Back in May, Serena Kutchinsky’s piece for Prospect entitled ‘Why are there so few women on top?’ struck such a chord with me that I’ve read it at least once a day since I first came across it. Kutchinsky highlights a number of themes that I have been contending with since I became pregnant two years ago whilst holding the position of CEO within a charitable organisation. The points raised in her blog are serious and urgently need to be addressed at every level within our society today. Just as Kutchinsky’s blog didn’t provide the answers for the multitude of questions so many women have on how to be a professional and raise a family, I’m not going to attempt to provide the definitive guide here or now. It’s impossible and as she herself says, it’s confusing and confused.
Instead, I am going to highlight some of the issues raised within her blog and, hopefully, over the coming weeks and months provide insight into how each of them have impacted upon me as a CEO, a leader even, and as a mother. I want to be clear about a couple of things before we start. Firstly, I am in no doubt that tomorrow my main tasks will be dodging flying mackerel as it’s thrown at me from a highchair, reading Peter Rabbit’s Finger Puppet book two hundred times before my husband leaves for work, and assessing the household requirements for a trip to the chemist as I complete the daily Calpol stocktake. I will be balancing this with a conference call with a client, drafting a social media strategy for said client and continuing my ever increasing obsession with twitter. I couldn’t be happier.
Secondly, I am confident in the knowledge that I am still a CEO, a leader, a marketer, an asset to any organisation, an enthusiastic learner, and a brilliant producer of ideas. I am all of those things, and I am confident in my position that I don’t need to be all of those things or do all of those things tomorrow in order to retain those skills. It’s not the mother part of me that is staying at home, it’s the CEO who is temporarily mothballed.
The crux of the ‘pregnancy problem’ as Kutchinsky refers to it is the same two things that plague many women at the beginning, middle and end of their careers regardless of whether they have ever been pregnant. The problem is doubt, or in other words, a lack of confidence. However with the prospect of motherhood comes not only our own doubts in whether we can function as both parents and professionals (despite the men-folk doing a bally marvellous job of it), but the doubts of society, media, our employers, our families, our friends, the friendly grandma’s on the bus who engage you in half an hour of conversation before narrowing their eyes to ask “You are breastfeeding, aren’t you?’
We are all at it. What is it about becoming a mother that instills such fear into the minds of us all? Baby brain is a myth, you know.
Kutchinsky touches upon many ideas in the piece, including:
- the possibility that women aren’t committed to leadership in the same way as men
- the glass ceiling
- are women holding themselves back (my answer to this ‘YES! Next question’)
- the old ‘women can/can’t have it all’ debate
- delaying trying to begin a family for fear of ruining her career
- struggling to reconnect with work after maternity leave
- being pushed out of positions following the birth of a child
- her friend’s statement: “people take you seriously until you have a baby”
- the lack of female representation (and power) in the House of Commons, the media, senior judiciary, public appointments and business
For Kutchinsky, confidence is crucial in shattering all of the above to smithereens and I for one agree with her. Over the years I have repeatedly witnessed my female friends, my female colleagues and my female employees have crises of confidence whilst the men in my life go for whatever they are embarking upon with a ‘lets do this’ attitude. It’s unnecessary and it has to stop. Whilst we’re all second guessing the capacity and capability of womankind we’re stifling the potential and opportunity for everyone, women and men alike.
Over the coming weeks and months I’m going to be addressing some of these issues, and would love to hear from people who have thoughts, experiences and ideas to share.