Share the load to be strong

The typical housewife culture in South Africa  was (and hopefully still is!) that a housewife has her own social activities, and isn’t a slave to the family or the house and should never be expected to. By comparison so many of my friends here  in the UK are used to doing it all including the bits that in South Africa we employed someone (or many someones!) to do. AS women have become empowered, they’ve simply continued to do all the home-management and maintenance bits and added full time careers to their job description. No wonder the sales of prosecco are doing so well!

I don’t agree with doing things a  certain way “because that’s how we’ve always done it”. I’d much rather do things differently – that way at least if it goes wrong, I don’t regret that I didn’t give it a go. We seem to have created a scenario where we think it’s reasonable to expect women do all that their mums did a generation or so ago, as well as a full time career, and to cope with it.

No wonder Mrs Moneypenny is so downbeat about how rough women’s lot is! I’m too selfish to live my life in servitude to what everyone else wants me to do. I believe that it’s far more important to have a life than it is to meet everyone’s expectations. At the root of all this, I believe that we’re better mothers, wives, employees and bosses when we’re happy.

I recognised fairly early on that feeling guilty about it all wasn’t going to work, so rather than waste time and effort bemoaning my horrible role in life, I spent that energy on making it a good place to be. Don’t get me wrong – these are hard won lessons, which involved some very interesting conversations with my other half, and don’t believe that I was always right in those argu… I mean conversations. We’ve both had to listen and be humble enough to admit when we were wrong. Occasionally I’ve been given the edict of “go and have a run, woman!” out of recognition that most of us are less tense when we’ve had a chance to do something that’s selfishly our own and nobody else’s.

As a result, the time I spend with little Miss is better quality time. My productivity and effectiveness at work is far higher than it used to be because I’ve got the clarity of mind to do things smarter rather than just work harder. And I’m far less likely to end up having an emergency summit with my other half over the housework that in the cold light of day isn’t really going to make or break the end of the world.

That’s what bugs me about Mrs M’s book: she has spent so much effort and energy talking about how tough things are for career women, and how much harder (than men) they have to work to make it all succeed. I think she’s wrong. 

Can you remember the saying: “Behind every successful man is a successful/supportive/wonderful woman”?

We’ve been saying this ever since I can remember, and illustrates to me that men don’t achieve success on their own – they do it because they rely on the team around them. So why does Mrs M fail to recognise that in order to be the best they can, women and men both need team of people surrounding and supporting them.

I’m fascinated by the way some of my friends and family remember events and interpret what “really” happened. I recently had a chat with a senior (male) colleague. It was late-ish and we were all winding down to get ready to go home for the day. I mentioned that I was keen to get home in time to give my Little Miss a cuddle before bed. (That’s my target each day – to be home in time for bedtime stories.) Once he realised that I try to be home for her bed time cuddles each night, he quickly ended the conversation with “yes, you should get back home to your family.” I’m curious: do you think he was implying that as woman I would naturally want to leave work to do my womanly duties? I didn’t – I believe he was recognising that I have a young family and that I want to make sure that I’m not a stranger to them. I believe that he would have said exactly the same thing had I been a father, expressing a very modern desire not to be a stranger to his children.

I’m also a shareholder in a separate part of my life. I’m regularly struck by the way a one of the other shareholders revisits the meetings. She grew up in a time when women shareholders weren’t allowed at any of the meetings, where women couldn’t be Board members, and where women shareholders didn’t have voting rights. Today, although all of these practices have gone, she believes that the lack of women on the Board of Directors is an indication of how sexist the company still is, and that comments by the lady shareholders aren’t taken as seriously as those by the gentlemen in the room.

What has struck me is that women tend not to speak up at shareholder meetings, and when they do they’re not treated any differently by the Board Members. And the share of women on the Board  is more an indication of the industry they’re in, rather than a desire to actively dissuade women. It seems to me that in many situations, what people say can be interpreted in several ways. My hypothesis is that because women have been told that there’s so much discrimination in the workplace, and because they’ve been told to expect the glass ceiling, and because they’ve been told that it’s a really rough time being a working mother, that they expect these things to happen. So when they’re part of a conversation, that’s how the interpret the meaning behind what could be a very innocent comment.

I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by some very wise and successful men – in my industry it meant that I had the opportunity to listen to men’s advice more than I have to women. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to hear women’s advice, but of all of the influential and inspiring leaders I’ve worked with, they’ve all been men so far. I wasn’t going to seek out the advice of a mediocre woman, just so that I could have an equal share of women vs men’s opinions in my industry – I wanted to learn from the best people I had access to. I’m not going to apologise for this, and this is definitely a habit that I’m going to stick with. I’ll keep learning from the best, regardless of gender, nationality or disability.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not claiming that men have it all right. There are some things that men have advised me to do that I’ve consciously decided to ignore, and some strengths that I have (and share with many women) that I’ve nurtured, despite many men being ignorant of them. 

I’m glad I read Mrs Moneypenny’s book, as it’s prompted me to ask a different set of questions from men, women and myself. I’m very happy being  a career woman with a family and an active sporting/social life. I don’t believe in doing things the way everyone else has always done it, especially if it makes you unhappy or stressed. If you want something, but getting there is making you unhappy, then change how you do it. You have every right to make your life into what you want it to be (another trait that men do incredibly well). Forget about the rules, and what you “should” do: take control of your life and your happiness.

 

 

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