During the International Women’s Day on 8 March, much will be written, many facts will be highlighted and mostly what one will hear is about the gender gap, how women are still lagging behind in the corporate world, or statistics about women leaving the workspace for motherhood etc.
For women to feel empowered the positive messages should ideally far outnumber messages talking about what and where they’re still lacking. A lack denotes a feeling of loss, or a need to catch up, or measuring up to standards that perhaps are not our own.
Looking back on my own life experiences, there are three clear career breaks which have played a huge role in making me who I am today. The first two breaks happened when I decided to follow my husband as he changed jobs and moved on to higher posts with considerable financial gain. During both times, I was due in for a promotion and raise. Although it was a joint decision to move, what I failed to do was really look out for myself. I was angry yet resisted passively. I knew what I was going to lose yet didn’t push the boundaries to explore other workable options. I lost credibility and my reputation took a beating. I struggled to rebuild my career every time around and when I had just done that the second time, I quit because I became pregnant!
The third career break was a killer. It did many things to me, all at once. It made me angry and bitter with dollops of self-loathing which made me question my own self-worth. Yet simultaneously, I struggled to stay afloat while wading through the guilt of losing one side of me (professionally) and gaining another side with motherhood. It took me a long while to say, ‘Yes I’m a homemaker and SAHM!’
Yet that wasn’t the end of the road. It’s been an internal battle since to find ways to redefine my sense of being. I turned towards using my skill set to become a professionally trained blogger and content writer. I trained to be a mental health counsellor and now entrepreneur helping singles and couples alike to build a healthy and meaningful relationship.
I’ve redefined my personal understanding of success. I’m rebuilding my career yet again slowly and steadily. And recently I finally acknowledged out loud that my biggest mistake was to quit my full-time job when I got pregnant.
It was strengthened when I read Jen Watts Welsh’s article ‘Here’s what happened when I interviewed for a job while heavily pregnant.’ It clearly articulates, ‘don’t assume pregnancy is a pause button for women.’ This is a powerful statement especially for us, women to hear, understand and imbibe.
In most instances, societal pressure, family dynamics and personal value systems propagate the notion that motherhood is a time to step aside and lay low. Like me, most women put their careers on hold and thereby the cycle of working women moving out of the corporate sphere continues. And this in itself leads to more gender pay gap.
The article made me realise that it’s not only just about companies and recruiters being progressive in their outlook and acknowledging a women’s capabilities, skillset and leadership qualities beyond their physical selves. It’s about women doing that for themselves.
Being self-aware of her pregnancy, what Jen did was push herself to actively pursue her professional growth. Even after she returned to work, many of her co-workers didn’t know that she had a tiny baby and a four-year-old at home because she didn’t want to ‘come off as less sharp than she’d normally be.’ This mind-shift change is what made her face her vulnerabilities, establish strong boundaries and ensure that her work and reputation didn’t suffer.
When making that crucial decision, we still get swayed by the lack of respect that people show us. Nurturing for a baby is natural but the baby’s dependency on a caregiver (and most often the mother) is taken for granted. We tend to make it a moral issue attributing to it, the underlying pressure tactic of doing the ‘right’ thing.
It’s time to accept that if we want to be valued for our contribution to the workplace, we have to act the part. Moving locations (for personal reasons), pregnancy and motherhood are life-changing experiences but it’s time to change the way we, as women view them. Failing to do that simply means we’ve found another way to beat ourselves up or continue to juggle too many things. There are ways to have those important conversations at the workplace or with family and together finding flexible, workable alternatives.
Yes, the ultimate aim is for men and women, companies, recruiters and governments working together to bring equality but till then it’s our personal journey to make. Unless we strongly believe we can, we push our limits, build our own boundaries, make those tough choices, acknowledge our own value and worth as individuals, we will always find excuses or blame someone else. More importantly, we’ll continue to accept our limitations, feel insecure, judged and be left behind.
It’s time for us to become our own advocates. It’s time to own our gender and just be who we’re meant to be.