Work/life balance and gender balance are contentious issues not just for women but for everyone in society today.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BalanceforBetter. But what does it actually mean? Balance means a situation in which different elements are either equal or in their correct proportions. When we think of work-life balance we are thinking that our work should be in the right proportion to other aspects of our lives such as family, recreation, hobbies, even sleep.
Gender balance invokes the ideas of fairness and impartiality. It means that women should have equal opportunities to balance career aspirations with home and family commitments
. Unfortunately, these ideals are rarely matched by the reality and can often seem elusive. So how can we understand #BalanceforBetter and use it to improve our lives?
One of the great skills women possess is the art of conversation. Through conversation (whether be a two-minute or two-hour conversation about seemingly nothing to anyone else in ear-shot) women are constantly solving problems, brainstorming ideas, giving constructive feedback, providing inspiration and managing relationships. These conversations are the foundation of our friendships and networks. We learn from each other’s experiences, provide support, and give counsel when problems arise. I am forever grateful for the conversations I have with the women in my network, and in this case particularly with those who have inspired me to write this article.
From these conversations I have discovered that it is not just work and life that women are trying to balance. If balance could be achieved simply by flexible work hours a work-life balance would not be so elusive. It’s also about balancing what is expected from you, at work and at home, by yourself and others. It’s finding this balance that is hard to achieve. For example, the word ‘superwoman’ comes to mind when I think of what I expect from myself. Compared with what is humanly possible, I know my expectations are a fantasy. But what are we sacrificing trying to be superwomen? Happiness, fulfillment, joy? A healthy work life balance involves setting realistic expectations and goals that are challenging but achievable, so we get fulfillment rather than stress and disappointment.
When unhappiness, stress and anxiety are felt in your work life, they often seeps its way into the other parts of your life. This affects your relationships and can steal the joy you usually get from doing other things. This means that balancing happiness and finding fulfillment are just as important as balancing expectations and the hours of work. Again, it’s not a simple equation.
Taking some time out to reflect on your own happiness and expectations is a good start to achieving balance. But even when we find our own balance, it can be challenged by external factors. These factors can include unconscious gender bias from clients or business partners, mean girl tactics from colleagues, or trying to navigate our careers at the same time as raising children.
Women in business possess some truly inspiring qualities that help them to conquer these challenges. They are resilient and adaptable. They grow in strength and confidence by overcoming challenges while retaining their empathy. They understand that generations of women have paved the way for the benefits they enjoy today and that it’s their responsibility to support up-and-coming generations to push the boundaries even further in the direction of genuine gender equality. More than anything else it’s these qualities that we celebrate with the International Women’s Day theme of #BalanceforBetter.
Gemma Williams is one of our Senior Business Advisers at Lambourne Partners. She has a particular interest in helping women in business to succeed. If you’d like to know more about how Gemma and Lambourne Partners can help you and your business, our office is a stone’s throw from the best coffee Hamilton has to offer. She’d love to shout you a coffee and start a conversation.