Much has been made in recent decades about the concept of having it all. It used to encompass everything that a working man would typically aim for, and often succeed in gaining: a stable and highly-paid job, a good home, a loving spouse, bright and well-behaved children, and a solid social life with a healthy group of supportive friends.
Of course, not every woman wants every one of those things, so these days having it all largely refers to having flourishing professional and personal lives (with it being up to the individual to decide what counts as flourishing). And even though the obstacles facing women in the business world are steadily being whittled down, that fundamental notion of having it all certainly still feels like a stubborn challenge.
Given this, any woman with serious business ambitions might wonder what she’ll be called upon to give up in her quest for accomplishment. So where do things stand today? Does a woman entering the business world today need to make sacrifices to succeed? Let’s examine the relevant factors:
Pushing to be taken seriously
Something you’ll see reported time and time again from women in the business world is the experience of struggling to be taken seriously. Sometimes it stems from an old-fashioned reluctance to accept women in the workplace, sometimes it seems to be about communication styles (not understanding that businesses benefit from diversity), and sometimes it’s the result of perceived affirmative action — people assume that women have been treated generously and given positions they don’t deserve, and treat them as such.
Overcoming this negative perception is always challenging. Women affected by it have to work incredibly hard to achieve results so good that they’re undeniable. They need to be practically flawless, exceeding the hours put in by their peers, demonstrating more skill and comprehension, and finding ways to establish and maintain strong relations with their colleagues (even when they’re treated harshly).
All this work requires sacrificing free time, and that’s before you count the hours spent enduring the fear and anxiety that inevitably come with it. It’s much like running at an incline: you’re doing much the same thing that everyone else is doing, except it’s harder for you. This organisational prejudice is one of the core reasons why the entrepreneurial wave driven by ecommerce has meant so much for women — some, like Rebecca Lee Funk and her activist apparel brand, have built their own businesses predominantly to support other women.
Women as emotional caretakers
Regardless of the reasoning or justification, it’s undeniable that the notion of women possessing superior emotional comprehension is still stitched into the fabric of society. But it doesn’t end there: beyond that, women are expected to serve as emotional caretakers, both for their families and for their partners.
This weight of expectation can be crushing for professionals, since climbing the employment ladder is taxing not only mentally but also emotionally. As a consequence, many women find that their personal relationships suffer when they pursue career advancement: no longer having the energy needed to handle disputes, they can even end up accused of indifference.
That said, this depends entirely on the family members and partners involved. For instance, a woman with a truly supportive and understanding partner can surely maintain that relationship while she pursues her professional ambitions (provided she’s able to draw a line between work and home engagements).
Delayed and disrupted parenting
Let’s suppose for a second that a given company has moved with the times to the extent that it pays men and women the same and treats them with the same care and investment. That’s a good thing, but then you introduce the thorny issue of pregnancy, and everything gets complicated again. What happens to a woman who wants to start a family?
Well, while there’s support for pregnant women in the workplace in most countries by now, there’s still an identified culture of discrimination that skirts the regulations while clearly being about pregnancy. To avoid being treated poorly or even pushed out, some women will hold off on having families, sometimes until it’s too late for natural conception.
And when a woman does keep her job after giving birth, she can find herself in the struggle of being taken seriously, only this time with a much bigger challenge ahead of her: continuing to work harder than everyone else, but with a child to look after. In the end, something has to give, whether it’s the job or the quality of the parenting.
The titular question
So, then, we can return to the titular question: do women have to make sacrifices to succeed in business? Even if we discount any challenges that both women and men face, it’s certainly true that women do make sacrifices — but that isn’t exactly the question. The question is whether they have to make sacrifices, and at this point, I have to say no.
Do they face difficulties? Yes. Are they treated unjustly? Yes. But if a woman truly believes in what she’s doing and is willing to fight for her dreams, she can achieve them without sacrificing her personal life or health in the process. She shouldn’t have to fight so hard, but maybe, if the world can keep changing, the day will come when women don’t need to fight any harder than men to have it all.
Author: Kayleigh Alexandra, Micro Startups