’s few female CEOs, and oversees $76 billion and almost 400 employees in the U.K. and the U.S.

Let Adesuwa Oyenokwe, who has over 30 years experience in Journalism from Today’s woman on National television, to Publisher of TW Magazine, and proud mother of seven children, come to mind. 

Credit: Romance Meets Life

 

Think of Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu, the first female Rear Admiral in the Nigerian Navy, who is married and is a mother of 3 lovely children.

 

 

Credit: Nairaland

And Yes, contrary to popular belief, women can have it all – if we are all willing to consciously help. Remember that if the women are happy, everyone is happy.

So, what do you think is holding women back from reaching the peak of their careers?

Back to list