A master of juggling…..

I am not!  So, I hear so many different things; ‘women can have it all’, ‘women can’t have it all’, ‘you have to find the right balance’, ‘it’s impossible to find the right balance’, and in my quest for trying to find the answer I’ve read so many reports, spoken to a lot of women who I think have that perfect balance, and what have I learnt.  It’s impossible to find the right balance all the time. Women approach me and ask me how I find that balance, they clearly feel I have it, but what I’ve realised is I can’t have the right balance all the time, and I need to stop beating myself up about it.

My family is the centre of my world.  I work to give my children the best start in life possible, and to demonstrate that in the household, men and women are equal.  However, when work gets particularly busy and the balance is tipped one way, I find myself saying things such as, ‘I am the worst Mother in the world’, ‘my husband will think I am the worst wife ever’, and sometimes just want to burst into tears  with the emotional turmoil of it all.  A bit dramatic I know, and I sometimes feel embarrassed saying it. So how to handle it?

Over the last few months, I have realised something.  Yes, sometimes work will take over more of your life than perhaps you feel comfortable with, yes, you emotionally beat yourself up and yes, you feel torn between trying to do a good job and be a present Mum.  However, I’ve realised if I set boundaries I start to feel more in control.  Setting myself a time period when the working pace is acceptable, but then knowing I have a light at the end of the tunnel is so important.  Also ensuring my boss is aware is of equal important, and knowing when to say, ‘no’, something us women are necessarily that great at.

So, as I start to see the light, I’ve learnt something.  What I need to make the busy periods bearable (including an amazing husband), and where my work boundaries are.  Now to set these learnings into practise.

‘It’s a man’s world…?’

So that’s what James Brown stated, quickly followed by the fact it would, ‘be nothing, without a women or girl’.

In the start of my career, I always wondered, what I needed to do to climb the organizational ladder. My bosses, and the Executive Management were typically male, and I was intrigued to know how a women could have a place at that table.

As I started to progress through my career, I noticed something very common, amongst those women who had managed to break the glass ceiling, most, but not all, try to replicate some male behaviors. However, coming from a women, this came across as direct, aggressive, disconnected and cold.

I saw these women progressing their careers, but disconnecting from other women, and men, around them. I believed they were demonstrating that the, ‘I’ was more powerful than the, ‘we’ and that’s what you had to be like to become a leader in a business.

For me there is something very powerful about being a women. It is proven that women, from reading articles by Forbes, Fortune etc., have a number of skills which clearly differentiates us, primarily focused around:

  1. Opportunity experts – We see the opportunities that are presented, not only in our professional but personal life also. Forbes states, ‘women, when given the opportunity to be themselves, are natural leaders!’
  2. Networking Professionals – Recently I hear more women stating that men do this better, as we have so many external commitments, and this is something we need to be focusing on, however, as Forbes states, ‘unlike men, women stick together and protect one another (though many would equally say that women also fiercely compete against each other too).   At the initial stages of networking, women are gracious and generous in their ability to give and open doors for one another.   They want to feel as if they are making an impact, helping to make a difference in the lives of others.’
  3. We are relationship specialists – ‘Women are specialists at cultivating relationships that are purposeful, genuine and meaningful. They focus on growing healthy, long-lasting relationships. Women don’t quit. They thrive at creating and sustaining momentum for both themselves and others.’ Forbes. We must learn to recognize the power this skills can bring us.
  4. We are natural givers – We enjoy supporting a cause that serves the advancement and acceleration of societal needs.

One of the biggest life lessons that I have learnt, particularly over the last few years since having children, is to be authentic, it’s such a power thing. People can read through you more than you think, and actually being honest and true to yourself ensures people believe in you, and want to come with you on your career journey.

The Key to a Successful Career Being a Mum…..?

‘Marry Well’. That’s what Sheryl Sandberg and Helena Morrissey have told us, and quite frankly, I agree.

Before being a Mum, I must admit, this didn’t really enter into my mind. I previously married someone who clearly wasn’t right for me (i.e.  my ex-husband), untrustworthy, and certainly not a role model that I would want for my children.  But, what did it teach me?  Actually as you mature, and hopefully your career progresses, having the support of people around you, especially when you have children, is key.

Time management has never been as critical as it is now. I squeeze as much into a day as I possibly can.  The day starts at 5am with a run, and finishes at around 10pm as I literally fall into bed.

I made a conscious decision when I fell pregnant that I wanted to be a really active Mum, to be there for them, help them grow and ensure I was there to pick up from nursery a few times a week.

The reality was; time pressured, feeling I wasn’t doing anything well enough, and putting an immense amount of emotional pressure on myself, ‘I’m a terrible Mum for working’, ‘I need to be able to provide a good example for my children’.

Enough. Something had to change.

I’ve known my husband for longer than I haven’t. From being young 18 year olds, he knows what drives me, how my brain ticks and I hate to say it, how to ‘manage me’!

With 2 children, I realise how I actually now feel; calm. Able to manage my career (as best I can), feel like I am a present Mum and hopefully a good friend, daughter and wife.  It’s all down to the person I married.

We support each other, we both make sacrifices, and never hold it against each other. The greater goal is what is right for the family, not what is right for the individual.

So, the key to a successful career being a Mum, definitely marry well!

Mind the gap….?

So, there has been so much conversation regarding #metoo, that it got me thinking about my own experiences…..have I ever been knowingly overlooked for a role because I was a women, have my views been overtaken by a man in a meeting, have I just been viewed as a dumb blonde?

The answer is, maybe but how much of it have I been made aware of?

I do remember being in a meeting where 2 of the men entered the room and asked me to make them a cup of coffee (I was young and naïve), assuming I was the catering staff. What did I do, well of course I made them one swearing and cursing under my breath.  I then sat at the table, taking notes on the meeting so I can recall all the actions that needed to be done.  Another school girl error.  I should have #leanin.

I went home that day and thought about what I could do differently.  Was there a reason why he put me in that position, or should I have been more assertive?

So, I have always been a girly girl (although my best friend is actually a guy). I really enjoy female company and love nothing more than have a few glasses of wine laughing about life, past, present and future.

Before children I didn’t really think about the power of a team, and how working together can actually create more impact than a lone individual.

It’s a known fact that when women go for a job they see everything they can’t do, whilst men, you got it, see everything they can. Why do we need to be 100% perfect to be right for that promotion?

Post having children, it made me recognize the joy I get from helping others in their careers. Getting them to realise their potential, think about their future career paths, and yes, push for that salary increase.  I want to advocate women, be part of the ‘sisterhood’ and mentor and grow girls and women to achieve their full potential.

So it got me thinking, if we all did this in our own small way, what would be the difference in the workplace? Would we have the confidence to direct men to where the coffee cups are?!!

So, no matter how much of a small part I can play, I will never say no to someone who approaches me for career help, whether that be a quick coffee conversation, or mentoring. I make that my personal commitment to the sisterhood!!

Bossy or Assertive???

So I’ll make a confession, as a young girl I was highly competitive. I know in today’s society, and particularly in schools this is a little taboo now, but I always wanted to do the best possible job I could.  I hated it when someone was above me in Maths, for example, and it drove me to go home and work to overtake them, again something else I get from my Dad, please see my previous blog.

I remember at primary school, I was always organising the school dance display, (I do still feel sorry for the teachers that had to sit through this), and organised what we would do at playtime.

To this day I remember some teachers saying, ‘Anouska, stop being so bossy’. I knew what I thought would be good fun, and was explaining this, what that bossy?

Something that still sticks with me is that I never heard, and in fact rarely hear now, someone calling a boy or man bossy.

Today, it is much more about how I perform, the enjoyment I get from working with other people, and the results we can all achieve, although I will secretly admit I still have a drive to succeed!

Now as a working Mum with 2 small children, and with one of each sex, I really think about my role, and the impression I am leaving with them.

My children see me leave for work each morning, but I have explained why. My little boy can now recite why Mummy goes to work, ‘to pay for our food, our house and my toys’!

With both my children I consciously look to use the same language. When either of them are being demanding, yes they are bossy.  When they are being assertive in the right way, I applaud this.

So it got me thinking, if we want gender equality in the workplace, lets use the same language to explain behaviours from when our children are young. ‘Bossy boots’ can apply to both boys and girls, so lets ensure our children see, and hear, this!

Nature or Nurture?….The role of the Father

On my career journey, I’ve often wondered is it nature or nurture that drives who we are. Can we change/adjust, does life events alter our perspective/behaviours, or will we always revert to type?

To really understand this, I have gone back to my early influences, my Mum and Dad. As with many families over 30 years ago, my Mum stayed at home to raise my brother and me, and my Dad went out to work. Mum was the one taking me to all my after school activities, whilst I replayed them to Dad when he got home.

Reflecting on my personal and career drivers today, what has made me desire to have a career like my Dad, but be as nurturing and loving to my children as my Mum.

What I realised is that I was fortunate enough to have 2 very strong individuals guiding me.

My Mum had the strength to stay at home and raise 2 children, something I now realise is a really hard job. She gave me the strength of character, the emotional support I always needed, but also the work ethic.  To ensure we could have a holiday every year, Mum would waitress in our village restaurant to save enough money to take us away every year.  Something I know she was really proud of.

My Dad was pretty progressive. He was a cheerleader for women and always encouraged people to, ‘do their best’.  No matter how long it took, or how much he had to travel for work, he would always take the time to help me with my homework, (ssshhh don’t tell my teachers), listen to how my day went and encourage me to try my hardest.

I saw my Dad leading a company, but always understanding what motivated people, and encouraged them to work harder for him; understanding what was happening in people’s lives and making the appropriate allowances, listening to everyone, no matter what level, to what wasn’t working in the business and being visible, walking the floor and holding regular all business meetings where people could raise any concerns they may have.

Throughout my life, my Dad pushed me to get the best grades possible, reach for that next role but never forget it is other people that can help you achieve this. The latter is certainly something which has taken me a long time to learn!

On reflection, my Dad really was my first mentor; honest, open, challenging and always willing to help.

It is only now he has passed away, I realise how much of an influence Dad’s are on their daughters. They set the first expectation of how girls/women see men treating them.

I therefore encourage all Dads of daughters to tell them they can be anything they want, support them in their life journey and show them that equality really does exist.

First blog post

So why another blog about women in the workplace………?

Since I become an ‘official’ working woman 20 years ago, I can’t think of a single event in my life that has changed my outlook on women in the workplace as much as having children did.

As a Mum of 2 small children, I still congratulate myself each morning, getting out of the door and on the train, without one of the following happening; a) make-up all over my face, b) milk or biscuits over my suit, c) a body part on display!!!

I will be honest, prior to having children, I felt I was a very different woman, focused on the ‘I’. How was ‘I’ going to get ahead, how could ‘I’ get that promotion, and what did ‘I’ need to do to be the best.

Since having 2 small children, its forced me to look at things differently. Patience, calmness and understanding are key with children, so why not with adults?!

This blog is set to share some stories, both serious and hopefully funny, about what I’ve learnt to become a better colleague, leader, wife, Mum and friend.

I will share all the unspoken things we may think but not say, ‘I was actually really excited to go back to work after having children’, sshh, and hopefully provide a perspective on what supporting your fellow women actually means.

Join me each week to hear my thoughts and views, and if you like it, please comment.