I have babies on the brain. As a woman in my mid-twenties, starting a family has always been something that will eventually happen in the far and distant future. I have the timeline figured out: finish college, travel, start a great flexible career, meet someone, fall in love, get married by 30, and get pregnant (the latest) by 32. But recently I’ve been dreaming up some pretty hefty career goals which includes becoming an entrepreneur and starting my own business, which has left me wondering two things; 1) where a family fits into my ten-year plan, and 2) if having a baby will sabotage my career goals.
It isn’t easy to break the news of a pregnancy to an employer, the topic is hush-hush from the beginning of the interview process to full-time employment. For the most part, men make far fewer compromises when balancing a career and children. Studies show women still do twice the amount of housework as men and three times as much childcare. It’s evident that there will be definite break in my career where I will need to take time off, and multiplying that by two, three, or four (!) might take a toll on my advancement in the workplace. Kit Scott Brown, chief executive of InterExec seems to think so,
“many of the top headhunters were keen to see more women in senior executive positions, but at the same time believed that, in order to reach those top positions, many of them would unfortunately have to give up any career break, whether it be for health reasons, to travel or, in particular, to have children,” he said.
Even with the most supporting partner, a female who wants both a family and to climb high on the corporate ladder faces far greater repercussions than her male coworkers. Melody Adhami, President and COO of Plastic Mobile, has wondered if starting a family would undermine her role in the industry. She explains the anxiety some business women face when making this decision,
“There is the perception of leadership and pregnancy (‘can someone really take me as a serious industry professional if I am pregnant or a mom?’). It may be anxiety about the pregnancy and then their role as a mother and how that might perceived by their peers. However, I know that I’m not alone in that concern as women have been struggling with various stigma attached to gender roles in the professional arena for generations. We’ve come a long way in overcoming those but we’re not home free yet. “
Timing is everything. Being an entrepreneur and starting a family when your company is still in its growing stage might not be the best balancing act. Neither is becoming pregnant before you’ve made your mark on the industry. In Sheryl Sandberg’s words, ‘don’t leave before you leave’, aim high in your career, find a job that’s compelling enough to make you want to return. A British study found that “a third of female corporate managers moved down the career ladder after having a child. Two-thirds of that number took clerical positions and the rest moved into other lower skill jobs.” Women who ensure they are indispensable in their field before they take time off will have ample opportunities re-entering the workplace-their company and team notices when they are not around.
The secret to a successful work/life balance may lie in your who they choose as their life partner. Although counter-intuitive, Sandberg refers to it as the most important career decision a woman will have to make. A partner who is going to share the responsibilities of home life and who also feels that a women’s professional goals are as valued and important as theirs is. The reality is that sacrifices will have to be made, but how they will be divided can very well be negotiated. Adhami agrees it all boils down to support,
“Having the support of family, friends and colleagues is really what helps all of us get through challenging situations. I think that it’s the notion that one woman has to ‘do it all’ that dims the light on possibility, and as long as we rely on a strong support network, ‘doing it all’ becomes more realistic.”
Being a successful entrepreneur and Mom is possible, and we don’t need to resort to packing it all up and moving to a farm in Wisconsin. Starting a family is undeniably the most important career decision a woman will have to make, and one in which they have complete control over choosing their partner, timing and building a great support system. In my opinion getting your ducks in a row is a lot more important than listening to your biological clock ticking in your head.