For women, regardless of age, job position or future plans, the old-age notion of choice surrounding being a parent and having a successful career often seems to creep into the conversation. Career or Children? We ask ourselves. We seemingly have more freedom to choose than previous generations. Still, the reality is that many of us feel pressure about stability or judgement when attempting to compromise on one or the other.
I am a career-driven woman. But when I finished my undergraduate degree, I still had no clue about the career path I wanted to take. I have also always wanted to be a mum. Therefore, when worrying about time passing to begin my career, the uncertainty of when I would start motherhood added to the pile of distress.
“If I don’t start now, will I have to be an ‘older’ mum?”
“How am I supposed to make the C-suite if I want children in my 30’s?”
“Do I even want children?” *cue room of turned-up noses*
Such an array of thoughts shows my conditioning to think of both in separation. One or the other.
But what if it doesn’t have to be that way?
Women from all walks of life ask the question of whether to have a career or children every day.
You may or may not have heard of her – dating app Bumble’s CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd, who took the world by storm earlier this year when she became the youngest female self-made billionaire. At 31, with her 1-year-old son on her hip.
It was an iconic moment for women across the globe when, as she held little Bo in her arms, she pressed the button to officially make her company public. OK – she may come from a privileged background, an advantage that many do not have. But regardless, she was still faced with adversity that many of us as women have or will face, no matter where we are from.
As exciting as the thought is of us all becoming billionaires whilst having children, the likelihood is slim (doesn’t mean it can’t be done!). But this isn’t the key takeaway. If there’s anything that Whitney’s success has taught me, it’s not to let anybody tell you that you can’t. You genuinely do not have to compromise becoming a parent to have a successful career or vice versa.
Realistically, it is an easier path to pursue if you are not already a parent. Although we are encouraged to pursue our dreams more openly than before, is the support that one might need with childcare given by employers?
The average weekly cost for part-time childcare for a child under two years old is £138 per week.
This equals to almost £600 per month (!). In particular, for a single parent, it’s doubtful they will have such an amount of spare cash to spend. There is more that must be done by those who have the executive power.
Another reason I am in complete awe of Whitney Wolfe Herd’s work at Bumble is that she’s striving for representation by balancing the female: male ratio in the Bumble c-suite. This provides women with more opportunity to obtain top-end jobs and means that policies that cater to our needs will be curated relatively by those who know what we need.
Much like the dating world, it is a cultural norm that men are supposedly more authoritative in the workplace. This social construct has no doubt heightened with Covid-19 – with women spending 15 hours more in unpaid labour each week than men. Numerous factors have influenced this – childcare, other commitments, and women making up most essential and front-line workers. Women are bearing the brunt of an event that has had a global impact on all genders.
But don’t. Give. Up.
In a newly adapted world where Covid-19 has forced employers to realise the importance of employee flexibility, now might be a better time than ever to pursue your dreams alongside your current responsibilities. Pleasingly – despite the effects that covid has had on women in the workplace, female-founded start-ups have doubled, and the Fortune 500 has more female CEO’s than ever (though, of course, still not enough). (LinkedIn / The Female Lead)
Although Whitney Wolfe Herd has created an empowering platform that we didn’t even know we needed, a big part of me wonders whether the idea for this came before or after her sexual harassment lawsuit at Tinder. Was this an idea she had been sitting on? Or was it a consequence (an impressive one, albeit) of her experiences in her previous job, with male colleagues who questioned her credibility and suggested her young age made the company look like it ‘happened by accident’?.
People breaking down and rebuilding themselves due to unfair treatment is, unfortunately, a recurring premise in many walks of life – in business, in sport, in relationships and so on. And this is true not only for women but also for many other groups who feel disadvantaged, used or powerless. Whitney Wolfe-Herd realised the type of environment that would help her grow and would make her feel fulfilled.
Why should you be any different?
Some of my favourite quotes compare us to seeds – for seeds to germinate, they need the right amount of sunlight and plenty of water. They won’t grow if the environment isn’t right. We are the same. YOU are the same.
Talking of an appropriate environment leads me to the question of whether she’d have become a mum if she was still at Tinder? Or would she have believed it would have given those she was working alongside a reason to discredit her ability to lead?
Suppose it was the case that she felt her authoritative reputation might have been tarnished. In that case, it circles back to the question of feeling like we need to choose between a career or children. I can almost guarantee she is not alone.
It is a scenario that I preempt, although SO far from becoming a parent. But it will not stop me from pursuing both of my dreams – having a successful career and becoming a mum. And it shouldn’t stop you either.
Career or Children? I say both!
As with all forms of feeling restricted or indecisive, it can be detrimental to mental health if you struggle to balance an array of thoughts. Remember that there is no right or wrong decision to do what is best for you.
So if you want to break into a career, or take a career break for whatever reason, talk to somebody. Whether that’s a work colleague, human resources, friends, family or a partner – discussing your thoughts out loud will not only help you rationalise but also lift any weight you may be carrying on your shoulders. And you never know, they may be able to offer advice or a solution you hadn’t even considered.
When discussing things she wished she’d have known when starting out, Whitney emphasised the importance of “not neglecting the things that matter to you the most” (bbc.co.uk).
In an interview with Bustle, Bumble’s Chief Brand Officer Alex Williamson said that the app’s women-start-conversation-first (women have to start the conversation when ‘matching’ with somebody) feature is “about creating the life that you want. There’s no sense in holding yourself back because of some social construct.”
So, forget the social constructs. No rule book or law says that you can’t have a career AND be a parent. Whitney Wolfe Herd’s female empire is complete proof.
Career or Children? You can have both!