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Leadership, Mentoring

Live chat: is 2014 the year we stop trying to have it all?

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Published by: Olivia Brown

14th January 2014

Last week the Guardian’s women in leadership community held the first live Q&A of 2014, looking at how we can reject the stereotype. Questioning whether 2014 is ‘the year we stop trying to have it all’, the live chat explores whether working women can live up to the ‘totally unrealistic ideal’ that is portrayed by Kirtsy Allsop, Jamie Oliver and Alex Polizzi, asking whether women might ‘break free from perfectionism and stop constantly trying to be superwoman’.

The live chat begins with the panelists discussing their views on ‘having it all’, which is a phrase that commonly surrounds working women. This phrase increases the pressure to serve to an ‘impossibly high standard’, as stated by Belinda Parmar, due to celebrity culture manufacturing ‘lifestyle brands’ rather than ‘authentic women’. The panelists are then asked about the ‘fulfilment coming from being able to define what is important’ and the fear amongst women as to which area of their lives they choose. Whilst some of the responses argue that we as women judge ourselves, some believe that is is the expectations of others that are dangerous to live up to, and a happy medium in unattainable.

The panelists share advice and personal experiences in the discussion, along with difficulties they have faced in the ‘juggling act’ that comes with the ‘superwoman’ role. Whilst some of the working mothers describe how a compromise must be made and that not all can be achieved to an equally balanced standard, others, such as @GlobalInvestHer, suggests that the key to ‘having it all’ is in fact a partner who can assist in obtaining a 50/50 balance in life. However, the discussion almost always comes back to the unrealistic ideal that women are faced with regarding their personal and professional lives.

Contributor Ines Wichert, senior psychologist at Kenexa High Performance Institute, an IBM company, and author of ‘Where Have All the Senior Women Gone?’ concludes the discussion with three top tips for ignoring external pressure to meet unrealistic expectations:

a.) Accept that having it all at the same time is rarely possible

b.) Build a great support network and draw on it

c.) Develop your not-to-do list and focus on essentials instead

Dutyfy’s Kathleen Alder also shares some personal tips for juggling a busy work and family life. Firstly, focus on the important things in your free time: you can easily spend most of the day cleaning up and doing house work during the baby’s downtime, so why not invest in a cleaner for little money and spend the time doing work instead. Also, and most importantly, strap your child onto you: Kathleen says, “I get so much more done just carrying him around with me, even work! I now work standing up”.

The women in leadership panel discussion has presented an array of top tips and personal experiences to other working mothers, along with different ways to face the problems that arise in balancing your family and professional life. It seems, however, that one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome is the expectations that women believe they must live up to and the judgement of themselves as working mothers. Whilst some may believe that 2014 is the year that women should ‘stop trying to have it all’, maybe we should redefine what having it all is and achieve what is possible for us.

What did you think of the comments made in the Guardian Women in Leadership panel discussion? Do you think that the ‘superwoman’ role is unrealistic and unattainable? Is it only possible with the help of a partner or more flexibility in the workplace?

Share your thoughts with us below or join the discussion on Twitter with #DutyfyDiscussions.

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