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Why Some Women Are Sick Of Hearing About Work/Life Balance

Tue, Jun. 28, 2016 Posted: 12:05 PM


For nearly as long as women have been a driving force in the labor market, the conversation about how women will balance their work lives and their responsibilities in the home has been ongoing. But now, some women want that conversation to stop. Let's talk about why.

Women have always worked

The notion that women have only just entered the labor market recently is fundamentally flawed. Women, especially lower class women and women of color, have worked in various ways throughout the history of society. When we talk about women entering the workforce, we are really talking about women taking jobs that were more commonly filled by men in American and European society.

Men aren't asked the same question

When was the last time Mark Zuckerberg was asked about his work/life balance? Meanwhile his CFO wrote a book entirely about how women can succeed in the workplace by leaning in. Elissa Strauss at Slate wrote last month that the concern wasn't that women were asked about being parents; motherhood is a biographical detail for many women entrepreneurs. But the question was always asked in the context of their career, with the subtext being that they must be giving up something in order to try to be both mothers and career women.

We don't think the same of fathers, so why believe that mothers automatically feel they are sacrificing in both the home and the workplace by choosing to inhabit both spheres? Strauss says "Many of us work and parent, and don’t view them as a zero sum game."

Advice to "balance" quickly sounds like "good business" advice

Susie Orman Schnall did what many women in their 30s did; she left her high powered corporate career to have children, and then went back to work when the kids were a little older. She struggled to find the right balance between working and caring for her children. She started talking to other parents, and found some common advice:

• Be willing to hyperfocus and walk away from opportunities that don't match your vision. We regularly give this advice to entrepreneurs. Seth Godin calls it the gift of saying no. If you want to become successful entrepreneur, then you need to say no to the opportunities where you will only be okay. Schnall frames this as sacrifice, the same attitude that Strauss protested on Slate.

• When you feel overloaded, curtain your social media time. This one basically translates either way; business owners can easily get wrapped up in spending all of their time on social media, either arguing with customers who left negative reviews or trying to keep up on "everything that's happening." The pressure to respond in an instant can be hard to resist.

• Take time for yourself. Even the most passionate entrepreneur has to take breaks to recharge and refocus, regardless of their gender. It's difficult to tell whether the problem is that women feel more pressure to not do things for themselves, or they talk about it more. Either way, this is good advice for all entrepreneurs to find a purpose in life.

• Stay organized. If an entrepreneur is constantly richocheting from project to project, keeping their to-do lists on the backs of envelopes, and always running late, they are either truly doing too much, or doing a very bad job of keeping their time organized. In truth, it's usually a little of both. Again, it doesn't matter what gender someone is; entrepreneurs are going to be happier and more successful when they stay organized.
If good advice is good advice, why gender it by sharing it in the context of "work life balance for women and mothers"?

Apologizing for passion

Work life balance is rarely presented in the context of women being passionate at work; it is almost always framed as women feeling guilty that they don't get more done with their kids, or that they aren't living up to a particular ideal of motherhood. Many women, such as Penina Ryback of Social Speaking, have talked about how women are punished for being passionate about their work in a way that men are not.

All entrepreneurs need to create a careful and well delineated balance between their home lives and their work lives. Failing to do so creates negative company culture, causes burnout, and discourages people from actually doing their work efficiently and properly. Let's not frame this problem as one that relates to gender; let's talk about how to help all entrepreneurs balance the time management issues that come with running your own business.

Margarita Hakobyan