International Women’s Day gave me the opportunity to speak to a lovely group of ladies in Sydney around the topic of “Happy, Healthy Workplaces” which was a topic that is close to my heart. However, as the day was really focused on the girls, I did my best to find the areas that females might find more challenging than others. Now this went against the grain for me as I do believe that if we are to gain an even footing in the corporate world, then we have to be able to consider ourselves as equally equipped to handle the “job”! Yet, there are differences between the sexes that are hard to ignore. And they come from a long history of the role that women have played for centuries.
There is no getting away from the fact that women bear the children. Men can step in almost immediately once the baby appears but the pregnancy and strenuous job of bringing the child into the world rests wholly on Mum! Women are working for (on average) considerably lower wages and that is gradually changing. So we are bridging the gap in many ways.
But what about our innate nature as human beings? Women are generally relationship-focused caregivers. Not all, but many, have an instinctive drive to care for others and to provide the nurturing type of support that suits positions that may be an adjunct to a more senior male. With this comes the inevitability of having work handed down to us. And this can be where the problem lies.
Are women weaker than men when it comes to saying “No”? And by that I mean the ability to say, “Enough is enough”, or perhaps, “I would love to help you but I am unable to do so at the present time”. When I posed this question at the room, I sensed that there was a general agreement with my assumption!
So what is the effect of this habitual way of being in the world and what do we do to get around it? Without doubt this tendency is the cause of stress and burnout for women in the workplace. We move from board room to breastfeeding, from executive to soccer Mum, from housework to spreadsheet analysis apparently effortlessly. But it takes its toll. Instead of believing that we are masters (mistresses) of multi focusing, it’s time we realised that NO ONE MULTI-TASKS WELL!
The need to be needed may keep us warm at night but the cost to our physical health (where does exercise fit in?) and our mental wellbeing can be enormous. When we lose ourselves in others, how can we possibly recognise our own needs?
I would love to hear from anyone with ideas of how to stop the trend of never saying “No”.