Many women who have spent years studying and then working their way up the career ladder will know all too well the feelings of anger and frustration at being openly flirted with by male colleagues, being called “babe” or “sweetie pie”, having their bottoms patted “playfully” as they walk past, having to listen to sexist jokes, and so many other transgressions that women in the workplace endure.
When it comes to equality in business, we have come a long way from the days when women were secretaries and personal assistants only, and nowadays many women have broken through the glass ceiling. However, it is a hard won victory for most and comes at a cost for women who constantly juggle their roles as business women, wives and mothers.
Putting on a fake persona
According to a survey done amongst working women by Executive Life Coach Jason Bernic, women still have to work extra hard to compete with men in the workplace to achieve equal status and many feel like they have to put on a persona to fit in and succeed – often holding themselves back or making themselves “smaller”.
“The results of the survey were extremely interesting and some of the more disturbing findings include the fact that sexual harassment – either subtle and underhanded or brazen and obvious – is still occurring in the workplace; some women wear fake wedding rings to try “protect” themselves from unwanted advances; many women are still earning less than their male counterparts; and female professionals who hold senior positions have been asked when their (male) boss will be arriving,” says Bernic.
Juggling work and home life
“But most telling from the survey is the struggle that women have in balancing their work life with their roles as mothers and nurturers.”
According to Bernic, out of all the survey respondents interviewed the challenge of juggling being a working professional and a mother came up as a primary concern.
“For women who have not yet started their families there is a huge worry that taking time off work for maternity leave will result in them losing their hard won footing within the organisation and being seen as obsolete. One of the women interviewed commented that letting someone else take over her job for several months comes with the worry that they will replace her and she will return to work only to discover she has become irrelevant.”
Delaying starting a family
For this reason many working women are delaying having a much wanted baby until they feel more secure in their career status. However, this compromise brings with it its own set of frustrations. One of the survey participants commented that one of her biggest regrets was not having a second child because of her career commitments. “On the flip side – men do not have to put their careers on hold to start a family.”
Climbing the ranks at work whilst still trying to juggle the responsibilities of motherhood is a hugely daunting task and many women in the survey agreed that workplaces generally do not grant much leniency to working moms.
Guilt, guilt and more guilt
“The constant guilt experienced is not to be underestimated,” commented one of the surveyed women. “When I take time away from work to handle my children’s needs I feel guilty, when I take time away from my family for work I feel guilty – it is a constant feeling of being pulled in two different directions.
“You have to work as if you’re not a mom, and mother as if you don’t have a job or business,” commented another respondent.
“The fact remains that for most families it is the mother who shoulders the lion’s share of responsibilities and tasks when it comes to the children, from early morning wake ups and prepping the kids for school, through to extracurricular activities, play dates, grocery shopping and more,” says Bernic. “We dads often drop the kids off at school on our way to work and that is where our involvement in their busy daily schedules ends, whilst moms will pop out the office during their lunch break to sort out their children’s needs, they will arrange to leave a bit early to drive them to after school events – the examples are endless.”
Out of sight, out of mind
“Unfortunately, and corroborated by the survey, many workplaces favour employees that are seen in the office, and do not take into consideration the fact that a working mother may leave the office at 3pm to handle her children’s needs but will then work from home until 9pm or later to catch up on their workload. Many employers have a mindset that if they don’t actually physically see an employee working then they are not performing or delivering.”
Workplace competitiveness & a lack of bonding
Another issue that came up in the survey was competitiveness in the workplace between women who sometimes feel threatened by their female co-workers – particularly those that do not have to consider the work/parent juggling act. Hand in hand with this is the fact that – according to the survey – it can be difficult for female co-workers to bond or develop a connection outside of the office. Again, their role as mothers impacts this as most women spend their time outside of the office engaged in family activities and responsibilities – there is no equivalent to the golf course or the local bar for working moms.
Bernic explains that he initiated this survey to help get a better understanding of the issues facing women in business to assist him hone his group coaching circle called Women In Business which is an immersive group coaching experience for female entrepreneurs, business owners and executives. “A number of my female clients that are in business said that they would love to meet other, similarly minded women, to share and compare experiences, and uplift one another to the next level. It was for this reason that I launched Women in Business – it offers women a chance to connect with other women in similar circumstances, to discuss the challenges faced, to bounce ideas off, to get support and input and generally feel connected to other women who have experience with the same daily struggles.”
“I have had women ask me how as a man I am equipped to run a women’s coaching circle but in fact I think I am the best suited as I come at it from an outside perspective with a totally neutral approach. I facilitate a conversation by listening and asking questions that make my clients think and either see things for what they are or see them from another perspective.”
Bernic’s Women In Business online coaching group runs for six months and members meet online twice a month for an hour and a half. For more information visit https://www.successcoaching.co.za/wib or email Jason Bernic on [email protected]. Alternatively, contact Jason on 010 300 0801. #JasonBernicCoach