Working Towards Having It All Doesn’t Mean Having It All at Once: My Thoughts on International Women’s Day

By Bridget Papanicholas, CEO, TRANSEARCH USA

I am a woman CEO of a successful company. I am also a dedicated and loving wife, mother, daughter, sister, and  friend.  Perhaps I may be viewed by some people as a poster child for International Women's Day because I am a woman who appears to “have it all.” But I do not represent most women in the world right now.  Today, there are a mere 41 women running Fortune 500 companies and only four are black women. And for women in leadership roles, raising children and active in their communities like myself, the real world is a balancing act, with many on the brink of, or right in the throes of, burnout. But I do see a bright future ahead and I have some ideas on how to get there.

Have we made progress?

I was born in 1973 and am a proud member of Generation X. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the working moms I knew fell into two camps; accomplished career-oriented moms who could outsource house and childcare duties, and women who worked part-time around the school calendar. Looking at how my generation has fared by comparison, I am confident my peers have more professional opportunities than our mothers and grandmothers. So yes, we have made progress! But it comes with a heavy price and we have far more to strive for.

Have those opportunities transitioned to better lives?

While women have made great strides, the data shows many of us are suffering from the side effects of growing up hearing we can have and do it all. Women are working longer, harder and with more demands than ever before. Spending more time working at home has contributed to doing significant work duties outside of normal hours and being saddled with a disproportionate amount of household responsibilities, childcare and caregiving for parents.

Not surprisingly, this trifecta of work is resulting in burnout. A McKinsey survey found that while more than one-third of men report burnout, the burnout rate for women is now higher than 40 percent. And burnout is slamming senior-level women the hardest, with 50 percent saying they are burned out at work.

In reference to women in Gen X’s burnout, Elizabeth Grace Matthew wrote in American Magazine, that it “isn’t about (women’s) failure to achieve, but about their predecessors’ failure to count. Having it all in one day doesn’t work if a day remains 24 hours and ‘it all’ takes 36.” Wow, doesn’t that sound/feel familiar?! When I turn to my friends to reflect on this data and observations, it is validated.  

How can we #BreaktheBias?

We need to do less. Ada Calhoun’s 2020 book, “Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis” illustrates the unique situation women of my generation in particular finds itself in. We are capable, we have broken the glass ceiling, we are educated. And yet, we are still struggling to find a way to be fulfilled professionally and fulfill our commitments to our families and communities.

We have an obligation to our daughters to encourage realistic expectations, help them curate and prioritize their passions, and encourage them to understand that having it all doesn’t demand having it all at once. We must mentor, coach, and counsel younger female co-workers. I believe we cannot merely offer more opportunity; we must intentionally create space for women to thrive in the workplace and encourage innovation. Supporting flexible work schedules and remote offices (thank you Covid) has gotten easier, but parents still need support for childcare. Leadership should be accessible for everyone, regardless of gender or life stage.

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