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Is the tyranny of the Ideal Worker creating unrealistic pressure on senior women to conform?

Diverse talent, often excluded from the senior echelons of companies, is continuously being asked to fix themselves in order to progress - lean in a bit further, have higher expectations, network better, be more agile. For women it can be even trickier once family commitments are added into the mix. As Kathryn Sollmann in the FT explains it is difficult "to have a big job and family commitments"

One way some senior women have tried to solve the big job-family issue is to outsource caring responsibilities along traditional lines with the one partner staying at home full time. In this model the women becomes the sole bread winner in the relationship and usually has minimal responsibilities for shared caring and household responsibilities. She is able to fully commit to her career and her family will reap the benefits financially of that commitment while there is a still a parent at home to take on the household manager function. Alternatively one partner can opt into the world of part-time which allows them to balance work and family life. Usually, but not exclusively, the person opting into flex is the woman as they are generally the lower earners in the relationship. As we all know though the reality is that flex climbers are still few and far between, especially if your are working part-time. So opting into this type of family-job balance can mean a demotion of responsibilities and a stalling of further progress.

The last main solution is for both parents try to have a big job and a family. For those of us working in large cities away from our families this requires outsourcing on a large scale involving nannies, au pairs, housekeepers and cleaners. Only those with the biggest of jobs are really able to access this option.

So is it an either or for women looking to have a big job and a family? Are we asking women to provide the diversity of though that leads to a 20% growth in innovation as noted by Deloitte but still requiring them to fit into the Ideal Worker mold? Does this mean that single parents and flex workers will always struggle to find any real models of big job-family balance?

Companies need the innovation and productivity gains provided by diversity of thought but still look at big jobs within a mold created hundreds of years ago. We need companies to lean in, have higher expectations of what a manager could be, take risks and be more agile so that diverse talent can do the same.

If you enjoyed this post please check out the rest of my blog here, including my post on calling it a day on the Ideal Worker and How to Close the Inclusion Gap.

All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.


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